What is Yoga Therapy

What is Yoga Therapy?

Viniyoga yoga therapy is the process of identifying appropriate tools from the yoga tradition and adapting them to address a practitioner’s current condition. Though yoga therapy may be focused primarily on one aspect of a client’s situation, such as recovery from an injury or an autoimmune disease, it also takes into consideration all levels of his or her well-being.

Viniyoga Yoga Therapy is grounded in the idea that every person has multiple layers. The outermost layer is the visible body; every body has an interconnected network of functional systems; the inner layers begin with mental and emotional states; and underlying all of this are personality characteristics and long-standing patterns that drive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Each layer is permeable so each influences and is influenced by all the others. Therefore addressing issues concerning only one layer may not result in an overall improvement in well-being. An integrated practice touches all layers ensuring that disturbance or stagnation in one layer does not prevent the transformation in other layers.

For example, if you have a back injury and only address the bones, muscle, and connective tissues around the site of the injury, there may be some relief. However, if you are losing sleep due to the pain and feeling anxious because you are gaining weight without your regular exercise, there will likely be increased levels of stress as well. If these stress factors are ignored it is unlikely that full recovery will be forthcoming, and in fact new diseases may arise. An integrated practice can address the physical, physiological and mental and emotional factors that together influence your sense of well-being.

What Conditions and Diseases Can be Successfully Treated with Yoga Therapy?

Yoga therapy is increasingly being studied and evaluated using rigorous research methods. Study after study has shown that yoga therapy can have a significant and measurable impact on a broad range of conditions. Dr. Timothy McCall, a board-certified physician and certified yoga therapist, has compiled a list of 75 conditions that have shown positive results under yoga therapy treatment. Some of the most common include:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Scoliosis
  • Chronic Pain
  • Post-operative recovery
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Side effects of medication including chemotherapy
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

What is the Difference Between Yoga and Yoga Therapy?

According to Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, yoga is the ancient teaching of movement, breath, chanting, self-inquiry, personal interactions, philosophical study and meditation. Yoga therapy is the application of these practices to improve well-being on all levels. It is the inner work that separates yoga therapy from traditional western models of health care. Kraftsow has written a clear and concise article about the difference between yoga and yoga therapy.

Why so Much Focus on the Breath?

“…the breath is readily accessible to conscious control and can, therefore, provide a link between our conscious mind and our anatomy, physiology, deeper emotional states…and it is this unique quality of the breath that qualifies it as the primary concern for the science of self-development that we find in the yoga tradition.” – Gary Kraftsow, Yoga for Wellness

An integrated practice includes elements that utilize the physical body and mental faculties to address the issues at hand. To connect the mind and the body, integrated Viniyoga practice employs conscious use of the breath. This precipitates physiological changes that can relax or energize the body, as well as changes in the brain that influence feelings, mood, and mental clarity.

According to the traditional teaching of yoga, the breath is the vehicle for prana – or life force – to enter the body. It is the force that connects the body and the mind. From a more modern western medical perspective, we know that the inhale of breath brings oxygen through the lungs into the blood and throughout the body so that each and every cell can carry out its designated function. The autonomic (involuntary) nervous system is responsible for the respiratory system most of the time. Because we can consciously direct the breath we can exert control over our nervous system and through it many of our physiological processes.

We also know that the breath is a key to regulating the autonomic nervous system. Each inhale activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and each exhale activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Overstimulation of the SNS due to illness, grief, or the general stress of modern life is overwhelmingly prevalent today. It is associated with many common chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. Manipulating the breath to enhance the activity of the PNS is proven not only to increase the sense of calm and relaxation but also to reduce the body’s stress response and the effects of related diseases.

Please see the Resources section of this site for more information about the Autonomic Nervous System and the impact of the breath on anatomy and physiology.  For more information about yoga therapy visit www.yogatherapy.health, a web site from the International Association of Yoga Therapists.