Yoga practice on it’s own can help with a myriad of physical, mental and emotional issues. If your practice includes movement or use of asanas (postures) you will receive the benefits of moving interstitial and synovial fluid through the muscles and joints; lengthening and strengthening muscles and raising and lower your heart rate. If your practice includes pranayama or breath work, you’ll receive the benefits of toning your abdominal wall, creating greater motility in your abdominal organs, slowing your breath down and finding greater depth of breath. And, if your practice includes meditation you will learn to watch and turn inside. You might also experience less stress, find you pay more attention to how you move and take care of your body on many levels. Yoga is truly a process of self-discovery and in turn self-development based on what we learn. In a sense, we could consider all yoga therapeutic from this perspective. However, there are many differences between a yoga class and a yoga therapy session.
Let’s start with WHAT IS YOGA THERAPY?
According to the International Association of Yoga Therapists, of which I am a member, yoga therapy…
“Specifically applies yogic tools—postures, breath work, meditation, & more to address an individual’s needs—physically, mentally, emotionally, & even spiritually.”
Yoga Therapy can address a range is issues and needs of the individual. I have a long history of working in the wellness world which began with a Masters of Health Science from The George Washington University. Movement, meditation and stress management were just a few of my specialties. In 2001, I started teaching yoga and never looked back. I completed a number of advanced yoga teacher training’s with both the Kripalu and Pranakriya Schools of Yoga including becoming a Yoga Therapist in 2014 and a Thai Yoga Massage Therapist in 2008. Yoga Therapy married my love of wellness and yoga. It was a perfect fit.
“clients are usually not coming to learn yoga, but to get help with or relief from some symptom or health condition that is troubling them. In most cases, the instruction focuses on their condition and how the yoga techniques can help them feel better or improve their function, rather than on the techniques or methods of yoga practice.” -Gary Krafstow
In a traditional yoga class, the instructor leads the students in yoga postures, breathwork and meditation in a general fashion available to all students or as designated by the class description. This is what would be called a community oriented practice. The teacher guides the class for a group practice in a way that supports everyone to the extent possible. The students who arrive for practice come with a multitude of physical and emotional issues which the yoga teacher may or may not know about. The teacher works with a general practice that will be safe for all participants.
In a yoga therapy session, the teachers role and the practice change. A yoga therapy session might be one to one or involve a small group of individuals with a similar condition. Unlike a regular yoga class, a yoga therapist will ask the participant to complete a formal intake and assessment form. The session will be very directed toward the needs of the client. In addition to practice, a session might include discussion about yoga philosophy or yogic techniques that might be beneficial for the client. There is a lot of back and forth conversation and checking-in, unlike a traditional yoga class. The yoga therapist also works to help the client to take a more active role in their healing by providing practices for home use.
Yoga therapy uses a bio-psycho-social model of wellbeing and believes that all parts of us are interconnected and when one area is supported other areas also are supported. Yoga Therapists look at the WHOLE being and includes musculoskeletal stretching and strengthening, changing neurological processing and regulating the nervous systems.
A Yoga Therapist requires a different level of education and training than a group or even private yoga instructor.
After the initial assessment, your yoga therapist will recommend a treatment plan combining many of the different yoga therapy modalities. You might also receive a home practice plan. Based on your needs, you might meet with your yoga therapist weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or every few months for a check-in or move forward based on your needs.
A session might include a brief discussion on some topic of yoga philosophy or lifestyle that would support your goals. Meditation, breath work and asana practice are included as well although it may be modified or look a bit different than traditional yoga. A therapist might also use mantra (sound) or mudra (hand postures) to support the client. Even exercise or wellness modalities might be incorporated. For example, you might be working on managing chronic low back pain. Your therapist might work with you on posture, gait and breath work to really feel and connect with your body followed by movement that would support the lengthening and strengthening of your back. There might also be movement and awareness geared toward all parts of your body since a yoga therapist takes your whole being into consideration when developing recommendations and practices.
Most therapists will ask for at least three lessons to help you get the most out of the practice. Although best done in person, online yoga therapy sessions are also a possibility using skype, zoom or other services. These sessions, however, do require that the student commit to purchasing yoga and other supplies to support their session.
Feel free to contact me about Yoga Therapy or leave a question in the comments section.