Although yoga as a practice is therapeutic, there are significant differences between a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist and between a yoga class and a yoga therapy session.
The issue is that to most people, there is a one size fits all approach to a yoga class and often includes relatively the same poses in every class. Some of them might feel good, like the twist that makes your back pop every time. But that type of twist can actually be destabilizing for your lumbar joints and can lead to arthritis or sciatic nerve issues if done incorrectly. Many people are actually unable to benefit much from their current physical state by doing these postures repeatedly improperly, as they know them.
When clients seek out a yoga therapist or a therapeutic group, they are usually coming to get relief from some symptom or health condition that is troubling them. In most cases, the instruction focuses on their condition and how the yoga techniques can help them feel better or improve their function, rather than on the techniques or methods of yoga practice.
Yoga therapists fundamentally focus on their clients’ needs. Their job is to understand why their clients have come to see them and determine what they can do to support them.
To help them in their work, therapists are trained to assess clients through listening, questioning and observing. Therapists look for ways to help their clients reduce or manage their symptoms, improve their function, and help them with their attitude in relation to their health conditions. After assessing clients, therapists establish appropriate goals, develop a practice intervention, and then teach clients to practice that intervention. In this sense, therapists choose yoga techniques in relation to how they will specifically benefit individual clients.
Hence, the role of the yoga therapist represents a different focus, a different type of education, and a different skill set. Although a yoga therapist can also be a yoga teacher, the roles are specific and not always interchangeable.
Yoga classes are geared more to teaching methodology and therapy is geared more to healing and treatment of conditions.