What is Therapeutic Yoga?

Mary McMahon

Therapeutic yoga is a branch of yoga which is focused on the treatment of people with mental and physical conditions. It acknowledges that yoga is a valuable healing art, and that some people are unable to attend conventional yoga classes due to physical limitations or a lack of awareness about yoga. Practitioners of therapeutic yoga bring the ancient tradition of yoga to environments like physical therapy centers, workshops for trauma victims, and hospitals, in the hopes of reaching people who may be able to benefit from yogic practice.

There are many health benefits when partaking in yoga.
There are many health benefits when partaking in yoga.

Yoga has been practiced in India for thousands of years. The practice of yoga includes meditation, breath work, physical poses called asanas, and other techniques which are designed to nourish the mind, spirit, and body. In India, yoga has been incorporated into healing arts such as Ayurveda for centuries; in the West, the idea of integrating yoga into medical care arose in the 20th century.

Therapeutic yoga focuses on individuals with physical and mental conditions.
Therapeutic yoga focuses on individuals with physical and mental conditions.

Several things set therapeutic yoga aside from other yoga disciplines. The first is that it is highly flexible, as it must be, to accommodate the needs of patients with different conditions and physical abilities. Therapeutic yoga can be used to treat someone in a wheelchair with specially adapted poses, just as it can be used to focus a group of young trauma survivors who have full use of their limbs. Therapeutic yoga is also very gentle, acknowledging that participants are not experienced in the practice of yoga and they may not be prepared for the physical strain of intense yoga practice.

Therapeutic yoga often includes poses, or asanas, that strengthen and relax the muscles.
Therapeutic yoga often includes poses, or asanas, that strengthen and relax the muscles.

Sessions of therapeutic yoga typically include deep stretching, guided meditation, and breath work. This style of yoga can be integrated into physical therapy regimens, the practice of nursing, and other aspects of health care. Yoga helps patients to relax while strengthening their bodies and spirits, whether they are in recovery from an illness or injury or preparing for major surgery. Therapeutic yoga can also be incorporated into health care which focuses on the psychological aspect of human well-being; it is practiced in mental health facilities, for example, or at retreats for victims of trauma and abuse.

Around the world, several yoga schools offer training specifically in therapeutic yoga. These trainings are open to experienced yogis and yoginis along with nurses, doctors, physical therapists, and other people who work in health care. Trainings discuss and demonstrate a range of techniques which can be used as a standalone practice or incorporated into patient treatment.

A woman doing yoga.
A woman doing yoga.

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Discussion Comments


Yoga is not a religion. If someone wants to practice yoga in its fullest form, it is a spiritual practice of self discovery, but it is not a religion, per se. What is being talked about in this article is not delving into the full-blown yoga experience of the adepts, rather using yoga as a therapeutic modality to help someone who can use its benefits to ease a problem.


Before you get too involved in yoga, know that it is a religion (hinduism).


@rjh - Firstly, it’s important to understand that yoga is something beyond simple breathing and posture exercises. It doesn’t have to be religious - although it can be - but essentially yoga is about reducing suffering. It’s about becoming more self-aware and seeing the things that are causing us suffering and using yoga to overcome that suffering. The specific practices of yoga for people in your position varies from person to person, so you might need to do some research yourself and try a few things out to see what suits you best.

I think I understand a little about your situation however and might be able to offer some guidance. First of all it’s important to understand the different elements of yoga, those being asana (posture), pranayama (breathing exercises) followed with mental reflection and meditation. In cases like this, it’s helpful to have a teacher, or at least someone you can talk to, whether it’s a friend or a psychologist. The reason for this is that some things may come up that may be difficult for you to process on your own.

Anyway, if you practice these techniques - all of which focus on providing a sense of safety - I think you could benefit a lot. If anything it will at least help you to relax and reduce stress. When you’re more relaxed, you can confront the deeper issues. I wish you the best of luck.


If I understand correctly, therapeutic yoga can also be used for psychological trauma. I have issues with emotional pain from verbal abuse in my past and was wondering what would be the best method to go about making steps towards healing myself?

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