An emerging field in America, yoga therapy hovers somewhere between a doctor’s visit and a stretching class. Yoga therapists work in small groups or private sessions, addressing specific health problems and adapting poses accordingly. A steady stream of interest has become a flood: According to the trade group International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), membership has more than tripled in the last three years, and the number of schools offering training has doubled over the past two years.
Modern yoga therapy can be traced back to the yoga master T. Krishnamacharya, who produced students that became the West’s most influential teachers of therapeutic yoga, including his son TKV Desikachar and BKS Iyengar.
Many have since used yoga for managing high blood pressure, coping with the effects of cancer treatments, or treating symptoms of HIV, depression or anxiety. But lately it’s become especially popular for musculoskeletal issues like lower and upper back pain, sciatica, and shoulder, neck and hip pain.
Physical therapists use many methods, from targeted stretches to deep tissue massage; exercises with a Theraband, foam noodles, belts, physioballs, bobbleboards, Bosu Balls, or a wall; and heat and/or ice therapy at home. After a physical therapy session, you’ll usually leave with a photocopied sheet of exercises.
A yoga therapist works primarily with yoga moves, and clients typically leave with instructions on a custom series of poses that change each week according to the student’s progress.
Yoga therapy advocates believe that since yoga is a holistic discipline which teaches that the mind, body, and spirit are connected. Yoga therapy can go beyond the results that are possible with physical therapy.
What are a yoga therapist’s credentials?
Many yoga therapists are licensed physical therapists or nurses, or have advanced training in Iyengar yoga. Some use the title CYT, certified yoga therapist, after graduating from a yoga therapy teacher training program such as Integrative Yoga Therapy. Others are yoga teachers who declare themselves yoga therapists. So check the credentials of the person you see. As with any Massage Therapy, inexperienced teachers or practioners who lack the ability to correctly diagnose a problem are the biggest danger.
Needless to say, that with any alternative therapy, you should always speak with your medical professional first, before having an alternative treatment.
Yoga itself is being embraced as a health and wellness practice in America: Yoga is offered at 93 percent of 755 integrative medical centers, which combine western and alternative healthcare methods, according to Cary Wing, executive director at the Medical Fitness Association in Richmond, VA.
While it’s unclear how many of those centers offer yoga therapy specifically, there is evidence that some yoga poses offer effective treatment for one of the most common complaints that lands patients in physical therapists’ offices: chronic back pain. Yoga therapy tries to re-establish the inner balance by various means, working from the gross to the subtle. On the physical level it uses:
Asanas: They energize the organism, create awareness of the body and its function and stabilize the mind.
Kriyas: These are simple hygienic procedures which support the body’s own cleansing mechanisms and draw the attention of the mind towards the affected area.
Pranayamas: These are breathing techniques which have very subtle influences on the whole organism.
Diet: Many diseases are directly or indirectly linked with wrong food habits. A change in diet can stimulate the whole system.
Simple Nature Cure Techniques: The elements water, air, sun and simple procedures like massaging or steam inhalation are used as a support.
The second line of therapy is the work on the mind. Mental disturbances – anxieties, confusion, and unsteadiness are the most important factors which can cause a disease condition. Therefore, various techniques have been developed to create positive mind states.
Among others there are:
Relaxation: both physical and mental.
Conditioning: Sitting in a meditative posture one tries to calm down and centre oneself.
Yoga has claimed that tension is disease and relaxation is health. To this end the whole eightfold path of yoga is to purify the body-mind complex.Bhavanas: Contemplation on certain basic ideas like the transition of all things can stimulate a change of attitude towards life.