What is the Difference Between an OT Who Practices Yoga vs. a Yoga Instructor?

What is the Difference Between an OT Who Practices Yoga vs. a Yoga Instructor?

In preparation for the article, “How Occupational Therapists Can Improve Your Life with Yoga” on VeryWell.com I asked OTs who practice and provide yoga OT how they would describe what makes an OT providing yoga unique vs. going to a yoga teacher who is not also an OT? I love their responses!

I would say that OTs have a medical background- giving us an in-depth knowledge about the muscles and physiology of the body. Additionally, we can integrate cognitive techniques that YOGA teachers might not be aware of, such as motor planning. Hope this helps. I’d LOVE to co-author something on holistic OT if you ever need help.” – Cara Koscinski 
OTs have insight into yoga as an “occupation.” We are experts in grading the movements to make the activity accessible to all; we have a deeper understanding of the therapeutic effects of occupation; we are aware of balance and stability at various levels: physiological, occupational, spiritual…” – Salma Hooshmand
Hi, I’m a pediatric OT and certified yoga instructor. I think one of the big distinctions is our knowledge of the nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic activation and mechanisms that aide or deter each system, particularly postural control and breath), the motor feedback mechanisms of motor planning, body awareness, etc.” – Kim Oswald 
Three major differences would be our education / understanding of A & P , pathological conditions and lastly our ability in task/activity analysis in putting together a comprehensive treatment approach.” – Michael Gagliano
Modifying poses! For a shoulder injury for example.OTs can target certain populations/ages/conditions. Like chair yoga for arthritis. Or strengthen breathing muscles for those with COPD for example. Improve focus for kids, etc.” – Antonette Magnatta
Postural alignment, accessing core for safety and balance, energy conservation, activation of postural extenders for …. Upper extremity strength or fine motor accuracy. Alignment for visual tasks etc. Use of breath for activation of spinal extenders for postural stability and movement from stability.So rich these offerings. I found my OT background unique in the areas above SI accessing the visual auditory vestibular triad to address sensory integration. I also could more accurately balance the nervous system thru sequencing poses, and had a rich depth of knowledge to address Langhana Brahmana. (Heating cooling needs of specific conditions)” – Kristine Sisk 
I love and agree with everything already written. Working with children (with special needs & typically developing), my frame of reference is strongly Sensory Integration. I think in terms of what yoga poses, games, songs with movements, breathing exercises, moving meditations etc., provide vestibular input, proprioceptive input, opportunities to practice modulation, challenge balance, strengthen core, motor plan and cross midline. I incorporate ocular-motor “eye yoga” as so many of my students have difficulty with tracking & eye teaming. I look at weight bearing poses as an opportunity to develop the arches in children’s hands. Many of our children experience significant stress & anxiety. As OT’s we understand the importance of breathing exercises, relaxation and meditation exercises as a means of self regulation. Also, as OT’s using an SI framework, we can easily “read the group” or “read the child” and thus determine what type of yoga is needed at any given time. Yoga using a SI framework can also be more child directed as they know what their nervous system needs.” – Theresa Tovey
We are trained in physical and mental disabilities. We were trained with Mind Body Spirit in our curriculum for adults and kids. We also were trained to look at the “whole person” and to do that with “Occupation” in mind, from the moment we take our first conscious breath in the a.m. to breathing and moving throughout the day and as we end our day. OT’s were meant to do yoga!!!” – Betsy Shandalov 
As an OT and yoga teacher, I am continually amazed at how compatible these two disciplines are, and how much I continue to learn from other OTs and yoga teachers. I think my OT experience provides me with unique perspective in a number of areas including our understanding of sensory processing, our focus on integrating skills into functional daily activities, and our medical background that facilitates our ability to address medical issues and communicate effectively with our clients and other members of the treatment team.” – Joanne Govoni Rucki 
Also awareness of the importance of proximal -> distal strength development / physical prerequisite.” – Alex Paige Nuzzo 
I am an OT who switched from PT to private yoga after a while (with my PT’s blessing). My yoga teacher wasn’t an OT and I can’t really think of anything that would have changed had she had that background as she was amazing. And we actually made some really cool gains!” – Colleen Law
As an OT and a former yoga teacher (and current yogini), I see a particular opportunity for OT/yoga teacher to hold space when it comes to modifications/adaptations for all body types/ages/abilities.” – Heather Peroni 
