A dynamic yoga teacher I know mentioned her affinity for yoga therapy. It can, she told us, keep us fit and independent as we age.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as “aging” yet, you may benefit from yoga therapy. Yoga can help heal many chronic ailments, whether associated with age or not. The beauty of yoga is it doesn’t only address physical issues (though it does that well).
What is yoga therapy?
For most of us, yoga is therapeutic whether we work with a yoga therapist or not. But if you have a specifi health issue—physical or otherwise—and you want to treat it with yoga, working with a bona fide yoga therapist may be your best bet.
The first known institutions specifically for yoga therapy include the Yoga Institute of Santa Cruz in the United States and Kaivalyadham Health and Yoga Research Center in India. Both institutions aim to blend classical yogic concepts with modern Western medicine and psychology.
We know the mind, body, and emotions are connected, so it makes sense to treat ailments holistically. Yoga offers wonderful tools for facilitating movement, managing stress and pain, and understanding, say, the connection between something like back pain and an anxious mind.
Yoga Therapy Works
My teacher, a certified yoga therapist, explained the principle behind yoga therapy is to listen to our bodies. While that may seem to go without saying, there are many styles of yoga that don’t always encourage us to lead with our own intuition. In other words, while good alignment is key, good alignment does not look the same for everyone.
In a Huffington post article, Larry Payne, co-founder of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), says he began using the principles of yoga therapy in his classes in the early 1980s. Specifically, he encouraged students “to let the posture fit them, rather than trying to fit their bodies into the posture.”
Trained yoga therapists help clients understand how to use yoga to connect body and mind to address specific physical, mental, and emotional challenges. Yoga therapy is especially effective for chronic issues, including pain from injuries or mobility issues from conditions like multiple sclerosis.
Yoga is may also help people who suffer from PTSD, addiction, heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. They key is an individualized approach that combines the best tools from yoga and Western medicine.
How to Find a Yoga Therapist
If you want to try yoga therapy, the first step is to find a qualified therapist. Begin by asking your yoga teacher for a referral. If she doesn’t have a recommendation, you can search for one on the IAYT site, which also has some tips on how to find a yoga therapist that meets your needs.
Have you tried yoga therapy for a specific issue in your life? Share your experience in the comments!