What is Yoga Therapy?
As I write this, I'm now 5 months into my Yoga Therapy training with The Minded Institute. It's a really exciting time to be a part of this emerging healthcare profession, but I'm often asked about the difference between a regular yoga class and yoga therapy?
Yoga is a science of living according to our means and the laws of life.
swami satyananda saraswati
Yoga vs Yoga Therapy.
The majority of the general public see yoga as a system of exercise and often this is what initially attracts them. Over time, practitioners discover that yoga is much more. Yoga provides the tools for a process of self awareness, self development and ultimately self realisation. Swami Satyananda Saraswati describes yoga as " a science of living according to our means and the laws of life."
"Yoga therapists fundamentally focus on their clients individual needs and use evidence based yogic practices in the treatment of specific health conditions"
While yoga is a healthy activity that can benefit it's practitioners in its general form, some yoga practices are not suitable for everyone. In fact, some yoga poses and pranayama techniques that are taught in yoga classes are actually contraindicated for people suffering from a whole host of physical and mental health conditions.
The International Association of Yoga Therapists describes yoga therapy as:
the professional application of the principles and practices of yoga to promote health and well-being within a therapeutic relationship that includes, personalised assessment, goal setting, lifestyle management and yoga practices for individuals or small groups
History of Yoga and Yoga Therapy
Yoga is an evolving, living tradition. Experts are unsure as to its exact origins, although it can be traced back about 5000 years to India. Those ancient practices would be completely unrecognisable when compared to what we call yoga today. With less emphasis on physical practice (asana) and more on pranayama, meditation and sound these ancient systems were practiced by religious ascetics. It wasn't until the 1920's and 30's that yoga became a more physical practice that was in part linked to India's struggle for national independence. After all, a strong healthy population would improve their chances in a struggle against their colonisers. So some teachers began integrating more challenging physical practices from other exercise systems like wrestling and gymnastics. This physical culture existed worldwide which made yoga an attractive new phenomenon when the first teachers brought their iterations of the practices to the west.
In yoga therapy healing is a whole person experience and aims to treat the root cause rather than just the symptoms of disease.
While its therapeutic potential is mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1350BCE) the therapeutic application of yoga specifically for health conditions is a relatively new phenomenon.
It wasn't until the early 1900s in India, that pioneers in this field, Swami Kuvalayananda and Shri Yogendra, began applying modern scientific procedures to measure the exact physiological effects that these practices were having on the body. This understanding then made it possible to offer prescribed yogic practices to treat or manage specific ailments.
Modern yoga therapy as a complementary and integrative healthcare profession is where modern scientific research, medical studies, psychology, neuroscience and ancient yoga practices come together.
This verifiable scientific validation now paved the way for Indian teachers to bring their interpretations of yoga to Europe and the USA presenting it as a method of supporting health and well-being.
These teachers included:
• Former medical doctor Swami Sivananda, who authored over 200 books on yoga, Vedanta, and a variety of subjects.
• The founder of an individualised form of yoga therapy called Viniyoga, T. K. V. Desikachar.
• B. K. S. Iyengar, whose experience of ill health in early life led him to experiment with the practices of yoga, in order to manage his conditions.
Mr Iyengar was responsible for developing a form of "remedial yoga", working in private sessions with individuals in order to prescribe specific practices that suited their needs. While these sessions were not what we now think of as yoga therapy, they were certainly a precursor.
Modern Yoga Therapy as a complementary and integrative healthcare profession is where modern scientific research, medical studies, psychology, neuroscience and ancient yoga practices come together. As more research continues to prove the physiological benefits of yoga for improving physical and mental health and wellbeing, more and more doctors and healthcare providers are now advocating its use. As we continue to learn more about conventional and new medical treatments for disease, so Yoga Therapy will continue to evolve and adapt.
A Yoga Therapist is highly skilled and uses their knowledge of yoga, physiology, science and philosophy to tailor practices on an individual or group basis to improve overall health and well-being. In yoga therapy healing is a whole person experience and aims to treat the root cause rather than just the symptoms of disease.
This holistic approach means that even though we may be looking at one ailment, the person may notice improvements in other aspects of their life.
What yoga therapy can do:
- Offer people the power to take their health into their own hands
- Treat and manage a host of non-communicable physical and mental health conditions.
- Work alongside traditional healthcare and medical interventions.
- Provide a cost effective means to improving population health.
- Provide a holistic approach to treating the root cause of illness and not just the symptoms.
- Support deep wellbeing through the Koshas.
Limitations of Yoga Therapy:
- Yoga therapists are not able to diagnose physical or mental health conditions.
- Yoga therapy is not an option for acute life or death health problems.
- Yoga therapy does not offer the quick relief that medications or surgery can.
- It is not appropriate as an initial intervention in any flare up with any condition, unless previously it helped with a flare up.
- It is not a treatment for infectious disease.
The practice of yoga can be used to treat, manage or cure a large number of non communicable diseases.
• Autoimmune conditions
• Back pain
• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
• Chronic Pain
• Digestive issues
• Ehlers Danlos Syndrome/Hypermobility
• Heart Disease
• Kidney Disorder
• Long Covid
• Lymphatic Issues
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Musculoskeletal problems
• Skin conditions
• Traumatic Brain Injury/Stroke
• Bipolar Disorder
• Borderline personality disorder
• Complicated grief
• Eating Disorders
• Post Natal Depression