We all bring something different to the table when we enter a yoga class - a shoulder injury, hypertension, scoliosis, hypermobility, social anxiety or PTSD. Not all yoga practices were created for all people, yet that’s how they are often taught. I’m a strong believer that we each need something different to bring ourselves (mind, body, and spirit) back into balance.
Since immersing myself in yoga therapy and surrounding myself with therapeutic yoga teachers for the past several years, sometimes I forget the key differences between a traditional yoga class and a therapeutic based class. The main difference, to me, is the process of empowering our students in attuning to their own unique needs.
It is often a felt-experience that there is only one “right” way to practice yoga, and it’s only for one “right” body type. There can tend to be a large focus on doing the practice “right” than in a way that feels good and empowering to our bodies and minds. My wish as a teacher is to flip this paradigm through encouraging my students to release any pressure they may feel to look, feel, or be a certain way.
Yoga therapy has been on the up and coming within the yoga community, and for a good reason. The yoga world is craving for more of this approach! However, as an emerging and basically brand new field, it is easily misunderstood. Yoga, as we know, has been recognized as therapeutic for centuries, so what makes yoga therapy any different? Is yoga therapy is a form of physical or psychological therapy, or perhaps some kind of spiritual mentorship and yoga-based life coaching? These are questions I’m asked from students all the time.
The reality is that a yoga therapist incorporates aspects of all of these, and utilizes them to achieve unique, individualized goals. The client takes the lead, and the yoga therapist supports them based on their wide array of knowledge on yoga, ayurveda, modern neuroscience, anatomy and kinesiology, and more.
Rather than catering your body to a set sequence being taught by the class instructor, a yoga therapist completely customizes a class around your specific needs, whether that is structural, physiological, emotional, mental, or spiritual. In most cases, it is a combination of all the above. Your personalized practice may include any tools from the yoga tradition that resonate, some of which may be: Asana, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, Pranayama, Mantra, Mudra, Ayurveda, and so on.
It is not uncommon to see eBooks or Workshops titled “Yoga Therapy For … ,” as if there were a single step-by-step process that would work for everyone. From this alone, it is clear to me that many people do not truly understand what yoga therapy is.
A certified yoga therapist, as opposed to a 200-Hour Yoga Instructor, has trained for 1000+ hours to be fully skilled in working with many diverse populations and needs. Yoga therapy combines the wealth of knowledge from a tradition that is thousands of years old with modern science, all the while facilitating the discovery of your own intuitive knowing concerning what your body wants and needs to live fully.
Here are five powerful reasons to give yoga therapy a try:
You want to connect more with your mind/body/spirit and discover a transformative way to practice self-care. Yoga therapy goes a step beyond yoga in that it asks us to deeply listen to ourselves. Our bodies respond to different movements, breathing practice, and meditations in different ways. We can amp up our self care routine when we start to deeply listen and notice what works well for our own constitution.
You are looking for an empowering alternative to studio classes. Studio classes, unless they are held with a highly trained instructor, aren’t always accessible to all students. If you’ve found it hard to find a studio class that fits your unique health needs, yoga therapy would be a great alternative for you.
You have an injury or illness that keeps you from fully participating in a traditional yoga class. Yoga therapy is able to fully customize a yoga practice to suit, quite literally, everybody. Whether you are struggling with a physical illness, or mental health, or a debilitating injury, yoga therapy allows you to practice in a way that suits your body.
You want to start an at-home practice with accountability and support to integrate yoga into your life off of the mat. The most benefit comes from consistent, daily practice. A yoga therapist can help support your home practice, and design a home practice that sets you up for health and success in your life off the mat.
You want to connect more with your feminine power. Much of the yoga we practice today was based from completely male lineages designed to support and discipline 15 year old male bodies. Because of this, many yoga practices are very masculine in their nature (both physically and energetically), and this can create a variety of imbalances, especially in the female form. Yoga therapy has the potential to adapt yoga practices to empower the female body, mind, and hormonal cycle.
While yoga therapy is complimentary and supportive for anyone, regardless of physical limitations, it does not replace a doctor's advice. Yoga therapy works hand-in-hand with western medicine to heal and see all parts of an individual. Interested in trying it out? Visit iayt.org to find a yoga therapist near you, or my website to schedule a session in Northern Colorado or via Skype.
If this conversations gets you excited, you may be interested in our therapeutic yoga teacher trainings.