As I begin another series of trainings in yoga therapy I have people asking me ‘what is yoga therapy’ or ‘what does a yoga therapist do’.
In the west when we think of yoga, we think of it primarily as a physical practice, as exercise. But yoga is a multi-dimensional practice, and along with its sister science, Ayurveda medicine, has been used as medical treatment and prevention for thousands of years. Yoga therapy has many applications such as managing high blood pressure, coping with the effects of cancer treatments, or treating mental and emotional disorders like depression or anxiety. It is especially helpful for treatments of musculoskeletal issues like low back pain, knee and shoulder issues, just to name a few. In an article for Gaiam Life Janice Gates, then president of the International Association of Yoga Therapists stated “Yoga therapy is very much about the whole person. It is complementary to physical therapy, but we take into account that back pain may be related to an emotional element, or it may be from lifestyle, some pattern that is not serving them, physical movement patterns or other patterns.”
Yoga therapy integrates traditional yogic concepts and techniques, with western medicine and modern psychology to become a complementary health & wellness practice. The Yoga Therapist creates a safe place for healing and growth to happen, by combining these elements and treating their client as a whole person, not just a disease.
Yoga therapy has been making inroads into the healthcare industry for quite some time; the ideas, concepts and deeper understanding of all that yoga has to offer are slowly making their way into main stream medical offices. Many doctors are now recommending yoga therapy to their patients primarily as a way to combat the effects of stress. But there is so much more that yoga therapy can do and while physicians are now beginning to understand how yoga therapy can complement modern medicine many doctors recommendations stop at stress relief. Maybe they don’t know how yoga works or perhaps they don’t have any personal experience with yoga, but without the information about how yoga works and how to best prescribe it they will simply continue to tell their patients to “go do yoga”. Since most patients won’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) seek yoga on their own, doctors need a resource, someone they can refer their patients to, someone with the knowledge of the right poses, or what breathing and meditation techniques would work for them. The yoga therapist can bridge the gap as the patient begins to transition from dis-ease to a life more functional.
Surely everyone knows how great yoga is for stress reduction, isn’t that a ‘given’ anymore? But yoga is also beneficial for people getting back to the business of life after major surgery, illness or injury. And yoga is for everyone; young children are being taught yoga & meditation in schools to help them study and elderly residents in nursing homes do yoga in chairs to help alleviate the effects of aging and to help them stay active. Yoga is for people looking to slow down the aging process but also the injured athlete wanting to get back in the game. Yoga therapies are for the obese client and those battling eating disorders; for someone healing from trauma to another person making their way back from addictions.
Yoga therapy offers holistic healthcare solutions for everyone.
If you think yoga is just about stretching or being flexible you limit what yoga can do, how yoga can help you. Yoga contributes to your overall health and well-being in so many ways. Yoga teaches healthier breathing habits that help the body with superior oxygenation providing many benefits on a cellular level, giving you bright, healthy, youthful skin; increased energy; reduced mental and physical fatigue; increase mental clarity and yoga gives your body’s immune system a big boost. All that healthy breathing combined with the yoga postures can benefit your metabolism without the stress that hard cardio workouts can put on the body. And some studies are now showing that ‘less is more’ when it comes to heart health and exercise. Beyond the physical benefits, yoga contributes to a sense of well-being and self-awareness. Yoga can enliven our senses, helps us be aware of the world around us and allows us to move through that world in a way that serves us on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. Modern medicine simply does not address all of those components.
Yoga therapy concepts are an important component of preventative medicine too. If we expect to age well, to live productive lives, to remain active in our communities then we need to add yoga to our lives to allow us to get healthy, be healthy and to remain healthy. As yoga therapy continues to grow into the medical fields, yoga therapists will have the responsibility help physicians understand the benefits of prescribing yoga to their patients. We need to work together, physicians and yoga therapists, along with other complimentary and holistic treatments to empower people to live healthy lives.
At its heart yoga is about living life without fear. Whether that fear manifests as physical pain, emotional turmoil or mental distress, Yoga therapy is another tool that you can use to live healthy and well.
Roger Cole demonstrating an adjustment for the SI joint on yours truly, at a recent training event.