What is Yoga Therapy?
Yoga therapy is based on the ancient science of yoga that focuses on a person’s well-being at all levels: physical, psychological, and spiritual. Yoga therapy recognizes that the healing journey for each individual person is unique, and therefore the practices of Yoga must be adapted and modified for the individual to facilitate optimal health and healing of the mind and body. Many therapeutic approaches with yoga may be approached with only attention to the physical body. In the true spirit of Yoga therapy, not only the areas of the student’s physical strengths and weakness should be observed, but the approach should take into consideration the student’s Ayurvedic constitution, their psychological strengths and weaknesses, and stress in their lives.
Illness is a separation from our own true nature of well-being. Yoga therapy addresses not only physical rehab for the student, but also the large questions of the meaning of life and the role of health and healing within it. Yoga therapists acknowledge that the entire life journey is a healing process of re-connecting with our true selves, with nature, other people, and with the Divine Spirit. Health in yoga is a matter of the whole person. The connection between the mind and the body is the breath, or more accurately, the prana.
To see a student completely, we must look at their various levels, or koshas. At the first level, the Anna-maya-kosha, or physical body, we look at them anatomically, the body’s physiological processes, and their doshas, whether they are vata, pitta, or kapha. The second level is the Prana-maya-kosha, or energy or pranic body. The flow of energy in a person is necessary for maintaining good health. This body includes the nadis and the chakras, with the breath as a bridge between the physical and energy bodies. The third level is the Mano-maya-kosha, or the psycho-emotional body. This level would relate to the student’s dominant emotional and thought patterns that comprise their personality. These patterns can be assessed in relation to the three gunas: rajas, tamas, and sattva. The Vijnana-maya-kosha is the fourth level, the witness or wisdom body. This is the level where we should be able to see the larger picture of who we really are. The fifth and final level is the Ananda-maya-kosha, or the bliss body. This is the level that we can contact during meditation once the confusions and distractions have been removed.
In creating a Yoga Therapy program for a student, the assessment should include first a list of physical symptoms and a postural evaluation. Also in the first step, the Yoga therapist should assess the student’s emotional, pranic, mental, and spiritual levels of being. The second step is looking at areas of separation between the five koshas. Where is there separation from the physical body, the breath, nature, parts of one’s own personality, other people, or a connection of the Divine? Since the result of separation at any level is resistance and stress, the next step is to understand the role of stress in the student’s life. Then the plan of action should be formulated. This would include selecting the yogic techniques that would help facilitate the individual’s wellness. The final step would be to adapt and change the techniques from session to session depending on the needs of the student.
The beauty of Yoga Therapy is that it is a time-tested path to wellness that understands how to bring balance to the individual and treat the true source of the problem, not the symptoms. The role of the Yoga Therapist is to offer the elements of Yoga most appropriate for the student and maintain a living, nonjudgmental space for the student’s growth. The process is a journey of healing and integrating all aspects of ourselves with a growing awareness of who we really are and the nature of the Divine.
A Yoga Therapist:
- Sees and responds to the individual
- Integrates philosophy
- Creates a holistic client relationship
- Communicates with medical professionals
- Has done deeper study and completed another level of certification
- Works with patient goals
- Is a teacher first
- Has good assessment skills including structural, physiological, emotional, and spiritual assessment
- Has the client rather than the collective as a priority
- Facilitates the change in a person holistically
- Works with complications of life stage issues rather than just with life stages; e.g., complications of pregnancy rather than teaching a prenatal class
- Understands the causes of disease
- Uses yoga tools beyond the asana
- Knows how to develop treatment strategies and adapt them to individuals; the strategies are client-based rather than protocol-based
- Assesses the outcome of the practice and appropriately makes adaptations