While any type of yoga can bring health benefits, yoga therapy involves employing a variety of yoga practices to try to improve a health condition or to ease a natural process, such as pregnancy or menopause. Among the yogic tools used therapeutically are asana (the physical postures), Pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, and guided imagery. Although many people don't realize it, yogis also consider diet an integral part of yoga and therefore of yoga therapy.
Therapeutic yoga is an inherently holistic approach, simultaneously working on the body, mind, and spirit. Various yoga practices systematically strengthen different systems in the body, including the heart and cardiovascular system, the lungs, muscles, and the nervous system. Yoga practices can improve function of the digestive system, foster psychological well-being, and improve oxygen delivery to tissues. Yoga also can help the body more efficiently remove waste products, carcinogens, and cellular toxins.
Most people in the West live stressful lives, and yoga—and by extension yoga therapy—is perhaps the best overall stress reduction system ever invented. Stress has been linked to a wide variety of medical problems, from migraine headaches and irritable bowel syndrome to potentially life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Since persistently high levels of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, can undermine function of the immune system, here too yoga can help.