Is yoga therapy right for you? Have you tried everything under the sun to eliminate an ache, pain or chronic condition? If your doctor has suggested that you try yoga therapy (and not just yoga classes), the first step is to find a great yoga therapist to steer you into a customized practice that may potentially improve the conditions of self-healing in your body, mind and spirit.

Charles* practices Yoga Nidra meditation (yogic sleep) with me once weekly at the advice of his general practitioner to help reduce his teeth grinding, which is creating destructive TMJ in his jaw joints.

Defining yoga therapy

Like many of my colleagues in the yoga profession, I have spent years trying to explain exactly how the therapeutics of yoga are distinguished and different from other movement, fitness or spiritual healing modalities. Yoga can encompass so many different approaches inside of its big 8-limbed umbrella that some of what we do as teachers falls into a blurry territory. Is it corrective exercise or assisted passive stretching? Is it breath training or stress reduction techniques? Is it spiritual advisement or personal development?

Anna* has had two surgeries in her low back to relieve nerve compression. Years of soccer and track have created imbalances in her hips, which sheared her lumbar discs. Her physical therapist sent her to me to retrain her abdominals, back and hip musculature. We have completely eradicated her pain by integrating proper breath support while working her core.

A yoga therapist will custom fit poses and movement to your specific needs.

My Introduction to Yoga Therapy

I feel very lucky that from the outset of my training, I had a template of how to work with students who sought to build a yoga practice as a way out of their agony. Twenty years ago, when I first assisted my mentor Glenn Black, he taught a workshop at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies called “Yoga Therapy.” It was full of people with injuries and chronic conditions. His years as a manual therapist gave him keen insight into how to work with “the broken body.” His students trusted him, and they were able to move beyond their pains and find new freedom of motion. They also transcended the mental and emotional constrictions that also often accompany chronic pain because of the deep mediation practices yoked together with the physical explorations.

Being the daughter of a doctor, I have always been drawn to the healing arts and love the nuts and bolts behind scientific proofs. But I also thrive on the creativity that the yogic arts offer. My current Yoga Tune Up® practice involves sharing students with a circle of physical therapists, pain medicine specialists, psychiatrists, chiropractors and rehabilitation specialists to help students of any condition to live better in their body. With a mutual respect amongst all of these professionals, I am able to support my students at every phase of their journey from injury to empowered wellness.

After decades of decline with a rare neurological disease, Mark* was referred by his M.D. and occupational therapist to learn relaxation techniques and to improve his muscle function and coordination. Three years later, he has nearly eliminated pain medication, and has lost 60 pounds.

Where do yoga therapists train?

For yoga teachers who are drawn towards the therapeutic side of the spectrum, there are now approximately 66 yoga schools that offer instruction specifically to train yoga therapists. The International Association of Yoga Therapists acts as an umbrella organization for teachers and schools worldwide who are seeking to raise the bar of the yoga therapy profession so that it is recognized as a respected therapy. They also support research and education in yoga and hold annual conferences where cutting-edge research in the field of yoga is presented.

Even Gaiam’s beloved Rodney Yee has created a training program with Donna Karan called Urban Zen Integrative Therapist training: “The UZIT program includes training in yoga therapy, essential oil therapy, Reiki, nutrition, and contemplative care giving.” UZIT includes clinical rotations in their training and are building a presence at several hospitals nationwide. Part of their mission is to also influence a paradigm shift in care-giving towards a more holistic model.

What to expect during a yoga therapy session

A yoga therapy session will likely create a practice that is modified and tailored to one’s personal issues and needs. A great yoga therapist will create a practice for each individual as an individual. A session may consist of breathing (pranayama) and specific poses carefully constructed to reduce pain and to improve biomechanical function. A yoga therapist may use a novel variety of yoga props to help clients to access poses, positions and alignment. Sessions might include extended meditation to help with stress reduction and to influence psycho-physiological change.

A yoga therapist will research resources for students who may need some guidance towards additional care and consult with other professionals. They are also an advocate for their students’ emotional well-being, understanding that the depth of a person’s pain may go beyond the physical and into the neurological, emotional and spiritual. A great yoga therapist will support all the dimensions of their student.

Find your nearest Yoga Tune Up® Class

Learn about Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Training.

Learn about Yoga Tune Up at home.


Here is a listing of  some yoga therapy programs that are a great place to begin searching for a local yoga therapist or professional program.

1)   American Viniyoga Institute, Gary Kraftsow

2)   Loyola Marymount , Larry Payne

3)   Yoga Tune Up® Integrated Therapist, my program

4)   Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living

5)   New England School of Integrative Yoga Therapeutics, Bo Forbes

How do you think yoga therapy can help you? Post your story below!

*No students’ actual names are used in this blog.

[Reprinted with permission from GaiamLife.]


Jill Miller

Jill Miller, C-IAYT, ERYT is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and creator of the self-care fitness formats Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method. With more than 30 years of study in anatomy and movement, she is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage, athletics and pain management. She is known as the Teacher’s Teacher and has trained thousands of movement educators, clinicians, and manual therapists to incorporate her paradigm shifting self-care fitness programming into athletic and medical facility programs internationally. She has crafted original programs for 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox, YogaWorks, and numerous professional sports teams. She and her team of 500+ trainers help you to live better in your body with an emphasis on proprioception, mobility, breath mechanics and recovery. She has presented case studies at the Fascia Research Congress and International Association of Yoga Therapy conferences. She has the rare ability to translate complex physiological and biomechanical information into accessible, relevant moves that help her students transform pain, dysfunction and injury into robust fitness. Jill is the anatomy columnist for Yoga Journal Magazine and has been featured in Shape, Men’s Journal, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal, Self, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. Jill is regularly featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is the creator of dozens of DVD’s including Treat While You Train with Kelly Starrett DPT and is the author of the internationally bestselling book The Roll Model: A Step by Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility and Live Better in your Body. Based in Los Angeles, CA, she is a wife and mother of two small children and is currently writing her second book.

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Peter Maxwell

I really have to attest and recommend that Integrative Yoga therapy has been a huge help to me. I am a cancer survivor in remission, and after the exhausting and painful chemotherapy, I have greatly relied on it for healing and relaxation. I go to https://revivorship.com/services/yoga-therapy/ and I truly feel it is an excellent sort of alternative treatment for post-cancer rehabilitation.

Rebecca

Hi Jill,

I see you have a variety of trainings. Just wondering what is all involved and required to eventually become an Integrated Therapist with Yoga Tuneup?

Stephanie

The draw of YOGA to me has always been to its therapeutic, but more for the mind and heart than anything else. i have just started being exposed to therapeutic yoga (FOR THE BODY) through teacher training and am wowed by the stories of rehabilitation and improvement of injuries, limitations, etc, through yoga therapy customized to a specific need. It makes so much sense that it is healing for every part of you!

Katherine

I started attending small group yoga therapy sessions for a few months and they were so eye opening. The yoga therapist was finding and sourcing imbalances I didn’t even know I had but were showing up in all of my postures and in my daily life. I am so much more aware of my body having tried this and would continue if I could. It’s like physical therapy but better; incorporating the whole of the self (body, mind, breath) as one unit and caring for it as such. I went through so much through these sessions, physically and emotionally in… Read more »

Ekat

I think that one of the benefits of practicing yoga is serenity and being able to take care of your body. I am a bit shocked in how yoga has been transformed in the West more as a ‘sport’ and 90% of my friends think of yoga only as ‘bikram’ and ‘I go there to sweat’. While it is true that sweating while doing yoga is beneficial, I feel that the description of yoga has been completely changed and it needs some readjustment.

Andrea Borrero

I think I was a yoga therapist before I was knew I had a leaning towards yoga therapy. Over the years, every private student I’ve had has evolved into a relationship where, regardless or whether they have a specific injury or not, I’m aware of what’s going in their lives emotionally, the imbalances in their body, what their general goals/pursuits are in life. It seems natural to me to have that dynamic with a student because it’s part of why they come to me – to have someone look at their patterns from the outside and work with that. I… Read more »

Christy

Jill, thank you for this post. My body has already gone through a shift and your techniques have helped me to alleviate minimal pain in my body. As a new massage therapist, I am so excited to bring in your Yoga Tune Up training to my clients and yoga students. I seek to teach my clients new ways to live in their bodies and create personalized practices to balance their bodies. I didn’t realize till now that after completion, I can call myself a yoga therapist.

Dana

Awesome! With the aging of the population this is and will continue to be a much needed resource. Hopefully this trend will not only be recognized for treating injuries, but will become included in preventative health care as well.

nicole

It’s so great to see yoga therapy becoming more recognized. Finally, an approach that addresses the mind as well as the body, not one or the other. For my, yoga has strengthened and lengthened my body but, more importantly, has calmed my mind and given me a very powerful tool to deal with the anxiety and panic attacks that had taken over my life. I can’t wait to see where this ends up going!!

Rachel

Yoga as therapy is something I am interested in exploring further and my YTU training is the first step in that direction. I do believe teachers with the right knowledge can help their students learn to live in the bodies they have, no matter what their situation.

