What is Yoga Therapy?
by Joanne Alexander
Many years ago on my path of recovery, I discovered yoga. It was a time, after having my three children, when I really needed a big fix for my physical body. Life was so busy, yet I could manage a three-minute sun salutation before my morning coffee. As my practice grew, shavasana (deep relaxation) was always the reward to get me on the mat. When my children were older, I started to travel in search of various yoga teachings. There was so much to learn and my ego flew through the challenges before me. I noticed changes in my posture, balance, energy, moodiness, sleeping, and self-image. Bit by bit, I continued to explore the body-mind-breath connection that yoga encompasses and completed my yoga teacher training in 2008.
During my first yoga therapy workshop, I had the opportunity to slow down my practice and explore with loving-kindness where I was at in that moment. This was the practice for me! It was a moment of clarity when the purpose of the challenges in my life came together with significance. While I held a pose (asana), I was able to use my breath (pranayama) to relax my mind and find the space between the thoughts where I experienced my peaceful spirit. “God grant me that serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to the know the difference.” All my needs were met in that moment.
With two decades of yoga experience, I was more intrigued than ever with the therapeutic benefits of yoga. In September 2015, I was accepted at Mount Royal University in Calgary into the Yoga Therapy Program. The course content was tough, especially for this registered social worker who had avoided science and math most of my life. I was taught the science of yoga with a heavy focus on academics. Although the research had initially demonstrated cardiovascular advantages, the evidence identified that yoga was able to play a significant role within mental health. Yoga is a system that goes far beyond the poses of yoga, which is only one of its eight limbs. Ironically, the ultimate pose is to sit comfortably and have the skill to travel an inward path to peaceful awareness.
Last summer (2018) I received my Yoga Therapy Certification following a rewarding practicum at Adult Mental Health within the Saskatchewan Health Authority. Let me share the highlights of my final presentation to give you an easier read on the details.
So what is Yoga Therapy exactly?
- Yoga Therapy is a new emerging profession considered a Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM). It is a model for wellness in addition to being a method for healing both chronic and acute health conditions.
- The International Association of Yoga Therapists defines Yoga Therapy as a “process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga.”
- From a psychological standpoint, therapy is defined as the possibility of accessing self-knowledge that will enable us to change that which we consider dysfunctional.
- Yoga’s core belief is “non-duality.” This means that we are not separated and therefore interconnected (macro/micro) as a species, community, and being.
- Yoga Therapy is a safe and natural method of promoting healing and restoring well-being, which recognizes the interconnection of mind, body, emotion, and spirit. It is not focused on single variables or single disease states the way drugs are, but to treat an entire system that works as a whole.
- There are many types of yoga, and Yoga Therapy uses the wisdom of them all. Additionally, it includes a network of other professionals in a collaborative approach to meeting the client’s needs through self-determination.
- Its history begins with the teachings of approximately 4000 BC, and includes the knowledge of Ayurveda and Western medicines to become Yoga Therapy.
- In 2010, the University of Maryland combined 80 previously documented research studies on yoga and discovered that yoga equalled or surpassed exercise in reducing stress, diminishing fatigue, improving balance, lifting moods, decreasing anxiety, and improving sleep.
- It’s widely known that yoga can enhance your physical and emotional well-being, yet when yoga is practiced with a therapeutic intention in the form of Yoga Therapy, it can help prevent and aid recovery from ailments.
- My favourite definition of yoga is merely, “The state of needing nothing.”
- “The single most important issue for traumatized people is to find a place of safety in their own bodies.” (Bessel van der Kolk)
- “You cannot be in growth and protection at the same time.” (Bruce Lipton) Yoga Therapy addresses stress by engaging the autonomic parasympathetic nervous system to allow the body to rest, digest, develop, and heal itself.
- The Yoga Therapist’s tools are unlimited and may include specific asana routines, breath work, meditations, readings, selfless service, sleep routines, social activities, diet, chanting, alternate therapies, and/or guided imagery.
The differences between Yoga Classes and Yoga Therapy
|Focus on yoga methods and practices
||Focus on the client’s needs
|Group work with a variety of styles
||Individual treatment plans
|Yoga allows contraindications
||Target symptoms for well-being
|Generalized yoga knowledge
||Extensive yoga knowledge
|Self-investigation / self-development
||Assistance in applying yoga practice
|Instructors Certified Training hours: 200
||Instructors Certified Training hours: 800
||Professionals work in hospitals, wellness centers, or in private practice
Joanne Alexander, BSW, completed her Yoga Teacher Training in 2008 and her Yoga Therapist Certification in 2018. She is a registered social worker in Saskatchewan and provides counselling in her home through Health Canada as a mental health therapist. Hatha yoga exploration inspired her to learn specific styles such as Jivamutki, Iyengar, Anusara, Ashtanga, Kripalu, Yin, and Chair yoga. She enjoys providing yoga therapy through classes, workshops, and retreats, particularly for challenged populations such as chronic disease management, seniors, obesity, and addictive behaviours. She has a healthy lifestyle that reflects her holistic values. You can reach her at Saskatoon Yoga Therapy, phone (306) 979-8484 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.