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Yoga Therapy: What Is It and What Can It Do for You?

Yoga Wellness Educator. Certified to teach Hatha Yoga, Meditation, Pilates, Reiki. Yoga Therapist-in-training. I love to write.

yoga-therapy-what-is-it-and-what-can-it-do-for-you

I successfully completed, this first week of May of 2021, a Yoga Therapy foundations program (200 hours). Through this yoga therapy training, I learned a more personal approach to help people reach their goals of wellness and well-being.

The yoga class, as we know it today, is a recent development in the history of Yoga. It has evolved to allow for endless possibilities. Hatha Yoga is till the dominant form of Yoga in the West because it fits the modern worldview in many ways:

  • It can be experienced more easily than the more esoteric forms. From the Western perspective, what can be seen and felt is real.
  • People need something to relieve the growing pressures of daily life. Hatha Yoga is a great resource and support for relieving stress.
  • Health is wealth to some extent in our society and yoga offers the possibility of being healthy and energetic.

Multi-Dimensional

Yoga Therapy is an exploration of ancient wisdom and modern wellness that represents a new approach to health based on wellness rather than illness. It emphasizes the importance of educating individuals in creating optimal health. This approach recognizes that healing needs to go beyond the individual and into society itself. Individual disease reflects a culture of stress and illness in which the healing process must be personal, social, cultural, and global.

According to the Integrative Yoga Therapy School led by Joseph and Lillian Lepage, the human being is a multidimensional creation with several “bodies” that coexist at different levels. A physical body composed of matter; a subtle body composed of energy, thought and emotion; and a causal body that is a spiritual source of energy, which is the essence of life.

yoga-therapy-what-is-it-and-what-can-it-do-for-you

Health is the integration of all the aspects of our being in alignment with our true self, the spiritual source that is the essence of our being. Physical health is the most concrete manifestation of our level of wholeness and integration, which comes from a feeling of unity with all of life. This source of energy, experienced in the body as prana, is a key factor in physical and mental health and is facilitated by the integration of mind and spirit.

The science of yoga enables the free flow of prana to all levels of our being through a practical connection to the source of our being, our true Self. Disconnection from or blockage of this vital life energy is a primary factor in illness. Constrictions in the mind and emotions are reflected in the energy body and the physical body as tension and disharmony. A lack of harmony affects every level of our being and is visible in key systems that maintain health at the physical level: the circulatory, respiratory, immune, and digestive systems.

Yoga provides a technology for discovering harmony and wholeness at all levels of our being, including health and healing of the physical body.

Impact of Stress

A key element in understanding the relationship between illness within the mind-body paradigm is the relationship between illness and stress. Through Yoga, practitioners learn to unwind from a state of chronic stress and move toward physical health and wholeness.

An entire science of yoga therapy has developed with an in-depth understanding of the uses of yoga for specific conditions and populations.

Body-Mind Connection and Healing

Yoga works at all the levels of our being: body, mind, and spirit. From the Ayurveda-based yogic perspective, we have five different bodies or Koshas. The word “kosha” means a sheath, a possibility for opening and integration.

There are yoga practices appropriate for each kosha.

  1. Physical body: yoga is the integration of all the physiological systems with their different cells, tissues, and organs into a harmoniously functioning unity so that we have perfect physical health.
  2. Energy body: integration of the breath and subtle energy including the energy centers called chakras.
  3. Psycho-Emotional body: integration of all aspects of mind and emotion.
  4. Wisdom body: it is the quality of discrimination that allows us to see the difference between the personal self and the cosmic self. It is the function of witnessing that allows us to see life as a unity rather than as fragmented.
  5. Bliss body or Body of Spirit where yoga is the experience of the joy of life through a connection to the deepest part of oneself that is the universal Self.

Koshic Model

The koshic model is non-dual as it describes all aspects of the human being as facets of one integrated reality united with each other and with their source. This model provides a framework for recognizing the therapeutic application of yoga and serves as a foundation for mind-body health.

The five koshas are:

  1. Annamayakosha: the material body; the anatomical systems; the five elements of air, water, earth, fire, and ether; and the three doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha that are various combinations of the five elements.
  2. Pranamayakosha: the bio-energetic field surrounding and infusing the material body with life energy including the prana vayus, the chakras and the nadis.
  3. Manomayakosha: the lower mind or stimulus response mind including our habitual thought process and emotions.
  4. Vijnyanamayakosha: the higher mind of discrimination, wisdom, and witness consciousness.
  5. Anandamayakosha: the bliss body, that energetic field through which the individual connects with the ultimate reality, which is inherently blissful.

By being able to zoom in and out of the various koshas, we can respond and relate to life skillfully at every moment. Yoga provides an organized set of tools for exploring and integrating all five koshas.

yoga-therapy-what-is-it-and-what-can-it-do-for-you

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Patanjali is a sage who is considered the father of yoga and the ancient Yoga Sutras text is attributed to him. His classification of classical yoga laid out the eight limbs of yoga, where he provided a framework for understanding which elements are most appropriate for opening and integrating each of the koshas. These eight limbs form a sequence from the outer to the inner.

  1. Yamas or the code of ethics:
    1. Ahimsa or non-violence
    2. Satya or truth
    3. Ashteya or non-stealing
    4. Brahmacharya is directing the life energy in you towards the highest good
    5. Aparigraha is following what you know is right and not worrying about what anyone else has, does, or says.
  2. Niyamas or the code of conduct:
    1. Sausha or cleanliness of body, mind, and spirit
    2. Santosha or contentment
    3. Tapas means austerity where our core beliefs are thrown into the fire of examination
    4. Svadhyaya is the study of self
    5. Ishvara Pranidhana means surrender to the Lord.
  3. Asana means posture or pose
  4. Pranayama means channeling and expansion of prana
  5. Pratyahara means drawing the senses inward
  6. Dharana means focused concentration
  7. Dhyana means meditation
  8. Samadhi is means Unity Consciousness.

The eight limbs of Yoga can be used for healing the body and the mind in a complete and integrated therapy. Yoga therapists integrate, mindfully and by design, the limbs of yoga into their therapeutic work with students and clients.

Goal of Yoga

The goal of yoga is three-fold:

  1. Knowing yourself.
  2. Awareness of your multi-dimensional nature.
  3. Freedom from duality.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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