Yoga Therapy Articles

What is Yoga Therapy?

Yoga therapy is the professional application of the principles and practices of yoga to promote health and well-being within a therapeutic relationship that includes personalized assessment, goal setting, lifestyle management, and yoga practices for individuals or small groups.”

International Association of Yoga Therapists

What is Yoga Therapy

The importance of Yoga Therapy

Yoga Therapy is becoming an important modern pillar of support for physical and mental health, but where does it actually come from and why should we choose Yoga Therapy as a form of treatment?

First of all  we feel it is important to shed some light upon its origins. Just like yoga itself, it is hard to establish a specific time in which Yoga Therapy was born. In fact, there are possibly many sources that have contributed to the development of this discipline, starting from the time of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (II C.E), where Yoga is described as a methodology to achieve the end of suffering, although not really for better health.

Patanjali does mention disease as one of the obstacles of spiritual practice, and the yogis of the time used a traditional holistic system of medicine called Ayurveda.

We could say that the first text where Yoga as therapy is mentioned, is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1350 CE).

In it, some yoga poses are described for their health effects, as well as some Pranayama practices: “In all diseases, a yogic patient should take treatment from a physician and also use yoga treatments” *Chapter 5

From the XIX century until today, a legacy of teachers and scholars, from Sri Kuvalayananda, Sri Yogendra and Sri T Krishnamacharya, to BKS Iyengar, T.K.V Desikachar, AG Mohan and Indra Mohan, have contributed to the initial development of Yoga Therapy.

However, modern Yoga Therapy is a lot more than the heritage from the past:  Yoga Therapy is where past, present and future meet. It is where modern research, medical studies, psychology and yoga converge. With some added common sense.

Contrary to popular belief, yoga practices are not suitable for everyone. In fact, the general yoga poses that are taught in yoga classes and which we find all over the internet are actually contraindicated for people suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, scoliosis, herniated discs, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, asthma, COPD, and many other physical health issues. Some yoga practices can also be counterproductive, even dangerous, for anyone suffering from mental illness, eating disorders, clinical depression, PTSD and panic disorders.

This is where knowledge of modern medicine, understanding of trauma-informed psychology and the collaboration with health practitioners and researchers become the essential ingredient for the ultimate development of Yoga Therapy as a continuously evolving, adapted, safe, complementary form of therapy.

As we learn more about conventional and new medical treatments for disease, so does Yoga Therapy learn and adapts. Yogis of the past thought that inversions were beneficial for the brain, as a preparation for meditation. However thanks to modern anatomy and physiology we now know that inversions can cause a stroke in populations over 40 years of age. Yoga Therapy, therefore, arrives with a brand new set of contraindications, variations and modifications which need to be implemented when working with anyone over 40, in particular those that might be overweight, with elevated blood pressure, women after the menopause, diabetics, and a history of heart disease.

Yoga Therapy is equally trauma informed and trauma sensitive, thanks to the current research work of Bessel van der Kolk, MD and The Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY), a program of Center for Trauma and Embodiment at Justice Resource Institute.

Finally, it is important to mention that science-based Yoga Therapy would not exist without the work of The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).  The IAYT is a professional platform which supports research and education in yoga and serves as a professional organization for yoga teachers and yoga therapists worldwide. Their mission is to establish yoga as a recognized and respected therapy and  has consistently championed yoga as a healing art and science.

Their publication, The International Journal of Yoga Therapy (IJYT), is an annual, peer-reviewed journal serving yoga practitioners, yoga teachers, yoga therapists, health professionals, and yoga researchers. They publish scholarly and research-based submissions related to any tradition or aspect of yoga therapy. 

They also organize a yearly Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR) and Symposium on Yoga Research (SYR), the foremost academic yoga research conference.

Ancient wisdom on its own could make yoga a dangerous, misinformed practice. In the same way, modern knowledge by itself can lack the weight of past experiences and collective wisdom that has served us for thousands of years.

Yoga Therapy brings the elements of those traditional yoga practices adapted to the individual with their physical, psychological and emotional needs, their history and environment, supported by the back-up of modern medicine, psychology and research.

More than ever, we face uncertainty in a confusing, sometimes scary world. Yoga Therapy has perhaps been born from this need for support of our physical and mental health, and for understanding of the human condition. Somewhere where we can find silence, introspection, interoception and yet connection with others, in a safe place. Learning from the mistakes of the past and looking ahead into the future, Yoga Therapy is a science and knowledge-based platform where there are no gurus to follow, only the sensitive guidance and safe tools offered by compassionate, certified practitioners, making yoga accessible for everyone.

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