I love this question! I’m a certified yoga teacher and an OTR; I have training in yoga therapy for mental illness as well; as I learned how to teach the classes during my training, my OT mind kept bringing in the purpose of this or that yoga pose. For example for physical conditions, some yoga poses are of great use and I wished I could used them all the time which made my OT mind adapting them ,so they can be accessible for all conditions; I was invited to a Yoga class in a PT clinic that had yoga classes for people with acute conditions; I was terrified to see how the client could have hurt himself because of the inability to adapt the poses. Back then I did not have yoga therapy training, but I was able to identify what adaptations were needed to complete the yoga poses; this is learned as well in Yoga Therapy school, which I strongly recommend to those yoga teachers that try to work as rehabilitators; in the mental field an OT/yogi can almost automatically see how some yoga flows can help patients for the different purposes, as the nervous system calms, energizes, etc with the different sources of sensory input provided. I have a Yoga room in the facility where I work and that room has given me the most enriched experiences even with my patients that has the most severe conditions. I’m working on my website and will soon share with the group some if my interventions for info purposes. I have a “cute” yoga therapy FB page as well that is full of great info… I can post the link if you allow it; I don’t sell anything in it, and I don’t promote myself in it either. It’s purely informative at this point. I read your email this am and learned all you have been doing with AOTA; way to go Emmy!” – Berenice Sansone
Being an Aussie OT and Yoga teacher I believe that we are able to provide TRUE holistic therapeutic yoga that is adaptable for all conditions. My specialties are working with people who have depression/anxiety, chronic pain, chronic illness and those seeking greater wellbeing. Combing my skills in Yoga, Mediation and OT I am able to provide a truly whole-person, whole-life approach to my sessions. I love being an OT! I love fusing my OT skills with these valuable modalities!” – Jess Leggatt
“I incorporate posture/alignment and breath work from my yoga training and practice almost daily in the inpatient rehab facility where I work!” – Heather Peroni
I am an OTA and a kids yoga instructor. I think that the two skills go hand in hand and can provide a unique experience for the yoga student. going to an instructor who has the OT experience broadens the scope of yoga if that makes sense. As a yoga instructor I was educated on the muscles and how each posture influences them. As a OT yoga instructor I combine that knowledge with the goals of the patient and then expand the yoga practice. This expansion of the practice enables me to therapeutically assess skills that I would not normally see in the clinic setting. It also allows a comfortable and fun way to work on challenging skills. Plus we know how to integrate reflexes and yoga instructors were not trained on that.I also can see from the poses what areas of their life may or may not be affected. As an OT yoga instructor I can take their practice off of the mat and incorporate it into their life.
The other point that I should probably mention is that yoga OTs can assess the limitations during the class as to the underlying condition. Could it be muscle shortening or some other cause. I really can’t emphasize enough how compatible they are and how much the student benefits. We are aware of many diagnoses and the safety factors surrounding them. if a client asked me about poses specific for spina bifida I would be able to give educated clinical reasons for choosing poses and would be knowledgeable of precautions.
I agree I do know many very knowledgeable instructors. I do know that a lot are limited in contraindications of specific diseases. We have knowledge bases or at least a lot of us do that we can modify yoga based on the specific contraindications of diagnoses. Understanding modifications is extremely different than understanding contraindications of a disease. Yoga instructors goal would be purely yoga and mind body connection based. More moving through postures and achieving them step by step. I feel the OT yoga instructor looks past the postures and into the skills that stem from the postures and breathing. The OT instructor completes the activities and goals of yoga but with a vision of the patients whole life in mind.
A yoga instructor can become a yoga instructor with minimal training. Some are considered instructors after a quick 12 hour class. Others are an instructor after 200 hours if they are RYT certified. We have at least 2 years of training if an assistant and then even more as an OT or OTD. That doesn’t even include years of practice. I think it is safe to say we know and understand how the body and brain works better than a lot of yoga instructors.” – Melanie Derck Jacobs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *