First, to get a deeper understanding of the difference between yoga and yoga therapy, I strongly recommend you read my piece, What is Yoga Therapy? Now that we have the definition clear, here are the steps on how to become a certified yoga therapist.
Step 1: Be a Yoga Teacher
To become a yoga therapist, you need to first complete a yoga teacher training of at least 200 hours. For me, as with most others, I started as a yoga teacher who wanted more. My yoga teacher training in the Himalayas of India with my “guru,” Yogi Sivadas, gave me a strong foundation.
However, after a couple years of teaching, I had even more questions. I craved answers and the skills to work safely and effectively one-on-one and with special-needs groups like PTSD, arthritis, depression, and stroke recovery.
I didn’t know where to turn next for this knowledge, so I went to traditional education. I spent a year completing the pre-med and basic science course load, including biology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, chemistry, and physics. While I was at it, I also took biomechanics and abnormal psychology to better understand how our joints and mind work. This still wasn’t enough.
Don’t get me wrong, as an art major in college, I loved the new perspective my science education gave me, but it was not applied specifically to yoga. Also, I wanted more yoga philosophy and practices.
Step 2: Find the Right Yoga Therapy Program for You
Your next step is to find an 800-hour yoga therapy program accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). This organization has high standards and nearly 30 years of experience supporting the field. You can explore a list of the approved programs here: iayt.org
For several years, as I worked as a yoga teacher and studied on my own, I didn’t even know about the option to study to become a yoga therapist. When I discovered that there were advanced training programs that covered all the material I was seeking, I immediately started the search to find the one right for me.
I spent weeks reading about programs online and writing emails to program directors. I ended up joining the first cohort of the Master of Science Graduate Degree in Yoga Therapy at Maryland University of Integrative Health.
As a nerd who loves school and values higher education, this was a perfect fit for me. The program combined academic rigor with the rich traditions and philosophy of yoga. The classes balanced reading cutting-edge scientific research in the field with experiencing profound meditations and asana practices.
I grew as a person while I gained the skills to become a yoga therapist. Although this was the perfect choice for me, there are many programs out there and it is vital that you choose one that fits you.
Some programs focus on psychology and spirituality, like Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. Some are based on a specific lineage, like the Viniyoga Therapist Training Program. Others, like Inner Peace Yoga Therapy, allow you to develop and choose your own expertise, with electives like Yoga Therapy for Cancer and Yoga Therapy for Anxiety and Depression taught by experts in their field.
To make your choice:
- Take some time to read through the descriptions of the different programs
- Get yoga therapy sessions yourself from certified yoga therapists (C-IAYT)
- Talk to previous students of the program
- Consider which schedule and location will work best for you
- Ask if you can sit in on a class at an accredited school
Remember that no one program or style is better overall. It is all about finding the right fit for you. Other great ways to learn more about the field and program options are to join IAYT and read their publications.
Also, I strongly suggest attending their professional conference, held every year in June, to get to know the programs and talk to yoga therapists from around the world.
Step 3: Do the Work and Complete Your Program
IAYT-accredited programs take a minimum of 2 years, but some are longer. Although every program is different, each includes courses in yoga-related anatomy, biomedicine, philosophy, therapeutic skills, and professional practice.
Then, you will apply your knowledge in mentored clinical practice, where you actually get to work with clients under the guidance of expert therapists. You will gain knowledge, professional skills, and lasting friendships.
Step 4: Apply Through the International Association of Yoga Therapists
After you have completed steps #1-3, you can apply to become a certified yoga therapist as an accredited program graduate. The application took me 30 minutes, including the upload of my diploma and resume. It is simple, and you are contributing to the collaboration, organization, and rapid growth of the field.
Step 5: Start Your Career as a Yoga Therapist
Yoga therapy is an exciting, burgeoning field. You will have many options to sculpt your career. In my yoga therapy business, I work with clients one-on-one (including on Skype), teach for hospitals, the military, and retirement communities, teach therapeutic workshops in specialties like arthritis, and educate people to become yoga teachers and therapists themselves.
The possibilities are endless. What will you do as a yoga therapist?
P.S. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below. Just tag me @annswanson and I'd be happy to answer them.
Image Credit: Ann Swanson