Yoga Studio

Difference Between a Yoga Teacher, Yoga Instructor and Yoga Therapist

A variety of different people can teach yoga for a variety of different reasons. However, very few people know the difference between a yoga instructor, yoga teacher, and yoga therapist. If you’re considering teaching yoga, you need to understand the different roles each type of teacher can play. 

So, what is the difference between a yoga teacher, yoga instructor, and yoga therapist?

  • Yoga instructors can tell students how to perform certain yoga poses, but they might not be registered or certified.
  • A yoga teacher has typically passed an extensive training course and become a registered yoga teacher. 
  • A yoga therapist helps students seek relief from physical and emotional pain through the practice of yoga.

Each of these terms carries a different meaning, and it’s essential to understand the distinction if you’re at all interested in learning – or teaching – yoga. The rest of this article will discuss all three of these terms in great detail, so read on to learn more. 

Yoga Teacher vs. Yoga Instructor

The differentiation between these two terms is a bit murky. Instructors teach, and teachers instruct, right? Well, that’s not necessarily true in the yoga world.

A yoga instructor is someone who conducts yoga classes based on their understanding of the yoga poses and the philosophies behind them. They then share that knowledge with the students. 

In a class environment, the students typically sit on their yoga mats facing the yoga instructor. The yoga instructor sits on a mat at the front of the class. The students then do their best to replicate the movements and breathing demonstrated by the yoga instructor.

The point here is that the main duty of the instructor is to demonstrate, display, and instruct. They tell the students how to do what they are doing. A student in one of these classes may still find that they enjoy the class very much and may soon find themselves hooked on yoga. But if you really want to explore all that yoga can offer, it is best to seek out a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT).

History Of Yoga Teacher Certifications

As the practice of yoga became trendy and a worldwide phenomenon, many of the basic tenants of yoga were lost. Small yoga studios and large gyms all started offering exercise classes marketed as “Yoga” or “Yoga-Based.” Yet, they did not adhere to any of the actual yoga principles and teachings.

To combat this, in 1997, Yogis (yoga teachers) in the United States decided that there needed to be standards set for any yoga class taught here to maintain the integrity of the original and timeless yoga practices and teachings. 

At a conference in San Francisco that year, the first steps were taken towards accomplishing this. As this idea grew in support, it led to the formation of the Yoga Alliance. This organization still exists and now oversees the standards which must be met and upheld by anyone who wants to be an RYT (registered yoga teacher).

The Yoga Alliance recognizes certification programs for teachers who learn the craft by attending Registered Yoga Schools (RYS). The teachings of these schools follow the standards set by the Yoga Alliance, and graduates of these programs then earn the certification that corresponds to the class they have completed. 

It is important to note that there is no law prohibiting a person from calling themselves a yoga teacher when they have not met the standards set by the Yoga Alliance. If you want to take a class that teaches legitimate yoga, you should confirm the certification of the teacher first.

Types of Yoga Teacher Certification

200-Hour Yoga Teacher Certification

The initial certification most yoga teachers obtain is the 200-hour certification. This certification gives the teacher all the basics for becoming a registered yoga teacher. 

While each yoga school varies slightly in how they teach, they must adhere to the Yoga Alliance requirements of teaching to have their students eligible to gain their certification upon completion of the course.

The 200-hour certification typically includes instruction on anatomy and physiology, the history of yoga, and how a class is structured as well as the basics of yoga principles such as meditation, chakras and other elements to create an excellent foundation to become a yoga teacher.

Advanced Yoga Teacher Certification

After acquiring the 200-hour certification, an instructor can then take the 300-hour certification, which, upon completion, will earn them the status of a 500-hour RYT (registered yoga teacher). A yoga teacher with a higher level of certification will be more knowledgeable as a teacher of yoga.

Before you seek out a yoga teacher who has a reputable certification, it is also important to ask yourself what you are looking to get out of your yoga experience. The most commonly practiced form of yoga is Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga comprises of physical poses called Asanas and breathing exercises called Pranayamas.

Hatha Yoga is beneficial in many ways. It has the following key benefits:

  • Improved strength
  • Improved flexibility
  • Better sleep
  • Decreased tension
  • Overall mood booster

Some other types of yoga affect other aspects such as mental focus (Raja Yoga), improve emotional states (Bhakti Yoga), and draw out toxins, manage weight and increase movement (Bikram Yoga). 

Now that you have determined you need to seek out a Registered yoga teacher and not just an instructor, you can then concentrate on finding a class that teaches the type of yoga that is right for you. 

Be aware, however, that the terms “teacher” and “instructor” are also used interchangeably on yoga websites and in literature, even by reputable yoga teachers. Look for the “RYT” (registered yoga teacher) accreditation next to the name of your teacher/instructor to ensure you are taking a class taught by someone who is an expert in their field. 

What Is A Yoga Therapist?

Yoga Therapist

Yoga therapy is a growing field that incorporates the mental and physical benefits of yoga as a complementary treatment of an ailment or disease.

All yoga is considered therapeutic and healing, but yoga therapy addresses a person’s physical, mental, and emotional needs through the implementation of yoga poses, breathing exercises, and meditation practices. 

Yoga therapists are qualified to recognize and assess a person’s need for yoga therapy to address specific dysfunctions and improve their overall well being.

Therapeutic yoga addresses several health issues, both physical and mental, or both at the same time. Unlike traditional yoga classes that have many students, yoga therapy is typically taught one-on-one or among only small groups.

There is a separate organization that monitors the standards of practice for yoga therapists. It is called the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). To be recognized as a Registered yoga therapist by this organization, you must undergo at least 800 hours of training.

In a typical yoga session, the student is instructed in the proper form and execution of established yoga poses. Whereas a yoga therapist will use yoga to address the specific health issues of the student. Some issues for which people seek relief through yoga are:

  • Musculoskeletal imbalances
  • Anxiety and stress-related disorders
  • Recovery from abuse or addiction
  • Chronic pain

Healing through movement, strength, controlled breathing, and flexibility are the goals of yoga therapy. However, most people enjoy therapeutic benefits from a regular yoga class as well. 

Both offer instructional guidance for achieving the benefits of yoga during class. They also offer the students guidance on how to use the practices taught in their everyday life. 

Conclusion

Yoga instructors, yoga teachers, and yoga therapists are all similar in that they teach others how to perform yoga. However, they are different in the ways they go about it. 

  • Instructors can teach students yoga, but they might be a novice without any advanced certification. 
  • Yoga teachers are typically Registered Yoga Teachers who have completed an advanced training course. 
  • Yoga therapists teach students yoga to help them heal from physical and emotional pain. 

If you are a yoga practitioner embarking on the journey of teaching students, you might find the following articles useful:


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About the author


Naz Ahm is the founder of StudioGrowth and has spent a decade growing start-ups and venture-backed companies. He writes about sales, marketing, and growth, especially in the yoga, fitness and wellness industry.

Naz has an MBA from IESE Business School and started his journey in the wellness industry when he set-up an on-demand wellness business. Naz currently resides in London, U.K.