What is Yoga Therapy?
Have you ever wondered why one type of yoga practice benefits one person and wreaks havoc on someone else? You are not alone. We are multi-faceted, complex, fascinating creatures and we all need to take different approaches to health and wellness. That’s where yoga therapy comes in.
Yoga therapy is not a new field, but it is getting a lot more attention in the West recently. Yoga therapy takes into consideration the unique needs, health history, postural alignment, past injuries, personality, lifestyle, goals and Ayurvedic constitution of each individual. Ayurveda means “the science of life” and is oftentimes referred to as the “sister science of yoga.” Ayurveda provides a framework of healing and finding balance based on assessing each individual’s unique combination of qualities.
Often, clients meet with the yoga therapist 1:1, but there is also a growing number of yoga therapy group classes, like “Yoga Therapy for Depression” or “Yoga Therapy for Chronic Pain,” popping up in hospitals, yoga studios, and clinics.
Yoga Therapy Empowers the Individual
As a yoga therapist, my hope is to work myself out of a job. The yoga therapy model is not a magic pill solution, but rather empowers clients to take their health and wellness into their own hands by building a deep sense of body and mind awareness. When we check in with our true needs, desires, and physical sensations on a daily basis, it becomes easier and easier to make choices that align with this truth.
“Your Shoulder is Not Bad, Because You are Not Bad”
One of the most common things I hear from clients is that they want help with their “bad hip, bad shoulder, bad knee,” etc. Because yoga therapy takes into consideration the whole human through a holistic lens, I challenge this notion of “bad.” You are not bad. Your body is not bad. You certainly may be experiencing pain, discomfort, stress, or fatigue, but there is nothing inherently wrong with who you are.
One of the things I find most attractive about yoga therapy is that it does not condemn. The reason why it has been both personally and professionally so profound for me is that instead of seeing the world through a polarizing lens of “right or wrong,” yoga therapy seeks to truly see, understand, hear, and support each unique individual.
Everything can be a poison or a medicine, depending on what the individual needs in the moment. For example, one person might go kickboxing and feel like anger has been released. Another person’s anger will increase. Is kickboxing inherently calming or aggravating? The answer is neither and both. It depends on the individual.
Yoga Therapy is Not the Same as Gentle Yoga
Very often, regular yoga classes are described as therapeutic, healing, gentle, restorative, etc., but this does not mean they fall under yoga therapy.
In a yoga therapy session, an individual’s specific health history, personality, habits, goals, physicality, and Ayurvedic makeup is taken into consideration. It’s possible that one client’s treatment plan will include gentle yoga, but it’s also possible that a client would benefit from a more powerful, strength-building practice.
Is Yoga Therapy Right for You?
Whether you are looking for deep relaxation, recovering from an injury, or searching for practical ways to bring your yoga off the mat and into your daily life, yoga therapy has so much to offer you. Merging ancient wisdom with modern functional movement training, yoga therapy will give you the tools to move your body efficiently and with ease, building greater body awareness and mindfulness.
Newton’s First Law of Motion states:
An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.I have been thinking about this law recently, in terms of what is the driving force behind people’s levels of activity. What causes one person to sit on the couch for hours each day, while another person will not miss a single workout, no matter what?
I believe a body in motion cannot help but stay in motion.
I am reminded of that popular 90s song “Start the Commotion” by the Wiseguys. They chant “Put your body in motion!” repeatedly, until you can’t help but get up and obey.
Twice a week, I teach three yoga classes in a single day. People can’t believe that I could possibly have enough energy to complete this not only daunting physical task, but also emotional and spiritual. However, i find these days to be the most invigorating days of the week. I usually attend a yoga class/run/kickbox, in addition to teaching. Once I start moving, I cannot stop! I get energy from each physical exertion, and fly high on these days!
I truly believe that physical activity leads to happiness. I am overflowing with endorphins on these days. I completely understand the rut that people get in after being inactive for many years. I often hear friends and family bemoan exercise. The hardest part of physical activity is the initial impetus needed to get up off the couch and get to the gym/studio. I once had an instructor say at the beginning of a yoga class that the hardest part of class is done…we got here. Nothing is harder than overcoming that initial hill of inactivity.
So many people have jobs that are inherently inactive. It is hard to squeeze in a workout, and sitting begets more sitting. Hence, the conundrum that many face after the workday is over. The dreaded gym….After sitting all day, it is so hard to muster the energy to get the body in motion.
My best suggestion for overcoming this issue of inactivity is starting small. On days that I know I will have very little time for activity and most likely less energy after a full day’s work, I wake up early and take a walk. No matter how long the walk is, I get my body in motion and can’t help but feel happier, more agile, and heralding the Wiseguys and Newton, can’t help but keep my body in motion the rest of the day!
Ever since I learned the Courageous Heart Mudra a couple of months ago, I find that in times of stress, fear or anxiety, my hands naturally come to my heart and form this mudra. Mudras are ancient hand gestures that link to different emotions, chakras, body parts, etc. Not only are they symbolic gestures, but they also aid in a wide variety of physical sensations, ex. digestion, heart opening, relaxation, etc.
To practice Courageous Heart Mudra, or Abhaya Hridaya as it is called in Sanskrit,
1. Bring your hands to your heart in prayer position.
2. Cross the right wrist in front of the left, so that the right wrist is closest to the heart.
3. Interlace the pinkies, ring fingers and index fingers. Skip the middle fingers.
4. Touch the middle fingers to the thumbs to complete the circuit.
Close your eyes, roll the shoulders down the back, root through the sit bones, and breathe easily.
Notice the beating of your own courageous heart. Feed off this energy to solidify the body for the tasks ahead.
Go out into the world with an open, strong heart and live your truth!
Have you ever hit a lull in your yoga practice and needed a new challenge? Or, let’s be honest, have you ever wanted to impress your friends with a freaky looking move? I have just the posture: Fallen Angel. This is one of my personal favorites to teach and practice. There are so many variations and the final posture utilizes strength, flexibility, and balance. Give it a spin!
a. Start in a low squat with hands at heart center in samastiti. Find a strong foundation by deepening the breath, relaxing the shoulders, and creating a tall spine by engaging the core muscles.
b. Keeping core engaged, on the next exhale, twist from the upper body and bring the elbows to hip and knee. Glue the elbows to the leg and spread all ten fingers wide and plant hands on the ground.
c. Make a shelf with the elbows and shift the heart forward, lifting one foot at a time, trying not to dump into the arms. Utilize that core strength!
d. Here’s where it gets tricky. From Side Crow, drop the head to the floor, cheek down. Activate the core to shift the hips skyward. Both knees will be resting on one arm and feet are pointing to the sky.
e. Final step. Lengthen one leg, engage both feet to straighten the legs and TADAH you did it!