YOGA THERAPY: Facilitating New BeginningsOct 05, 2017 05:36PM ● By Linda Kress, BA,C-IAYT
People often ask: “What is the difference between yoga and yoga therapy?” That can be a hard question to answer. After all, most yoga is therapeutic, as long as it includes safe and effective postures, some breath awareness or instruction and some meditation, right? The International Association of Yoga Therapy (IAYT), the organization that sets the educational and certification standards for yoga therapy training programs/schools and for professional yoga therapists, describes yoga therapy as “the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga.
That may not clarify much. Furthermore, though anyone may advertise their class as yoga therapy or therapeutic yoga—certified yoga teacher or not—IAYT is currently the only organization that has a yoga therapy certification process, so be sure to look for the C-IAYT designation.
Following are some of the differences between what you might expect, and what you might not, in a therapeutic yoga class or private session.
Yoga therapy starts with an intake process consisting of more detailed questions about what brings a person to yoga therapy. Most people are looking for healing from a condition such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, musculoskeletal injuries, back, neck or knee pain, sciatica or ongoing chronic conditions such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or fibromyalgia, just to name a few. Clients may also be recovering from pregnancy, accidents, injuries or surgeries, or even treatment for cancer.
A yoga therapist will gather information regarding health history, goals and health habits and will consider common symptoms or side effects of the condition, as well as the latest treatment/ medication for the condition. This may require additional research so that things that might impact practice, such as dizziness or elevated blood pressure, are addressed.
Often, the yoga therapist meets or speaks with the client before the first session to help set up a safe and effective program designed to help heal what may be impacting the client’s health and happiness. An assessment is usually done to include postural, breath, movement, ayurvedic dosha and more to uncover imbalances.
Classes are kept small, ideally a maximum of 6 to 10 people (and sometimes one-on-one), to allow for a personalized approach—this is not a cookie-cutter yoga plan.
Yoga therapists design practices that include all of the limbs of yoga and many other modalities that speak specifically to the condition of the group or individual being addressed. The imagery, affirmations, meditation and more are tailored and used as necessary, dependent on the group focus. There is usually an educational component about the condition or challenge and what a student might want to do (or avoid) to assist in finding relief. Additionally, there is always a back up plan to the back up plan, understanding that not everyone is the same and some may have multiple challenges that need to be considered.
In workshops, students may find emotional support, make some friends and build a community of like-minded individuals that are working with the same or similar challenges. Students will also have the support of the yoga therapist through handouts, feedback, homework, email, phone or even Skype, if necessary. Once the sessions are complete, individuals can always come back to “fine-tune” any modifications or practices.
Assessments toward the end of the program allow clients and therapists to see what progress or transformation has been made. Clients are empowered by the end of the sessions or workshop to continue to bring healing to the condition through a continued practice designed exactly for them and through the awareness they develop.
Yoga Therapy is not designed to diagnose a condition. Yoga therapists are trained to work in partnership with physical therapists, physicians or other health care providers and to take into consideration any imbalances that may be found as a result of approaching the client holistically, but they do not diagnose and they do not treat. They do, however, work within the parameters of what is safe and effective for a specific condition, drawing together the many “limbs” of yoga practice to bring relief to the practitioner.
Yoga therapy is a bridge, or transition, for individuals coming out of treatment or physical therapy into the world of yoga or fitness.
Linda Kress has over 15 years of experience and is currently teaching private yoga therapy sessions and weekly therapeutic yoga classes at Soulful Journeys in Nazareth on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. Call 610-653-3971 or visit SoulfulJourneysHA. com.