Vrinda Liza Eapen

Using yoga as an alternative therapy or complementary therapy is exactly the direction that resonates with me. The tune up balls for pain management along with the structure and alignment techniques in stretches are really empowering. Yoga therapy is fascinating,

Annelie

When I was first intruduced to therapeutic yoga and the Yoga tune up balls I was hooked. Finally a method that worked deep on my muscles and connective tissue. Sweet pain.

Dagmar Khan

Few years ago,when I originally started teaching Yoga,I was mainly teaching because ”it felt good”. Now I am teaching with one strong mission-to give people tools and strategies to honour,respect and live better inside of their own structures.I am very thrilled by this whole idea of becoming licensed Yoga therapist and it is my vision to indeed undertake all steps within the Yoga Tune Up structure to certify as one.I have seen such a miracles unfold in front of my own eyes that there is no more time for scepticism. Fully embodied approach is way to go!

Jamie Gaskins

Thank you for explaining Yoga Therapy. I had a short weekend with Sarah Court and even in that small amount of time, I found out amazing things about my body regarding a chronic shoulder condition. I’ve tried so many different things, but never felt I could get deep enough to really work on the issue. Combining the Yoga Therapy with a more gentle vinyasa class has saved me many nights of discomfort.

Diane Wrobleski

What is really important for our aging population is a therapy practice that teaches seniors to take better care of their bodies. The concept of yoga therapy as a form of rehab can become the next new movement to reduce health care cost in the long run and encourage greater awareness of body/mind health.

Susanne

Until I took the Yoga Tune Up workshop as part of my yoga teacher training, I wasn’t familiar with this program – I guess I arrived late to the party. Thanks for writing a simple article that defines what this is all about – and, as an aside, the yoga balls are really amazing. I am blessed enough not to have any chronic pain that doesn’t allow me to function, but I have most definitely sent this web site on to one of friends who is suffering and on a whole lot of pain meds. I think this can actually… Read more »

Rebecca

As mentioned in the article, there are many paths for yoga therapy from breathwork, to conscious relaxation (yoga nidra) to precise muscle engagement and I do benefit already and could benefit even more from focused yoga therapy work. What I appreciate even more about this article is isolating and elevating yoga therapy as a specific discipline. This creates opportunities for a more sophisticated, educated and safer approach to yoga therapeutics, whether for a serious yoga teacher or as an adjunct program for certified professionals such as a nurse or PT. In my experience I’ve found many yoga teachers lack the… Read more »

Karen Hsu

I think focusing on the therapy aspect of yoga and integrating healthcare or well-being professionals from a variety of backgrounds is a great approach to helping people heal. Legitimizing these efforts in the programs that Jill has listed here is very encouraging and I believe really important to offering people a different perspective, or just another option, for dealing with chronic pain.

Melissa

I’m in my third week of yoga certification training and am becoming more and more interested in yoga as a therapeutic tool. We’ve been focusing allot on asana, alignment, anatomy and recently moved into chanting and yoga nidra. What a powerful experience that has been..tension relief through meditation. Being able to fully relax my body by ‘simply’ directing the focus of my mind and breathe. I find meditation to be a greater challenge than any asana I’ve ever attempted. As I’m learning how to experience a more fully rounded yoga practice, I’m realizing the benefits within my own body, want… Read more »

Louis Jackson

The combination of the YogaTuneUp therepy balls and Shoulder shape up has rescued my body from ego driven injuries. In addition, new techniques for practicing Udiyanna Bandha has helped me learn to down regulate instantly so the ego that pushes me into injuries, is held in check so I practice with compassion and humility toward my body.

melanie

i am currently in the first baby stteps of training to be a yoga teacher. through personal experience, i klnow that making the conncections between mind and body is a very important part of the teacher student reationship. there are times when i end a yoga session quietly sobbing from the inside out and i know that orthers have had this experience. i hope to help others not be afraid of this emotional release which is as important as the physical release .

Sylvia Alakusheva

I have never experienced Yoga therapy personally but as a Yoga teacher in training, I am drawn by this concept. I am in love with the idea of holistic healing as I strongly believe that the only way to help people is through looking at all aspects of their health, not just on a physical but also on a neurological, emotional and spiritual level. The combination of individually designed poses, pranayama (breath work) and meditation in Yoga therapy is great as it addresses all aspects of a person’s well-being, from proper alignment to stress reduction. I am really interested in… Read more »

Brian W

I think any and every yoga instructor in some sense becomes a therapist, and the practice of yoga is such a dynamic tool that can help treat most any affliction. Be it psychological, physical, due to genetic or traumatic causes, any issue when approached from the right perspective can be treated. Yoga provides the opportunity for the right treatment from many different approaches. It will be important the next few years, with all of the increases in need for physical therapists, and in the health care system to make yoga a practical and powerful tool. There is a great need… Read more »

Chau

I really agree with Carole’s post. I think getting one in touch with their mind/body/spirit connection can provide healing that is sustainable, not a quick fix like more Western approaches.

Ariana

I always thought it was an odd concept that our society has adopted regularly of fixing our body by taking something for it instead of focusing in on the area and using the resources in our body to heal. I’ve done this mindlessly as well when I’m in a hurry and not making time for me, which is unfortunately a common practice in our society. On a similar note, I also grind my teeth when stressed and instead of thinking there is a self-healing method available I just settle for the fact that I will always grind my teeth. I… Read more »

Carole

It’s a relief to know that there is alternative therapy in yoga for the slew of health problems people experience. It also points to the importance of really being able to understand the body and its ability to heal using noninvasive, non-pharmaceutical options.

saharah ali

Yoga Therapy is the new way to experience yoga. We live in a society where self care is needed and a place within to know we can heal. Time to put the pills down and get down with the self. I think that yoga therapy will have a large part in the rehab of the yoga image. We will develope a love for something that loves us. Yoga Therapy Tune Up Ball…..look out world.

mariana m

In my opinion and after taking the Yoga Tune up Teacher Training I can say that this training it is to me a Yoga Therapy program, Jills deep knowledge,the smart and sophisticated way her classes are sequenced, the pranayama, the intention (Sankalpa) , the anatomy, it was a really deep and profound experience that Iam really excited to share with my students..
blessings.

saharah ali

Life is full of wouldas, couldas, and shouldas and other rigid throughts that bind us. We can sometimes talk ourselves into believing the worse things about ourselves. Very often we forget to remember that life is good and that we are good. Negative self talk can kill the spirit, damage the body and hurt our souls. I believe this kind of self talk can be very destructive to the spirit and the essence of our truth and what we are to become. I’d like to thank Jill for holding the space to heal that negative self talk, by giving us… Read more »

saharah ali

I have a chronic shoulder pain on the right side. This discomfort has plaqued me now for about six years. I”ve tried serveral different healing tools to relieve the pain. The pain does go away but comes back. When I took the shoulder workshop with Jill Miller and experienced the Yoga Tune Up Balls the pain disappeared for about three months. Then I took a power yoga class at a gym and right after class my shoulder pain had returned. So I am now trying to understand what Idid wrong in class and what to do to keep the pain… Read more »

saharah ali

Who knew a little ball could bring so much healing! Thank you Jill for your insight to create such a wonderful tranformative program. Yoga Tune Up rocks!

saharah ali

I beleive that Jill Miller”s form of yoga therpy can help me. I took three workshops in Pasadena at Yoga House with Jill and was blew away. It inspired me to take more training to fully understand and gain more insight as to how I could utilize the powerful information received in Jill”s classes. So I took Yoga Tune Up Therapy Ball Training. Well now I”m hooked and very inspired to gain as much information as possible to integrate the knowledge in my life everyday. I am open to letting the healing begin!

Dawn Adams

I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with Gary Kraftsow in March, and it was fascinating. I hadn’t even considered the idea of yoga therapy or the ramifications of such basic requirements as creating standards, defining what yoga therapy is, and so forth. Like Laura, I am always happy to learn about evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals that analyze and document the effects of yoga on specific conditions. I share this information in my classes, to raise awareness that everything we do is contributing to our overall health, not just to getting into some fancy pose. That… Read more »

laura mcintire

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if yoga therapy was a available as a degree program?
I love it when I come across peer reviewed journal articles that relate to or have examined a yogic technique. This doesn’t happen often enough.
It is great that Jill has been able to establish a working relationship such a variety of Dr.s and therapists.
It would be great to have more students understand the value of a customized therapeutic session vs. attending a large group class.

aziyza

Yoga tune-up therapy has been a gentle awakeneing to the healing needs of my body. Although at first very startling, the bumps and bruises have begun to smooth out and reveal the healthy tissue underlying it all just begging to be released.
As a teacher of movement and pilates I encourage you to take the time to love yourself in slow motion through yoga tune-up/ start with just a few minutes and experience the love…..try a Labor Day Love session!! or any day off from your regular routine.

Vrinda Liza Eapen

Thank you for explaining how yoga therapy works. It used to be something very elusive to me. I was not sure if it was based on a psychotherapy approach or a physical one. The yoga tune up method works best for me by addressing the physical first and allowing it to manifest mentally with time, patience and the magic tune up balls.