What is yoga therapy?

Yoga therapy is an ancient tradition that uses the tools and teachings of yoga to focus on an individual client’s needs. It’s an emerging profession in the West that serves as a complement to modern medicine. People with all kinds of conditions--structural, physiological, emotional-- can work with a yoga therapist either one-on-one or in the context of a group class or workshop series designed specifically for addressing that condition (see Dr. Timothy McCall's website for a comprehensive list of conditions that have been treated with yoga therapy). The therapist’s job is to figure out which yoga tools and methods are most appropriate for the individual(s): for example, someone with a chronic condition like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis might have a very different practice from a client with low back pain, or one with anxiety.

The yoga therapist sees the whole person--the relationship to self and to the outside world-- and works with clients to

  • Reduce symptoms and suffering, if possible
  • Increase self awareness and improve function
  • Manage symptoms that can’t be eliminated or reduced
  • Help shift perspective about challenges, so as to overcome them, and
  • Establish routines of self-care so that clients are empowered to improve their health and well-being

Together with the client, the yoga therapist establishes appropriate goals for treatment, and then develops a practice (sometimes called an intervention), teaches the client how to do it, and then assesses the impact of the therapeutic practice, adjusting it as needed to provide maximum benefit.  Personal practice tailored to the individual is the main tool of yoga therapy, and it’s the therapist’s job to inspire clients to do the practice consistently and pursue lifestyle changes.

What should you expect in yoga therapy sessions?

In an initial one-on-one session, we’ll spend some time talking about your condition and how it’s affecting your life, including

  • Symptoms/pain
  • What makes you feel better; what seems to aggravate your condition
  • Treatments you’ve tried or are currently pursuing
  • Your ability to cope with your condition
  • How your condition impacts your relationships
  • How your condition impacts your ability to do the things you love

If you have chronic pain or a structural condition, I will then assess your posture and how you move. From that assessment, I will develop a practice intervention for you that will take in to account what you can and want to do and how much time you have to practice. We’ll make sure you feel confident to do the practice and then you’ll go home and try to do it on your own. If you are not dealing with a structural condition, an initial practice will still likely include breath-centered movement.  In follow up sessions, we’ll see if the practice is effective and change it as needed to be more effective. Sometimes that will mean adding to the practice (seated breath work, affirmation, mantra, visualization, and meditation, for example); sometimes we’ll delete elements.  All changes will be based on your feedback and developing awareness of what seems to help you the most.

Group classes and workshops designed to address a particular condition will include educational components, group discussion, and a breath-centered movement practice, along with other tools of yoga as appropriate. Each participant will also receive a short and simple home practice to do between classes.

The teachings I have received come from an authentic lineage of yoga therapy, known as yoga cikitsa (CHI-KEY-TSA) that derives from the classical teachings of yoga and ayurveda. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga; it focuses on self-healing and promoting well-being. To learn more about yoga therapy, please contact me, or you can read more here.

"If you cannot find happiness in your attitude, in the way you look at things, then you cannot find happiness anywhere else either."

--Gurumayi Chidvilasananda