Yoga and Yoga Therapy
Albert Einstein once said, “The formulation of the question is more important than the answer.”
I find this quote so interesting as when we formulate a question, very often it leads us to another question, and then another and another in order to arrive at perhaps not an answer, but certainly a deeper understanding of the subject. So, in this spirit, it would seem the first question is, “What is YOGA THERAPY”? Some will debate that yoga IS therapy, and they ask why do we (in the West) feel the need to call it ‘Yoga Therapy?’ The answer is simple and complex at the same time and certainly worth a good dialogue. It amuses me how it does seem to be our nature in the west to label things and put them into nice, neat, little categories! But perhaps this is where we formulate yet another question and that would be “what exactly is yoga” and then from that definition perhaps arrive at a better understanding of what yoga therapy is.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root yug which means union or to unite. The practice of yoga is an art and science both, whose purpose is to create union between body/mind/spirit. Through the practice of yoga, we are able to create balance and equanimity in our lives, hence bringing out our true nature, which is one of peace. Yoga, along with the sister sciences, enables us to remove the ‘ama’ or blockages that cause constriction to prana, or life force – it is about self awareness, about freedom within. It is about transformation.
In about 200 AD, Sri Pantanjali took it upon himself to write down what is now called the Yoga Sutras – a text that acts as a blueprint, as it were, for practicing yoga and therefore the ‘right way of living.’ Sri Patanjali unfolds for us the 8-limbed path that is the structural framework for our yoga practice. These 8 limbs are presented in a specific order, the intention being that they will be practiced in that order. Each connects to the other to arrive at the eighth and final limb – that of Samadhi.
The 8 limbs of yoga, which are:
- Yama : Universal morality
- Niyama : Personal observances
- Asanas : Body postures
- Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
- Pratyahara : Control of the senses
- Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
- Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
- Samadhi : Union with the Divine
As you can see above, Sri Patanjali suggests that we study the Yamas and Niyamas before we begin studying and practicing our asana practice. This is one of the huge differences between ‘classical yoga’ and that which is practiced here in the west. As we are all aware, with perhaps one or two exceptions, schools and studios here in the west teach the asana first.
We are then presented with the 4 paths of yoga: Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Jnana Yoga, and finally the ‘sister’ sciences of Ayurveda, Jyotish, Vastu Shastra, Yantra’s, Mantra’s and Mudra’s.
So, when we speak about yoga therapy, it is using all 8 limbs of yoga, the 4 paths of yoga, and the appropriate sister sciences to arrive at a protocol that best suits the individual and aids him/her in becoming healthy and radiant in body/mind/spirit.
The International Journal of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) replies to the question “what is yoga therapy” in this way; “Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the philosophy and practice of Yoga.”
Additional postings that I found on the IAYT website by some of the most renowned names in the yoga therapy world, in response to this question, “what is yoga therapy” are as follows:
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. TKV Desikachar & Kausthub Desikachar
Yoga therapy, derived from the Yoga tradition of Patanjali and the Ayurvedic system of health care, refers to the adaptation and application of Yoga techniques and practices to help individuals facing health challenges at any level manage their condition, reduce symptoms, restore balance, increase vitality, and improve attitude. Gary Kraftsow, American Viniyoga
Yoga therapy is the adaptation of yoga practices for people with health challenges. Yoga therapists prescribe specific regimens of postures, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques to suit individual needs. Medical research shows that yoga therapy is among the most effective complementary therapies for several common ailments. Robin Monro, Ph.D. Yoga Biomedical Trust (England)
Yoga comprises a wide range of mind/body practices, from postural and breathing exercises to deep relaxation and meditation. Yoga therapy tailors these to the health needs of the individual. It helps to promote all-round positive health, as well as assisting particular medical conditions. The therapy is particularly appropriate for many chronic conditions that persist despite conventional medical treatment. Marie Quail, Yoga Therapy and Training Center (Ireland)
Yoga therapy may be defined as the application of yogic principles to a particular person with the objective of achieving a particular spiritual, psychological, or physiological goal. The means employed are comprised of intelligently conceived steps that include, but are not limited to, the components of Ashtanga Yoga, which includes the educational teachings of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Also included are the application of meditation, textual study, spiritual or psychological counseling, chanting, imagery, prayer, and ritual to meet the needs of the individual. Yoga therapy respects individual differences in age, culture, religion, philosophy, occupation, and mental and physical health. The knowledgeable and competent yogin or yogini applies Yoga Therapy according to the period, the place, and the practitioner’s age, strength, and activities. Richard Miller, Ph.D.
“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.” —Rabindranath Tagore
As someone who is near to completing her 800-hour Yoga Therapy Training in order to become a certified Yoga Therapist, I am confident is saying that yoga therapy is very necessary for anyone facing health challenges of any type that are, as a result, causing dis-harmony in the body/mind/spirit. Yoga Therapy is about healing. The yoga therapist will suggest a program WITH you (not FOR you) that will result, if followed, in you finding that desired harmony in body/mind/spirit. You will gain great awareness of Self and discover your true nature. It is a most beautiful and rewarding journey.
There are many books on yoga therapy that one can find – far too many to list here. However, I am positive that google-ji would be delighted to help you find the best one for your needs! In addition, there is the International Association of Yoga Therapists. I would like to suggest that if yoga therapy is of interest to you that you join this excellent association. Their library. open to members, is extensive and will be of great assistance to you. As a member, you will receive their publications, of which there are two: Yoga Therapy Today, the magazine with insightful articles on all sorts of health issue, and the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, the peer-reviewed journal for the yoga therapy community and beyond.
If you are looking for a yoga therapist in your area, visit www.iayt.org and go to Accreditation and then Accredited Programs to find a school near you. You may contact them and find out if there is a yoga therapist in your area. By going through the IAYT website, you are as guaranteed as possible in finding a qualified yoga therapist to assist you with your needs.
Yoga is about holism, and to me that is its beauty. However, to arrive at ‘the whole’, it is sometimes necessary to look at the pieces that make the whole. In the following months, we will examine the Yoga Sutras and Four Paths of Yoga in depth and learn how we can bring them into our daily life. To learn about Ayurveda, please visit the Ayurveda section of this website. And to learn about the other sister sciences, I will pick one to delve into every couple of months, posting it under NEWS.
Thank you for joining me. In health.