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. Clarity about these differences is helpful for the teacher/therapist, as well as for the student/client. We will look at this distinction from the perspectives of the yoga student, the yoga therapy client, the yoga teacher, the yoga therapist, the yoga class, and the yoga therapy session.
The Yoga Teacher
There are substantial differences between yoga teaching styles. Some teachers focus primarily on instruction, guiding students through their practices and helping them to practice correctly. The scope of instruction can range from asana to pranayama to meditation, but fundamentally, instructors using this style will guide the students in their practice. Other teachers seek to educate their students in how to practice, rather than—or in the midst of—guiding the practice itself. This teaching style empowers students to guide their own experience, whether they are practicing alone or in a group setting. In either case, good teachers are able to choose appropriate practices that meet the interests and abilities of their students. Whether their style is instructional or educational, yoga teachers focus on teaching the various yoga methods in a correct and appropriate way.
The Yoga Therapist
Rather than focusing on yoga methods and practices, 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, observing, and appropriately touching. 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.
Rather than focusing on yoga methods and practices, yoga therapists fundamentally focus on their clients’ needs.
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