Passionate, longterm practitioners of the spiritual Yoga tradition believe health and happiness is the birth-right of everyone, and inherent in us all.
But does that mean that all Yoga classes have the potential to heal? Or that every Yoga teacher can guide you to your physical, mental and emotional health, or spiritual and psychological wellbeing? There is so much diversity of Yoga on offer now and thats a GREAT thing. But we’ve got to make public what a general Yoga class can’t do. Also a Yin class can be very good those of us who need more rest and quiet. An Ashtanga class can build our confidence and get our mood on high. Vinyasa, or Flow, allows us to feel alive. Restorative has the ability to calm our nervous system. Iyengar motivates our discerning focused and engaged self. Viniyoga can be very reflective and softening. Anusara is both activating and deeping. But all these traditions or styles have their limits, their drawbacks if we take them too seriously/religiously. They can even be a detriment to our health if we don’t include all aspects of our lives to decide what we practice day by day, according to those. The major difference is that Yoga therapy looks at all aspects of life that might contribute to an individual living a healthy life, or not. Whereas as most well intentioned Yoga teachers don’t know the full spectrum of habits that could potentially contribute to imbalance. Especially when we consider ourselves, not just as a body-mind, but an individual who lives, experiences and expresses on a physical, energetic, emotional, social, psychological and spiritual level every moment of every day.
- Yoga therapy is not a one size fits all, or one programme for all cases of similar disease. General yoga is.
- Yoga therapy is based on the knowledge of inherent wholeness of each individual. Always remembering the tenacity, resilience and innate ability to heal as the underlying foundation of any living organism. Most general yoga teaching isn’t this broad or deep.
- Yoga therapy is based on the relationship of therapist with client for any healing or therapy to occur. General yoga is based on movement, breath and maybe some meditation, if you’re lucky.
- Yoga Therapy not only understands that Yoga affects the physical, psychosocial and spiritual realms of existence, having a wide variety of possible tools and practices, but also understands how we can empower each individual by adapting according to their specific needs, goals, ability and resources. General yoga doesn’t is able to deliver this personalised practice.
- Yoga therapists know their scope of practice. When we’re no longer able to serve, we refer on to another healthcare practitioner to ensure success of clients progress and integrity of profession. Yoga teachers generally don’t learn about a scope of practice in Yoga teacher trainings.
- Yoga therapy is based on the Yogic philosophy of Samkhya, Ayurveda and spiritual texts of the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad-Gita, a broad understanding of modern science and command of mainstream medical language to be able to communicate skilfully with other healthcare providers. Mainstream yoga doesn’t.
- Yoga therapy sees the individual as a body-energy-mind-soul being. It works on all these levels to create wellbeing. (Some traditions, such as Integral, Raja Yoga or individual teachers who are dedicated to study further, understand the diverse practices and their energeticpsychosocial effects for most these aspects of living). Most general yoga teacher trainings integrates a bare minimum of 25hrs, or completely ignores, the basis of this understanding the Yoga philosophy of mind and emotions.
- Yoga therapy helps people move from suffering to ease, health and happiness, by understanding the underlying cause of imbalance. (For example, depression might be due to chronic unhealthy, physical habits; eating, social life and postural habits, which create visceral, emotional and mental imbalances, which can collectively lead to depression. Or it can be the inverse; chronic negative emotions and mental habits led to unhealthy social life, diet and posture, culminating in depression. Both require different practices, steps and gradual work, according the individuals present state, ability and progress). General yoga helps by generally balancing mood, energy and some mental states, by being present and connecting mind and body through breath.
- Yoga therapy empowers the individual to health through educating them in better choices of daily habits; activities, work, posture, diet, relationships and mind states, for where they are at now. General Yoga generally doesn’t.
- Yoga therapy gives practices personally tailored to an individuals’ needs, goals, ability, resources and age or life stage. A step by step structured programme sets them up for success. General yoga is just that, general. Generally beneficial. Generally improves embodied experience, contained consciousness and psychological perception.
Yoga as Therapy
Awareness of body, energy, mind and emotions is crucial to empower each individual. This awareness shows how our choices create our life. Good and bad. It empowers through self-study, self-effort, self-education and self-regulation. Yoga therapy understands the primal power of purpose. Meaning in our life can carry us through the toughest times. Without it, we can suffer psychologically. A general yoga class can reveal our purpose over the years or when we’ve done plenty of personal development. But usually its more a physical-energetic sense of aliveness we experience, a sense of connection to self, Divine and other. Yoga works from the gross level to the very subtle. Subtle work allows our inherent intelligence to redirect energy and healing processes to hidden or unconscious areas through awareness. Understanding the Ayurvedic principles and Yoga philosophy, and applying them to the different aspects of living; physical, energetic, mental, social, psychological and spiritual, is the difference between yoga and Yoga therapy. Yogic philosophy sees stress as the major cause of all disease. Stress can be diminished, prevented and removed, when the programmes we create give back self-efficacy, self-confidence, sense of responsibility, and the innate birth-right to health and happiness. Without this underpinning, the same subtle energy practices and processes can wreak havoc, and cause dis-ease. Especially when we don’t know what the practices do in relation to physical, energetic, emotional, mental, social and psychological states. This is when a general yoga classes can be counter-intuitive.
Yoga therapy sees four stages of dis-ease
- The disease is of the psyche and mind, we feel, think and it creates emotional, mental and psychological discomfort and unease.
- If this continues it begins to affect the body, it becomes psychosomatic.
- If not addressed, it will move into the body affecting our physical tissues and physiological processes.
- If we still ignore this stage, it becomes a physical disease, the later stages of an illness.
Usually people seek professional help at these last two stages of manifesting dis-ease, especially in the west, where emotional/psychological unease is often ignored. Yoga therapy greatly helps in the first two stages where we can easily reverse it with meditative practices, that work on energetic, emotional and mental states. Yoga therapy greatly helps us deal better with stress and detach from mental agitation. Once it has moved into body in the third stage, Yoga Therapy is an adjunct, and in the last stage its only palliative.
Ultimately “yoga is a process of transformation. A system for shedding dysfunctional patterns and activating your untapped potentials. A tool for identifying your unique structural challenges and patterns”. –Gary Kraftsow.
When we understand the fundamentals of Yoga and Ayurveda and how to apply them, through decades of self-reflection and inquiry, awareness of emotional, psychological and social health, we begin the process of the alchemy of Yoga. We can only guide others as far as we ourselves have dared to travel. We learn how to transform the bodymind into conscious awareness embodied, through this voyage. All of life’s challenges are just stepping stones to becoming a fuller version of ourselves. And that practice is always a process of progression. We are never finished, never perfect. And nor should we strive toward perfection. Rather yoga can show us how to love ourselves and others in this process of becoming our fuller Self. A self love and compassion that embraces all of us. The Great, the Glorious and most of all, the Godforsaken. Namaste Dear One, leave a comment about your interpretation of Yoga as a therapy, a tool of transforming the challange into a cherised aspect of self discovery, Love from
Great article, Shira! What is helpful for one person may be countereffective for another. I am also an advocate of individualized therapy!