This holistic mind-body practice has been around for thousands of years and is currently used all over the world by people from all walks of life. Yoga has an impressive list of health benefits—from reducing stress to relieving low back pain—and has even been studied as an adjunct treatment for chronic health conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obesity.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, yoga has even been shown to help people quit smoking and improve the quality of life of cancer patients. Clearly, yoga has the potential to change lives for the better!
If you’ve been thinking about turning your love of yoga into a career that allows you to help others, becoming a yoga therapist might be a perfect step for you.
What is a Yoga Therapist?
This might be helpful to remember—all yoga therapists are yoga teachers, but not all yoga teachers are yoga therapists.
Here’s what we mean:
To become a yoga teacher, you have to undergo at least 200 hours of certified training. A person who aspires to become a yoga therapist must undergo this 200 hours AND fulfill advanced training at a certified accredited school.
To earn their certification, a certified yoga therapist must complete at least 800 hours of rigorous training (in addition to the 200 hours needed to become a yoga instructor) that provides an even deeper understanding of anatomy, physiology, and yoga theory, as well as topics that bridge the gap between Eastern and Western philosophies of medicine and healthcare.
Yoga therapists must also log at least 100 clinical hours working with clients, generally done in one-on-one or small group settings.
The end result? A yoga therapist is a highly trained individual who can guide and instruct people through yoga sessions that are coached in a more therapeutic setting. These professionals are skilled at modifying and adapting their yoga sessions to the specific and sometimes sensitive needs of their clients, including those who are dealing with prior trauma or mental health issues.
Working with a yoga teacher can be excellent for your well-being. But due to their advanced training, yoga therapists are better equipped to help clients learn how to manage or reduce chronic health symptoms, improve their quality of life, and develop greater personal empowerment.
You might think of this as the difference between venting on the phone to a friend versus discussing personal issues with a licensed mental health counselor. Both avenues may help, but the latter is likely to provide more significant and lasting benefits. Such is the experience of many people who work with certified yoga therapists.
Now the question is:
How do you become a certified yoga therapist? Here are 6 tips to get you started.
Tip 1: Regularly Attend Yoga Classes
Before investing time and money into a yoga career, you want to make sure you like yoga! Look up classes in your area and start attending regularly. It’s also a good idea to start taking a personal inventory by asking yourself questions like:
- Why do I want to become a yoga therapist?
- How much can I afford to invest in my training?
- What style of yoga and/or what groups of people do I want to work with?
Tip 2: Get Involved
Once you’ve started regularly attending yoga classes, the next step is to ask your yoga teacher or mentor for advice about how to get started. At this stage in your journey, you should establish yourself in your local yoga community and find your preferred style of yoga.
Tip 3: Become a Certified Yoga Teacher
Remember, becoming a yoga teacher is only the first stepping stone to becoming a yoga therapist. That means you’ll need to apply for and complete at least 200 teacher training hours in a certified yoga program. You’ll also want to make sure you explore which types of yoga you want to specialize in (e.g., Vinyasa, Hatha, power, hot, Sivananda Ashtanga, etc.).
Yoga therapy programs require a teaching certification through a Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga School (RYS®) or its equivalent. The specific certification you’ll earn depends on the number of teacher training hours you complete and other factors. Teaching certifications include:
- Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT®) 200
- RYT® 500
- E-RYT® 200, RYT® 500
- E-RYT® 500
There are also specialty certifications you can choose to pursue, including Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher (RPYT®) and Registered Children’s Yoga Teacher (RCYT®).
Note: RPYT® and RCYT® do not satisfy the full 200 hour requirement to become a certified yoga teacher.
Tip 4: Start Teaching
Most yoga therapy courses ask that you have at least one year of teaching under your belt before you apply. So, once you’ve become a certified and licensed yoga teacher, it’s time to start teaching! Teaching is the best way to hone your skills, expand your networking opportunities (handy for references, which you’ll need to apply to yoga therapy school), and help you clarify where you’d like your yoga career to take you.
You can find a job as a yoga teacher by word-of-mouth referrals, networking with your yoga colleagues, or even looking up local listings.
Tip 5: Choose the Right Yoga Therapy Program
As is the case for all higher education tracks, not all yoga therapy programs are the same. So, once you’ve been teaching yoga for about a year and are ready to start your yoga therapy training, you’ll need to do your research and make sure you find the right one for you.
When selecting a yoga therapy program, be sure to ask about things like:
- Program costs and scholarship opportunities
- Prerequisites and course credits
- Program format and schedule
- Job opportunities for graduates
- Will this program allow you to work in a clinical setting?
As an example, the Master of Science in Yoga Therapy at MUIH offers an integrative hybrid experience for students who have earned a minimum of 200-hour Teacher Training through a Yoga Alliance 200-hr registered school program or its equivalent. We’re proud to say that 86 percent of our recent graduates are employed or self-employed within a year of graduation.
Tip 6: Decide Where You Want to Work
There are so many different ways to practice yoga therapy, which makes it a great option for people who like to have some flexibility in their careers. As a yoga therapist, you can find work in a clinic, gym, institutional setting, or school. You can even start your own private practice.
Yoga therapists are highly skilled professionals who are trained to teach yoga in a therapeutic setting in individual or small-group settings. Yoga therapy is an increasingly popular field with many career opportunities for people who are interested in holistic healing practices within the context of Western medicine.
For more information on how to become a registered yoga therapist and what yoga therapy programs are like, check out the Master of Science in Yoga Therapy at the Maryland University of Integrative Health! We have also added a Post-Master’s Certificate in Therapeutic Yoga Practices. To decide which program is best for you, review our chart to find your fit!