In the traditional Indian system of health care known as Ayurveda, hatha yoga is used as a therapeutic modality. The name Ayurveda combines two Sanskrit words, ayur, meaning “life,” and veda, meaning “science, or knowledge.” Literally translated, Ayurveda means “the science of life.”

In the Ayurvedic system, which is several thousand years old, poor health is believed to stem from being out of balance, both internally and with the universe at large. Ayurvedic therapies aim to restore an individual to a state of balance. The purpose of yoga in this context is primarily to work on bringing the whole person—mind, body and spirit—into harmony. While certain yogic practices have relevance to specific disorders—for example, pranayama (breathing exercises) for asthma—yoga therapy is generally not disease oriented. In contemporary settings, yoga is considered a complement to medical treatment if a disease is diagnosed.

“Yoga therapy” refers to the use of yogic techniques to help people with health challenges manage their conditions, reduce symptoms, restore balance, increase vitality and improve attitude. A leading teacher of yoga therapy in the United States is Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute (AVI). The AVI “uses the term viniyoga to refer to an approach to yoga that adapts the various means and methods of practice to the unique conditions, needs and interests of each individual—giving each practitioner the tools to individualize and actualize the process of self-discovery and personal transformation,” says Kraftsow.

To learn more about viniyoga and yoga therapy, see