Yoga therapy is growing in popularity worldwide. More and more research is being carried out, proving the benefits and health professionals are beginning to recognise yoga therapy as complementary to modern health care. Yet there does remain some confusion about what yoga therapy is.
Isn’t all yoga therapeutic?
In my experience, most people take up yoga because they have heard of its many health benefits. Some come to alleviate the back/neck/shoulder tension that can go hand in hand with sitting at a desk all day for work, some come to help with stress management and others for personal transformation on a deeper level. Many attend yoga classes simply for a well-balanced exercise program. All of these reasons and more can be considered as contributing to good health and therefore, in essence, therapeutic.
However, there are significant differences between a general group yoga class (even a “gentle” one) and a yoga therapy session, just as there are significant differences between the training and standards to be met for a yoga teacher, versus those to be met by a yoga therapist. Some people may have their needs met well in a general yoga class and never need a yoga therapy session, but for others, a group class may aggravate the very condition they are seeking relief from. Therefore, when choosing yoga as a tool for managing and improving health concerns, there are some important considerations.
Yoga class or yoga therapy session?
In a typical group yoga class, the teacher teaches to the group as a whole. A good teacher will have the knowledge to suggest modifications to address varying requirements in class. Hopefully, she/he also has the flexibility to change what they had intended to teach in class dependant on who walks in the door. Yet, regardless of their personal teaching style, they are guiding a group of students through a practice based on the particular method or methods of yoga they have been trained to teach and instruction is generally at a common level. If you have a particular health issue, a group class may not serve you well.
On the other hand, a yoga therapy session is all about you!
In a yoga therapy session, you meet one-to-one with the yoga therapist, who will review your condition and design a program for self-practice that focuses on you, as an individual, and the areas you wish to improve.
Some yoga therapists, including myself, also take small group classes for people (4 – 6 max) who are experiencing similar symptoms e.g. sleep issues. These are usually intended to compliment one-to-one sessions.
Yoga teacher or yoga therapist?
Both yoga teaching and yoga therapy are valuable professions and can profoundly impact the well-being of yoga practitioners. However, it is important that both teachers and therapists are clear about their intentions, teaching direction, training, and skills, so as to best serve their community.
Yoga therapists have trained as yoga teachers and furthered their education with specialist training program/s to develop knowledge and skill in the field of yoga therapy. A good yoga therapy program will provide learning in the application of yogic tools (asana, pranayama, relaxation techniques, meditation etc) yoga psychology, Ayurveda & modern bio-medical understanding.
This additional training provides the yoga therapist a wide range of tools to apply as and when applicable to their client. Their job is not to teach one particular method but to choose from a number of techniques and teach what is optimal for their student.
The practice of self-care.
A yoga therapist works together with their client to help them reduce or manage their symptoms and improve function. Where modifiable factors are involved, the yoga therapist may guide the client to a deeper understanding of how habitual patterns of movement / thinking or lifestyle choices are contributing to their health.
After considering the client’s goals the yoga therapist designs a manageable program for the client, teaches them the practice and guides them to take a more active role in managing their condition.
This practice of self-care, in itself, can have a profound effect on the healing process.