Introduction to Yoga Therapy
What is Yoga’s Role in Therapy?
It’s widely known that Yoga can enhance your physical and emotional well being, but when Yoga is practiced with a therapeutic intention in the form of Yoga Therapy, it can help prevent and aid recovery from physical and mental ailments.
Yoga Therapy Definition
Yoga has long been practiced with therapeutic intentions as a way of transforming both the body and the mind. According to classical texts, most of the problems in our health come from a state of ignorance of who and what we are. By offering a vehicle of self knowledge, yoga provides the opportunity to become acquainted with our essence, in tune with the Oracle at Delphi’s command: ‘Know thyself.’ Knowing about Yoga, especially its practices and importance, leads us to a better understanding of ourselves and helps us gain physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance. From a psychological standpoint, therapy is defined as the possibility of accessing self-knowledge that will enable us to change that what we consider dysfunctional. A number of research studies have systematized the Yoga Therapy definition and have proven its effectiveness at developing exactly this type of higher awareness.
An introduction to Yoga will tell you that the applications of Yoga Therapy range anywhere from maintaining health, to recovering from illness - in some cases, even those considered incurable. The first stage of healing involves the movement of vital force in the system. Practitioners of many forms of medicine believe that every illness involves a certain level of energy blockage. By promoting the flow of ‘prana’ or vital force, Yoga combats those blockages, restoring the basic condition for health. Common applications of Yoga Therapy also serve structural problems such as spine misalignments or joint function. Deeper applications from this yoga definition may even aid more intractable problems such as AIDS and cancer.
By combining different therapies such as massage, stretching or alterations of the circulatory patterns, yoga promotes specific changes in muscles, joints and organs altering the vital functions of the body. This is a common therapeutic yoga definition. A good example would be the way Yoga Therapy can help Panic Attack. By practicing a balancing breathing technique, a sense of control is gained, combating the fear and anxiety produced by its loss. Additionally, by practicing Tratak, a specific technique that involves eye movement, the pituitary gland is reset via the optic nerve, influencing the 'fight or flight’ reaction so intimately related with the syndrome.
On a psychological level, the introspection promoted by yoga is essential to the self-knowledge process that fuels psychic transformation. Many may not know this about yoga, but the different relaxation techniques allow the troubled mind to calm and decrease its activity while promoting stability. Yoga considers the psyche to be spread in different centers along the body (Chakras). Each of these is related to a nervous plexus, an endocrine gland, an organ or group of organs and specific psychic qualities. By acting upon the chakras, yoga brings light on those psychic contents, making them available to the conscious mind. The modern western correlate of this scheme is in the core of Psychoneuroimmunology, a branch of psychology that studies the interaction between the nervous, endocrine and immune systems, explaining some of the subtle mechanisms of psychosomatic medicine.
The fact that the different branches of science are recently acknowledging that everything in the universe works together with absolute, intimate and exquisite interrelationship, is part of the bases of the increasing success and respect that Yoga Therapy is gaining among mainstream medical practitioners. As more clinicians use these techniques either for themselves or for their patients and as more Masters design more specific applications of Yoga, the spectrum of Yoga Therapy grows exponentially.
What is Yoga Therapy’s Main Branch?
More than following just one style or one branch of Yoga, Yoga Therapy feeds from virtually all styles and branches, combining the tools that each one of them bring in the design of a Yoga Sadhana, or routine that addresses the given condition. Even though different Yoga Therapists follow different procedures to establish the Sadhana, a pretty general scheme would first determine the condition to be treated and then an evaluation of the person’s general abilities. Then the appropriate yogic techniques can be chosen from the various disciplines which would best serve the therapeutic process. At last, the logistical aspects of the Sadhana should be determined, such as order of practice and number of repetitions. The person then can practice on his or her own or receive the expert guidance of a Yoga Therapist. The Sadhana is then updated according to the progress that the student accomplishes.
The integration of Mind and Body is very important for the healing process, but maybe the main aspect where Yoga comes in handy is the inclusion of the ‘spiritual’ realm into the equation. A correct introduction to Yoga will tell you that even if the student or patient belongs to no religion or if she or he does not acknowledge the existence of spirit, the practice of some of these techniques can eventually integrate this aspect of the self.
After all, the Earth is spinning, and it needs not our acknowledgment, nor does it needs us to push it!
About the Author
Antonio Sausys, MA, our ATH Yoga Co-Editor, is a somatic health practitioner and yoga instructor specializing in one-on-one yoga therapy for people with chronic and acute medical conditions and emotional imbalances.
During his career, Antonio (BA Psychology, MA Body-Oriented Psychotherapy) discovered a key correlation between modern body-oriented psychotherapy and ancient yogic teachings, integrating the best practices from both worlds. He applies specific yogic applications working with individuals to create a “Yoga Sadhana”. This is a specific and personalized yogic routine that best serves the individuals’ needs and abilities, integrating mind, body and spirit to fully embrace the experience of life.