Many do not know the what, how, where and who-fore of yoga therapy. What is it? And how is it different from, well… just yoga?
Saturday June 21, 2020 is the International Day of Yoga, so this seemed like a perfect time to get back to basics and explain.
First, yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word ‘yoga’ derives from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, or to bind back. This symbolizes the union of body and mind.
I like to say that yoga is anything that brings us back to ourselves or that helps us befriend our own bodies.
Recognizing its universal appeal, on 11 December 2014, the United Nations proclaimed 21 June as the International Day of Yoga in order to raise awareness worldwide of the many benefits of practicing yoga. (I’d been a yogi for 20 years by then!)
The seminal text of yoga, the Yoga Sutras were compiled prior to 400 BCE by Patanjali in India who synthesized and organized knowledge about yoga from much older oral traditions. There, it is written The practice of yoga is the commitment to become established in the state of freedom. (chapter 1, verse 13).
Nothing represents freedom more than health. For millennia, the purpose of yoga has been creating that vital freedom.
Every day, we learn more about why yoga therapy helps us feel better and whole. One pivotal organization supporting research and education in this field is the International Association of Yoga Therapist (IAYT). IAYT certifies yoga therapists based on competency-based educational standards. Certified yoga therapists also agree to follow a defined scope of practice and a code of professional ethics. I’m pleased to be one of them.
1 | What is yoga therapy?
All yoga can be healing. But yoga therapy is a specialized discipline that uses yogic methods to specifically address a client’s physical, mental and emotional needs. This can include active and passive poses, meditation, breathing practices, props and more.
Here is the official definitions from the International Association of Yoga Therapy ::
Yoga therapy is the professional application of the principles and practices of yoga to promote health and well-being within a therapeutic relationship that includes personalized assessment, goal setting, lifestyle management, and yoga practices for individuals or small groups.
Like for many, originally, my yoga was all about the poses, the strength and the stretches. But when I faced typical life challenges, my practice exploded like confetti. There were all these other little pieces in there I didn’t even know existed. And I came to know yoga’s immense transformative power.
Yoga therapy is unique because yoga addresses every aspect of health, not just the body, and treats the body holistically. Yoga therapy does not separate the body from the mind.
And best of all, through yoga therapy you gain tools that you’ll have forever in your toolbox to feel stronger and better. That empowerment can be the best medicine of all.
2 | How can yoga therapy help?
Yoga therapy helps the body help itself. Lots of times yoga therapy works to shift or work around obstacles that seem to obstruct your body’s natural inclination to heal. It’s a safe way to work with the body’s innate capacities and does not have any side effects. Because the work encompasses the whole human – body, mind and spirit – yoga therapy can be a very effect catalyst for creating a sense of wellbeing.
Some specific afflictions that can be eased with yoga therapy include ::
weakness and fatigue
support for illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease
neurologic issues such as headaches, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and traumatic brain injury
Learn more here.
3 | What’s the difference between yoga and yoga therapy?
Again, all yoga can ease aches and pains, boost your mood and enhance wellbeing. A yoga therapy session goes further and deeper for the individual because the practice is created to address the particular needs of the client. As those needs may change over time, the practice and teaching is updated to alleviate shifting symptoms and conditions. IATY-certified yoga therapists have devoted years of study and training to help us assess and ensure clients stay safe and feel supported. And we interact with other healthcare professionals too, as needed.
4 | How does yoga therapy work?
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years. I’ve been doing yoga since 1994. And became a teacher in 2002 and a certified yoga therapist in 2017. I can attest to the fact that in the last 25 years SO much more is known about how and why yoga benefits us. When I experienced yoga’s healing power on a yoga retreat twenty years ago, I just knew it worked wonders.
Science is beginning to catch up and understand the mechanics of yoga and why these tools are effective from a western perspective. The brain, the nervous system and neuroplasticity are frontiers still being explored and investigated by western science. New tools such as functional MRIs and biofeedback help, as is all the medical research funding into non-opioid pain relief. Researchers believe yoga’s ability to modulate and tone the nervous system and brain signals is critical to accounting for the profound effect of yoga therapy.
5 | How can you find a certified yoga therapist?
I am one! And I am opening a few slots on my calendar for those interested in virtual sessions during this unusual time. Click here to book an appointment.
If you wish to find one in your own geographic area that you can transition to see in person once the world heals and reopens, here is the directory of IAYT-certified yoga therapists.
Additional resources ::
Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing by Dr. Timothy McCall
NOTE :: the links above are affiliate links – which means that I may earn a commission on these items (at no extra cost to you). Purchases made through these links are very appreciated. Thank you!
Scientific resources ::
Yoga Therapy and Pain—How Yoga Therapy Serves in Comprehensive Integrative Pain Management, and How It Can Do More, White Paper summary from IAYT
The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care by Sat Kir Khalsa et. al (2016)
Yoga for Depression and Anxiety: A Review of Published Research and Implications for Healthcare Providers by Dr. Lisa A. Uebelacker and Monica K. Broughton (Rhode Island Medical Journal 2016)
The effect of yoga practice on glycemic control and other health parameters in the prediabetic state by Ramya Ramamoorthi et. al. (Plos One 2019)
Systematic Review of Yoga Interventions to Promote Cardiovascular Health in Older Adults by Jennifer L. Barrows and Julie Fleury (Western Journal of Nursing Research 2015)