Yoga therapy is instruction in Yogic practices and teachings to prevent, reduce or alleviate structural, physiological, emotional and spiritual pain, suffering or limitations. Usually this is taught one-on-one for the specific conditions and purpose of individuals by specially trained Yoga teachers or therapists.1

In practice, measures commonly involve systematically using breath and movement to strengthen, stretch and stabilize the muscular-skeletal system, smooth and deepen respiratory rhythms, improve circulation, balance internal physiology and emotions and in general, target natural recuperative powers to specific systems of the body. All as part of a specific practice for an individual. Another element, not to be neglected, may be examining behaviors and attitudes that contribute to undesirable conditions and then cultivating a practice to support movement in the desired direction.

This work can overlap and complement Western disciplines of physical therapy, psychotherapy, medicine and ministry. Prior experience with Yoga is not required.

For some conditions, such as back pain, breathing limitations and stress reduction, specific Yoga practices may be the primary intervention. For other conditions, Yoga may complement other therapies. For example, a person undergoing chemotherapy for cancer might use Yoga to assist with sleeping and digestion as well as stress reduction and spiritual support.

I can not take students in acute pain. For any therapeutic visits, students are encouraged to first consult with their physician for the suitability of mild to moderate breath and movement exercises. Use your own common sense. I regret to say that due to steps, my home studio is not easily handicap accessible.

Students interested in Yoga therapy must be willing to practice on their own and pay out of pocket. With practice, there is a sense of empowerment from active participation in one's own health. Students who pay out of their own pocket tend to be well-motivated. Once learned, practices are available for a lifetime.


“Yoga has proven beneficial in treating a variety of medical conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, breathing problems, asthma, musculoskeletal problems, stress-related illness and mood disorders. Yoga is also helpful in the management of pain, for improving respirator endurance and efficiency of breathing, for muscle strength, and for motor control. It helps prevent musculoskeletal problems and is beneficial for people with arthritis and those recovering from bone fractures.” (Ken Pelletier in The Best Alternative Medicine, pg. 246. 2)


In my experience, the most common therapeutic applications are for back care and breathing. Many times students are not interested in Yoga per se, but only in short, tailored exercises to relieve back pain or improve breathing. These are especially helpful applications of breath and movement adapted to individual bodies and purpose. For some, this may be a doorway to the broader practice of Yoga.


The Viniyoga teaching lineage has a long history of therapeutic applications and the Krishnamacharya Yoga Madiram in Chennai is well-known as a center for Yoga therapy. The American Viniyoga Institute may have the most extensive and comprehensive Yoga therapist training program available in the United States. For detailed examples of the scope of therapeutic applications in the Viniyoga tradition for common aches and pains, for chronic disease and for emotional health, see Yoga for Wellness by Gary Kraftsow. Bear in mind, however, that this is not a cookbook for indiscriminate application. These are practices for specific individuals in a specific context, often after cultivating a practice and a relationship for some time with a gifted teacher.


In the Yoga tradition there is a classical model of five dimensions to the human being. In western terms these roughly correspond to the physical, physiological, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. Yoga literally has tools to work on all of these levels. It is one of the original systems of what we current describe as a wholistic approach to health care. While specific conditions can be addressed in varying degree, the focus is always on the person as a whole.

Classically, Yoga might be integrated with Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medical system. In contemporary Western practice, Yoga may be integrated with allopathic as well as a wide variety of complementary and alternative therapies. For example, a physician might refer to a Yoga therapist for back care, breathing or relaxation exercises3. A Yoga therapist might refer to a physician, acupuncturist, chiropractic or many other specialties for diagnosis or complementary treatment. Yoga and bodywork are obviously good combinations.

____________________________________

1
This is a definition I use when speaking to or writing for a medical audience. In general, however, there is not a common definition of Yoga therapy, in part because of the scope of Yoga and the many different ways Yoga can be practiced. The International Association of Yoga Therapists is active in supporting the development of Yoga therapy into a full-fledged preventive and remedial psychosomatic discipline. Back to text

2 Ken Pelletier is a well-known medical researcher and spokesman for evidenced-based complementary and alternative medicine and this is one of my favorite CAM books. Despite the long history, Yoga therapy is not well studied as a CAM methodology by Western medical science. This is changing, however as consumer interest in CAM therapies grows and research follows. There are several NIH funded studies underway, including one on back pain using the Viniyoga method. Back to text

3 In the formal allopathic world, there are a variety of barriers to efficient complementary treatments and referrals. Fortunately, there is a national effort to improve the situation. Given my economic and regulatory background, this is a natural interest of mine. In my own local experience, we have a cooperative and growing network of informed allopathic, complementary and alternative practitioners. Back to text