According to the International Association of Yoga Therapists:
“Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga.”
Essentially, yoga therapy is the application of yoga practices to alleviate physical and mental health conditions with the view of promoting self-care and encouraging overall well-being. Whilst the practice of yoga in general aims to cultivate the body and mind and hence has the potential for therapeutic effects, in yoga therapy we are using specific yoga practices and their known benefits to help alleviate or improvement mental and physical ailments
The modern term, ‘Yoga therapy’ was coined by Swami Kuvalyananda in the 1920s who believed the changes it would be possible to measure the physical and physiological changes that occurred through yoga practice. His passion brought foreigner researchers to India to study yoga’s effect, a magazine, an entire yoga institution and a new field. Swami Kuvalyananda made it possible to start applying the specific effects of yoga to medical conditions.
These days yoga therapy has become so popular, that many doctors are now supporting it. Various medical journals reveal research as to yoga’s multi-tiered benefits. Likewise those in the field of mental health often recommend yoga to clients or may even integrate aspects into their work. At The Minded Institute we train many mental health professionals to bring yoga therapy into clinical practice.
In fact, yoga therapy the evidence and support of yoga therapy is so great that in the USA cardiologist, Dr. Dean Ornish developed a yogic based intervention that can reverse heart disease. His program was so successful that it is now covered by public health insurance! Likewise in the UK, the NHS is now also becoming increasingly aware of the potential benefits of yoga therapy to their staff and patients alike and they recommend the British Council of Yoga Therapists in the Complementary and Alternative Therapies element of their service.
How is Yoga Therapy Used?
According to one of the great masters of yoga therapy from the 1900s, TVK Desikachar:
“Yoga therapy is a self-empowering process, where the care-seeker, with the help of the Yoga therapist, implements a personalized and evolving Yoga practice, that not only addresses the illness in a multi-dimensional manner, but also aims to alleviate his/her suffering in a progressive, non-invasive and complementary manner. Depending upon the nature of the illness, Yoga therapy can not only be preventative or curative, but also serve a means to manage the illness, or facilitate healing in the person at all levels.”
Yoga therapy aligns the unique and precise health needs of the client with yoga practices which the yoga tradition and also medical science find to have particular curative effects. For example, with lower back pain, there are very specific yoga positions and postures for strengthening and supporting the back and even soothing the symptoms of a herniated disc. Likewise, with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there are gentle, specialised ways of regulating the nervous system and fostering the return of an awareness of the body. In Autism Spectrum Disorders, specific yoga postures can be used to reduce heightened sensory arousal and promote emotional regulation.
Sessions may include breathing techniques, postures, meditation, relaxation techniques, or the promotion of behavioural changes.
Yoga Therapy can be used to treat:
Mental Health Conditions
- Eating Disorders
- Post-Natal Depression
- Back Pain
- Musculaskeletal problems
- High Blood Pressure
- Brain Injury
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Heart Disease
What should I expect from a typical yoga therapy session:
- The first time you meet your yoga therapist, you will discuss your unique needs.
- During the first session your yoga therapist will work with you to come up with a preliminary plan of daily practice. They will probably recommend a minimum of six sessions to begin with. Your plan will typically involve the elements of asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), and meditation. You are free to continue with other forms of treatment and, indeed, yoga can be used alongside other modalities very easily.
- Often the yoga therapist will prescribe practices for you to do at home. Yoga therapy is about teaching people the skills to help themselves in their own lives. It is about empowerment.
- Yoga therapy meets each and every person where they are. No health presentation is too great nor too small. Yoga therapy sessions are client-led, client-focused, and compassion-focused. The client is the master of their journey with their yoga therapist being a knowledgeable accompanier on the journey towards health and healing.