Article Updated April 21st, 2016
Yoga therapy is the application of yogic methods, including yoga postures, breathing, and purification techniques, and meditation, to treat illness and to re-establish harmony and balance in the body-mind and spirit.
This article discusses:
1. Yoga’s approach to health and disease
2. Aim of yoga therapy – self-awareness and self-regulation
3. Yoga therapy is part of mind-body medicine
5. Combining the best of East and West
6. The need for a collaborative approach
7. New developments in the use of the terms “yoga therapy” and “yoga therapist”
Yoga’s approach to health and disease
Yoga’s approach to health and disease can be classified under two broad headings
1. Health management
All yoga classes and techniques promote health and wellbeing. When people with illnesses practice yoga, then they find that their condition often improves.
This is why many doctors are sending their patients to yoga classes where they can learn to relax, tone the muscles of their body, relax and revitalize their internal organs, calm their mind and balance their emotions.
2. Disease management
Disease management is the domain of yoga therapy. In yoga therapy, classes are held with the specific intention of using various yogic and meditative techniques to create a more relaxed, stronger, balanced body and mind, to facilitate healing from specific physical and mental illnesses.
Yoga therapy is a holistic science that is well suited to treat a number of chronic psychosomatic and degenerative conditions, either as a primary therapy or in conjunction with other modalities to enhance their efficacy.
For example, a psychologist might use yoga postures and meditation to treat mild to moderate anxiety, or for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many doctors prescribe yoga and meditation as a first-line treatment for high blood pressure or back pain.
However, yoga is certainly adjunctive when it comes to treating severe chronic conditions such as very high blood pressure where a combination of drugs and yoga is preferred, or in diabetes, where a team approach is required to ensure that the patient is properly treated.
Aim of yoga therapy – self-awareness and self-regulation
The main aim of yoga therapy is to increase self-awareness and to give us the tools to make positive changes in our bodies and minds, to influence our internal environment, which is called self-regulation.
Self-awareness enables enhanced internal awareness of our bodies and minds so that we experience and understand how we influence our health for better and worse. As a result, we have the potential to make better choices, to make positive changes, to reduce destructive thoughts, emotions, lifestyle and behaviors that are making us sick. Self-awareness can also make us a better and more empowered patient, more co-operative in a healing partnership with a health professional.
The second part of yoga therapy involves the use of techniques that create internal changes in the body and mind. One of the most powerful elements in yoga therapy is its capacity to support deep rest and rejuvenation. For example, deep relaxation techniques such as Yoga Nidra are essential ingredients in almost all disease management.
Apart from yoga postures (āsana), breathing (prānāyāma) and meditation techniques, such as ajapa japa and pranic healing, combine the best of yoga’s powerful techniques into potent healing tools.
When people with illnesses practice yoga then they find that their illness often improves.
Yoga therapy is part of mind-body medicine
When yoga combines with particular healing and therapeutic modalities, it increases the effectiveness and efficiency of those methods.
Research shows that yoga and meditation therapy can be applied to both physical and psychological conditions, and can be used to remedy psycho-spiritual crises. Yoga therapy can work on both symptoms and the deeper underlying cause.
Yoga and meditation are are now incorporated into holistic mind-body medicine programs run by major universities and hospitals, such as the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, USA.
Research is proving that mind-body medicine, which incorporates yoga, relaxation and meditation, is an evolving and powerful holistic medical system that is clinically very effective in the treatment of a variety of chronic conditions such as: anxiety, addiction, asthma, cancer, cardiac issues, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, fibromyalgia, headaches, high blood pressure, infertility, insomnia, menopause, osteoporosis and weight gain.
Yoga and meditation can support any therapeutic system to work more efficiently, including drugs, surgery and complementary systems of healing.
This approach is deeply satisfying to both the patient and the therapist.
Combining East and West therapies
When yoga therapy is part of mind-body medicine we gain the best of eastern and western approaches. They empower you to:
- Relax, recharge and rejuvenate
- Reduce anxiety and depression that often accompanies chronic illness
- Channel breath and energy for healing
- Calm your mind and emotions
- Manage a broad range of physical and psychological conditions
- Turn on your body’s creative intelligence to activate your innate healing capacity
- Feel more in control of your health and your life
- Become more self-responsible
- Understand that illness can be a sacred path to greater self-actualization and spiritual growth
This approach is deeply satisfying to both the patient and the therapist.
A collaborative holistic approach to healing
We encourage a collaborative relationship. This means taking greater responsibility for your health but always seeking medical advice when required. Always seek medical advice when needed.
Develop a partnership with teachers, therapists, and doctors. At the same time claim your power, become self-responsible and propel yourself towards a better health and lifestyle.
Recent developments in the use of the term ‘yoga therapy’ and ‘yoga therapist’.
Yoga Therapy requires that a practitioner diagnose and treats an illness and as such it is essential that the yoga therapist is qualified to do this. There is a lot of discussion within the yoga and yoga therapy communities about the unregulated proliferation of yoga therapists.
Dr Swami Shankardev is a registered medical practitioner, psychotherapist and yoga therapist. His experience as a medical practitioner and psychotherapist enables him to understand how to manage chronic physical and mental illness conditions. His training as a both a medical practitioner and a yoga therapist enable him to use yoga therapy to treat a broad range of conditions safely and effectively. Unfortunately, people who have taken short courses in yoga therapy are attempting to treat and manage medical conditions that are outside the limits of their training and this has caused harm to their clients.
Yoga Alliance in the USA has stated, “Over the last year, Yoga Alliance Registry (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization) has become concerned about the growing use of the words “yoga therapy” and “yoga therapist” in the market. Based on in-depth research and the mission of the Registry, Yoga Alliance Registry has adopted a new policy. Going forward, any teacher or school registered with Yoga Alliance Registry must remove the terms “yoga therapy,” “yoga therapist” and related words from their profile on the Yoga Alliance Registry Directory. Registrants using these words on their own website or in marketing materials must add a disclaimer explaining the source of their “therapy” training. If there is no disclaimer, they need to remove this language entirely.
For more information about this discussion, please visit:
International Association of Yoga Therapists
Australasian Association of Yoga Therapists