Yoga Therapy Initiative

2021 Trends


The global crisis, along with the necessity for individuals to sustain their physical and mental wellbeing, has driven increased recognition of the health benefits of yoga. Yoga is at the forefront of the new wellness surge and is rising in popularity and positioning in the public consciousness. As evidenced by the voluminous statistics on the exponential growth of yoga, there is a shift toward more in-depth knowledge and application of yoga’s holistic offerings and specialized therapies for present-day health conditions.

Yoga therapy, or Yoga Chikitsa, meaning “therapy, cure, medicinal application and treatment,” is one of the earliest sciences of healing and self-care with strategies to address specific health and lifestyle issues that human beings have faced for millennia. Yoga therapy includes comprehensive tools for healing our structural, physiological, mental, emotional and spiritual conditions.

Panchamaya—the ancient, multidimensional and whole-health model for yoga therapy provides a full spectrum of teachings and practices for the body, physiology, mind, behavior and spirituality. It is a proven, tactical plan for optimizing health and is the key to understanding the mission of wellness for the modern human being.

As one of the world’s earliest systems of holistic health and self-care, this human-centric strategy and whole-health model has influenced diverse programs and protocols from healthcare centers and facilities, spa and hospitality brands, and integrative medicine centers to the Veterans Administration, Fortune 500 companies and more.


The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) defines yoga therapy as “the process of empowering individuals to progress towards improved health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga.”

In the currently shifting landscape of medical care, patients are seeking whole-health approaches that address more than just isolated symptoms. Yoga therapy is well-positioned within the larger trend toward whole-person health, given that it utilizes a holistic model of health and healing. Yoga therapy combines a clinically oriented, assessment-based, yet personalized approach based on an individual’s goals and health conditions.

In recent years, the development of rigorous standards, accreditation and credentialing processes for both yoga therapy schools and practitioners have established yoga therapy as a profession. What began as tentative acceptance of yoga therapy as a possible complementary option for patients has evolved into recommendations from physicians and other healthcare providers at an increasing rate. These recommendations are supported by a growing body of evidence-based clinical trials research on yoga in general and yoga therapy specifically.

The inclusion of yoga therapy in major healthcare systems’ integrative medicine programs has increased rapidly over the past few years. In the United States, for example, yoga therapy is a key component at institutions such as The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Duke Integrative Medicine at Duke University, and the Cleveland Clinic, among many others. According to a 2015 survey, most of IAYT’s over 5,000 members reported working in hospital settings, outpatient clinics, physical therapy, rehabilitation and oncology. These yoga therapists are engaged in clinical roles and collaborate with healthcare providers to develop a plan that complements and supports the patient’s overall care.


Research into the respiratory process confirms that the quality of our breathing has dramatic effects on both the body and mind. Ancient science, in concert with recent studies, shows how even slight adjustments to the breathing process rejuvenates the organs; increases the relaxation response; decreases metabolic rate and blood sugar levels; lowers heart rate; reduces muscle tension, fatigue and pain; and increases strength, mental alertness, confidence and emotional stability.

Pranayama, the ancient yogic science of conscious breathing, is defined as the art of regulating, modifying and extending the natural flow of the breath and enhancing one’s vital energy or life force. According to ancient traditions, conscious breathing is used in meditation to affect the quality of the mind, slowing and quieting the thinking process while reducing anxiety and stress. Many cultures around the world incorporate breathing practices as part of their religious and spiritual rituals and prayers.

Evidence-based research has shown the transformative power of breathing techniques through neurobiological and psychological mechanisms, indicating that how we breathe matters. Now, breathing techniques are being used widely and adapted globally by elite athletes and marathon runners, during childbirth, for pain management, by children and medical doctors, and for emotional regulation and general health.

In the yoga therapy process, multiple and varied breathing techniques are practiced separately or in combination with movement (asana) for specific conditions to affect and facilitate desired outcomes.


One of the most important factors that differentiates the profession and practice of teaching yoga from the profession and practice of yoga therapy is the use of individual assessment. This can be done within the context of one-on-one sessions as well as in therapeutic groups.

While “findings…. indicate that yoga appears as safe as usual care and exercise,” the customization of yoga practice can be helpful for creating a comprehensive program not just for maintaining health, but for promoting health and wellness, even in the face of challenges. It is recommended that for the purpose of reducing symptom burden, alleviating suffering, and improving quality of life in the midst of chronic conditions resulting in persistent pain, medical providers should instead consider recommending therapeutic yoga for their patients, as the intent and scope of practice differs significantly from contemporary yoga.


The profession of yoga therapy is distinct from the profession of yoga teaching in the depth and breadth of its training, the scope of practice, and integration with both the holistic medical community as well as higher education and academic research. To become a yoga therapist, an individual must first be a yoga teacher with a minimum number of years of practice and experience. From there, interested individuals can attend a professional program designed to teach the competencies necessary for fulfilling the Scope of Practice of Yoga Therapists.

As defined by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), “Yoga therapy is the professional application of the principles and practices of yoga to promote health and wellbeing within a therapeutic relationship that includes personalized assessment, goal setting, lifestyle management, and yoga practices for individuals or small groups.”

Founded in 1989, IAYT has consistently championed yoga as a healing art and science. Membership is open to yoga practitioners, yoga teachers, yoga therapists, healthcare practitioners who use yoga in their practice, and yoga researchers.

Certification is a pillar of the comprehensive self-regulatory initiative that began in 2007 with the development of educational standards for the training of yoga therapists and accrediting training programs that meet these standards beginning in 2014. The certification process for credentialing individual yoga therapists who meet IAYT’s standards began in 2016. In 2017, there were more than 3,600 practitioners who earned the credential C-IAYT to demonstrate their training and experience as certified yoga therapists.

As of 2019, IAYT has over 5,000 individual members from over 50 countries and over 170 member schools. Currently, 66 programs at schools around the world are fully accredited by IAYT to offer the curriculum for the 800 hours of training to become a yoga therapist.


Over the past few years, yoga therapists have begun to leverage technology for the management and delivery of services. For example, videoconferencing offers access to people who would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet in person with a yoga therapist because of geographic location or other factors. This parallels the larger healthcare trend toward telehealth delivery by primary care physicians, occupational and physical therapists, psychologists and counselors, and other healthcare providers—a trend that was already formed prior to but accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yoga therapists are also utilizing technology to offer additional options for producing client-specific practice resources. These options include video recordings of sessions or guided personalized videos of the client’s home practice program. Most people have a preferred and optimal learning style (visual, auditory, kinesthetic). The use of technology for creating practice programs expands alternatives for clients who would prefer an option other than written materials to enhance their learning and facilitate engagement with the practices. Especially given the widespread use of apps, many clients prefer an electronic format.

In addition to video conferencing, yoga therapists are increasingly utilizing software programs that streamline the scheduling and assessment process. Clients have the option to schedule an appointment online at their convenience. Assessment/intake forms completed by the client online can be reviewed in advance by the yoga therapist and then discussed together at the appointment.

Technology, of course, does not replace the in-person encounter between yoga therapist and client, especially for those who prefer face-to-face meetings. It can instead be leveraged to supplement and enhance the clinically oriented, assessment-based personalized approach to whole-person health that is the hallmark of yoga therapy.