What is Yoga Therapy?
It's a hot topic right now! There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about what yoga "therapy" is and what it is NOT, as well as confusion about how to find a therapist who is properly trained in how to safely administer yoga therapy.
The Yoga Alliance, the accepted accrediting body for yoga schools and teachers, is distancing itself from the term "therapy", even as the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) is defining yoga therapy. IAYT has recently established their own guidelines for schools offering programs in yoga therapy to certify yoga therapists. Establishing a set of recognized guidelines helps those who seek yoga therapy know that the professionals they are seeking have met or exceeded certain requirements in the field and that they have a well-rounded education - just like any other field.
I believe that it is important to protect the consumer from "charlatans" who claim to be therapists, but who are not qualified to help them. However, it is also important that we define what "therapy" is and develop clear standards of practice.
So what is yoga therapy, how is it different from simply taking a private yoga class and what are it's benefits? As a yoga therapist, I do NOT diagnose EVER. I am not a medical doctor. Typically, a client will seek yoga therapy AFTER they have a diagnosis from a doctor. That diagnosis can be useful in determining a course of action, as well as any and all recommendations given by the doctor. A yoga therapy session begins with an initial intake and assessment in which client and therapist work together to understand what the client hopes to accomplish/address with yoga therapy. Yoga therapy is designed to address the specific needs of the individual and for some it may consist primarily of pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation and relaxation practices such as restorative yoga or yoga nidra. Therapy may also include physical asana (gentle stretching), somatics, mudras, guided visualization, affirmation, and nutrition guidelines. Sessions might address a physical condition such as scoliosis or rheumatoid arthritis, or a psychological/emotional like depression or PTSD - these conditions might improve by attending a yoga class, but they can be specifically addressed on a case by case basis in a personal therapy session.
The practice of "yoga" has become largely a physical one in the United States - with elements of the spiritual/mental/emotional sometimes woven in, depending on the school or teacher. But yoga is much more than a physical practice of exercise. In India, yoga has historically been recognized as therapy, but Western Medicine has long been skeptical of alternative therapies and is still catching up with Eastern philosophy. The fields of herbal medicine, massage therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic medicine have all had issues with being defined as they relate to Western ideas of medicine and therapy. Having benefited from all of these sources of holistic medicine with my own musculoskeletal issues that Western medicine addressed only with drug therapy, I can say that Eastern medicine/holistic medicine treated me as a WHOLE individual. I have found pain relief, healing and wellness for my chronic myofascial pain through alternative therapies.
*Many of us in the yoga field work as BOTH yoga teachers AND therapists. I teach a variety of Hatha based yoga classes at several studios and gyms, and I also see individual clients seeking yoga therapy to address their specific needs.
*It is ALWAYS important to be informed about issues that affect your health! There are several wonderful articles already written addressing this topic, and representing different opinions from leaders in our field of yoga. I am including links to 4 of them here: Gary Kraftsow, founder of American Viniyoga Institute: https://yogainternational.com/article/view/The-Distinction-Between-a-Yoga-Class-and-a-Yoga-Therapy-Session Leslie Kaminoff, yoga educator & co-author "Yoga Anatomy": http://www.yogaanatomy.org/2008/im-not-a-yoga-therapist-anymore/ Beth Spindler: https://yogainternational.com/article/view/Why-Gentle-Doesnt-Always-Mean-Therapeutic-in-Yoga Susan Enfield: http://www.yogajournal.com/article/health/western-doctors-prescribing-yoga-therapy/