Putting “Therapy” into Your Yoga
Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured. ~BKS Iyengar
I am often asked “What is Yoga Therapy?” and “How is Therapeutic Yoga different from regular yoga and from Physical Therapy or other forms of traditional therapy?”. First of all, let me say that not all Yoga is “therapeutic” and not all “yoga therapy” is therapeutic for every person.
At the core, Therapeutic Yoga begins with Awareness. In this, it is very personal and, often, different for different people. Whether taught privately or in a group, Therapeutic Yoga offers the individual student or client a series of tools to look at themselves and identify what it is he or she desires or needs less/more of. These tools are usually taken from Yoga, from Ayurveda, from Physical Medicine, and contemporary Psychology.
In a regular class, the student takes positive actions (asana) towards “feeling good”. In traditional therapy, a patient is relatively passive and the goal is to diagnose (“You are sick”), reduce symptoms and cure disease. On the contrary, in Therapeutic Yoga, the client is “empowered” with physical, mental and emotional tools and the goal is to adapt and improve. In some cases, the student will learn that it is not possible to improve the physical state (“The body is sick”) but that adaptations can be made to allow the mental or emotional state to drastically improve.
“It is less helpful to know the cause of one’s stress than the state of mind when one is stressed”
While starting in the physical body, therapeutic yoga allows insight into the layers of the body, or the Koshas. These layers are the Physical, the Emotional, the Energetic, the Social, the Intellectual and the Spiritual. The student begins to see how these layers overlap and intersect – how that “trapped” feeling in your neck, shoulders and upper back can be eased with the intention of “freedom” or “surrender” or maybe by becoming more physically grounded and aware of the alignment of the feet and the lower extremities or looking into our social / emotional and noting where he or she may feel stuck.
Once the student has the tools, he or she can put “therapy” into any yoga session. What is more, the student is ready to put Yoga into his or her life and learn to adapt and improve “off the mat”.