Yoga Wellness Educator. Certified to teach Hatha Yoga, Meditation, Pilates, Reiki. Yoga Therapist-in-training. I love to write.
I am about to graduate from a yoga therapy training at the 200-hour level with the Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy Foundational Program. Advanced training is at the 800-hour level.
I found yoga therapy an eye opener to the way I do yoga on a daily basis.
Doing yoga feels therapeutic to many of us who do it regularly, but this does not mean that yoga therapy is the same as yoga.
What is Yoga Therapy?
Yoga classes are geared to either the public or groups of the population such as athletes, children, seniors, or people who have arthritis or back pain.
Yoga therapy focuses on designing a personalized practice using a sequence of poses. It uses well-defined yoga postures in a sequence along with breathing techniques (called pranayama) to help maintain and heal the body. It can help reduce symptoms associated with some health disorders by doing a simple flow of yoga poses in a sequence to bring the body to maximum good health. It is meant to be a practice that strengthens, supports, and restores health throughout our life.
According to the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), even if all “yoga is potentially therapeutic and healing, yoga therapy is the specific application of yogic tools —postures/exercises, breath work, meditation techniques, and more— to address an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional needs.”
Classes or Sessions?
Yoga teachers or instructors lead a group of people and give them general instructions.
Yoga therapists teach one-on-one sessions, and design a personal yoga plan that works for you.
Yogic View of Therapy
In his Structural Yoga Therapy book, Mukunda Stiles says that according to the philosophical text Yoga Vasistha, there are three key causes of disease:
- Flawed rapport between the mind and the senses.
- Knowing what a good action is but this knowledge is overcome by compulsive or selfish behavior; and
- External influences such as climate change, diet and lifestyle, or accidents.
The goal of yoga therapy is to “achieve a sattvic state of peace and tranquility”, which means emotional and intellectual balance and positive thinking.
Yoga therapy uses a koshic model based on Ayurveda, and the practice is designed especially for you as an individual. This model is based on the koshas that are a yogic illustration of a person’s anatomy. The koshas are the different layers that help to get an insight into your character to become healthy and complete.
Ayurveda is the basis for this model. It aims to manage and unite body, mind, and spirit using an interconnected approach by giving special importance to diet, herbal remedies, yoga, breathing techniques, and meditation.
In the koshic model, the goal of yoga therapy is to bring the koshas into balance. If one kosha is out of balance, it could influence the other koshas inappropriately. Yoga therapists test koshic imbalances and teach personalized practices to balance them.
When planning a personal yoga lifestyle for you, teachers consider your physical body, existing health conditions, individual and family history, view of the world, disposition, life goals, interpersonal and intrapersonal relationship, work-life balance, emotional awareness, mental stamina, and sense of spiritual connection (see paragraph before last in this article).
Yoga therapy is about people, not conditions.
5 Benefits of Yoga Therapy
To mention just a few, a regular practice of yoga therapy helps to:
- Manage stress and improve mental health.
- Improve flexibility, balance, and mobility especially in older people.
- Offer a comprehensive integrative pain management to reduce chronic pain.
- Improve the health of the heart.
- Improve the quality of life.
For more information on how yoga therapy helps in managing pain, visit IAYT’s website to read their white paper on “Yoga Therapy and Pain: How Yoga Therapy Serves in Comprehensive Integrative Pain Management, and How It Can Do More”.
Training of Yoga Therapists
Yoga therapists receive a rigorous training to help them test you and keep you, their client, safe.
Trained to work one-on-one with individuals, they DO NOT take the place of doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists or other health care professionals.
They teach you how the mind, body, and prana work, and take into consideration any limitations you may have. They give you custom-made practices that include movement and physical poses, breathing techniques, meditation and/or visualization practices that deal with specific areas of discomfort or musculoskeletal imbalances.
There are less than 10,000 yoga therapists in the world. It is a rather new approach to health — about 15 years old. But it is increasingly in demand by individuals seeking to free themselves from pain and physical discomfort.
What Factors Are Taken Into Account?
Physical body: The yoga therapist assesses the range of motion of your muscles and works to strengthen weak muscles and lengthen tight muscles.
Existing health conditions are a medical illness or injury that you have before you start a yoga therapy program especially designed for you.
Individual and family history is a record of health information about you and your close relatives. Families have genes, environment, and lifestyle in common. These factors can give clues to medical conditions that may run in a family.
View of the world is your set of beliefs about basic aspects of reality that influence the way you perceive, think, know, and do.
Disposition is a tendency you have, your mood or your general attitude about life.
Life goals include what you want to do in life.
Interpersonal relationship is the relationship you have with other people such as co-workers, peers, superiors, friends, and relatives. The intrapersonal relationship is the one you have with yourself and how well you know your strengths and weaknesses.
Work-life balance is when you give the same importance to your career and the demands of your life. Some of the reasons that could lead to a poor work-life balance are increased responsibilities at work or working longer hours.
Emotional awareness is when you are able to identify the emotions you are feeling at a given time. To manage your emotions well, you first need to be aware of and understand what you are feeling.
Mental stamina is the ability to stay strong in the face of adversity. Other words for mental stamina are endurance, energy, grit, and resilience.
Spiritual connection is about sharing the same basic values, beliefs, life goals, and dreams as a group or with another person.
Both yoga and yoga therapy are helpful. Choosing one over the other depends on what you want in life and what you think you need so you can improve the quality of your life.
If you are a healthy person who enjoys being in a group, then group yoga classes are for you.
If you prefer special attention or have a health condition or physical pain, then working with a qualified yoga therapist would be more useful for you.
If you are dealing with a health condition and like to be part of a group, then meet with a yoga therapist first. Learn from her/him what is appropriate for you and how you can accommodate yoga poses, then join a group yoga class. Check first that the yoga teacher would let you accommodate your practice in a group.
Enjoy practising yoga in a group class or led by a yoga therapist!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.