Many of us have seen the term “yoga” as you scroll through your social media feeds, bombarded with lean and athletic yogis sporting the latest crop and leggings combos, contorted into shapes you didn’t know the body could achieve. You might think to yourself “Maybe yoga therapy is not for me after all…” But this is where you could be wrong.
Yoga is a form of exercise practice with roots in ancient India that brings movements and breath together to improve health and wellbeing, including increased flexibility, muscle strength as well as reduced stress.
Yoga therapy is a modified version of mainstream yoga, and is a complementary therapy used alongside conventional medicine. It is focused on natural healing for people suffering from illness or physical injuries.
This page will explore the history and key concepts behind yoga therapy as well as everything you need to know to start your very own yoga journey.
Table of contents
- 5 interesting facts about yoga therapy
- What is yoga therapy?
- What is the theory behind yoga therapy?
- When and how is yoga therapy used?
- What is the evidence to support yoga therapy?
- What can I expect as a yoga therapy patient?
5 interesting facts about yoga therapy
What is the real meaning of yoga?
It may be surprising to know that the practice of yoga has been around for over 5,000 years, far surpassing the invention of thigh hugging spandex tights and Instagramable hyper flexed postures on the beach.
The word yoga literally means “unity” or “to join”, relating to the relationship between its two fundamental components: asanas, which relate to a series of postures and pranayama, which are breathing techniques.
The essence of yoga, originating in ancient India, has been and will always be, a mind and body practice, with the aim of moving toward a way of life where we practice self-awareness and essentially a feeling of enlightenment.
Yoga is a time in your daily life where you can learn to find space in the mind and enjoy ‘being’ in the moment rather than crowding the mind with all of this negative self-talk we so often find ourselves doing. It is an opportunity to consciously shift your thoughts away from your attachment to all of these identities that you have for yourself or with others and tune in with your body and on how you feel in that moment.
What is the theory behind yoga therapy?
Classical yoga comprises 8 ashtangas or limbs provide a system of physical, mental and spiritual health
Moving through a series of postures is really only one element of the practice of yoga. Yoga is, in fact, based on Patanjali’s eightfold path called Ashtanga, which literally means ‘eight limbs.’ These limbs act as a guideline on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life, instilling important lessons regarding social ethics and personal empowerment. They aim to direct our attention towards our own health and help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of life, something that we could all use a little bit more of in times of stress and chaos.
Through progressive practise of the 8 ashtangas, yoga can better support a person’s integrated personal development and overall vitality, with the ultimate goal of achieving Samahi, essentially a heightened spiritual awareness.
The 8 ashtangas are as follows:
- Yamas – moral imperatives such as truthfulness and contentedness
- Niymas – moral practices including virtuous habits such as generosity
- Asana – physical postures
- Pranayama – control of the breath
- Pratayahara – withdrawal from the sensory world
- Dharana – concentration, introspective focus and one-pointedness of mind
- Dhyana – profound medication, deep contemplation and reflection
- Samadhi – enlightenment through a heightened spiritual awareness
The two most commonly observed and practiced limbs are pranayama and asanas.
The pranayam or control of the breath is used to develop the skills of mindfulness and grow an awareness of our bodies whilst also helping to release tension and restlessness from within. This is achieved through a variety of conscious breathing techniques used in conjunction with the asanas or postures.
Yoga therapy is designed to be more therapeutic than mainstream yoga classes
Yoga therapy is quite different from what you would see in a typical yoga class as it serves a more therapeutic purpose especially for those with poor health, illness or suffering from physical injuries.
This form of therapy is a lot more tailored, often taking place in a one-to-one setting or with a group seeking to improve similar conditions. On the contrary, compared a typical yoga class which is more preventative in nature.
When and how is yoga therapy applied?
Yoga therapy used to improve overall health and alleviate stress
Typical reasons for starting therapeutic yoga therapy include:
- Stress and anxiety
- Blood pressure
- High heart rate
- Back pain
- Painful joints
- Respiratory and metabolic function
- Poor motor skills
- Sleeping problems
Yoga therapy focused on series of poses and exercises
Therapeutic yoga therapy will involve a selection of poses and exercises based on your condition and health objectives.
Examples of common poses include:
- Forward bends
- Balancing poses
What is the evidence to support yoga therapy?
Modern science has been fascinated by the positive effects that yoga may have on the mind and body. As such, we see more and more healthcare practitioners suggesting yoga as a means to support a healthy lifestyle.
There has been extensive research conducted over recent decades demonstrating the health benefits of yoga. They have validated yoga’s ability to help with a variety of conditions and ultimately result in improved health and wellbeing (1).
Additional flow-on benefits include increased visual and auditory perception, flexibility, balance, strength and overall well being (2).
What can I expect as a yoga therapy patient?
The yoga therapy appointment
During your initial session, the yoga therapist will understand your specific concerns and build up a picture of your overall lifestyle and health.
Based on the findings, your therapist will devise a treatment plan consisting of a series of suitable poses and exercises as well as lifestyle suggestions including relaxation and meditation.
During the sessions, your therapist will demonstrate the poses and exercises, and ensure that you are copying them in an effective and safe way. The poses and exercises may evolve over time as you become more experienced or your situation evolves.
Your yoga therapist may also recommend further yoga practice from your home in between sessions.
How do I find a yoga therapist and what qualifications should they have?
There are no existing laws in place to regulate yoga therapists or instructors. That said, it is important to ensure that they are a member of a relevant voluntary body which self-regulates yoga therapy as these will ensure that they have relevant qualifications, insurance and adhere to code of ethics.
Such voluntary bodies include
- The British Wheel of Yoga
- Federation of Holistic Therapists
- Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council
You can also use Treatwiser’s directory to find yoga therapists near me. Use the search features to narrow your search by location, professional body membership status, and more.
How do I find a yoga class that is right for me?
If yoga therapy is not what you are after, yoga classes have become wildly popular in the Western world and there are now many styles of yoga, something to suit everyone and their chosen ambitions for their practice. From the flowing form of Vinyasa, to the traditional Iyengar style, hot and sweaty Bikram, fat-burning Power Yoga or maybe one for the guys- Broga, the question will be which will you choose?!
As with commencing any new activity, ensure you do your research, read reviews, chat to friends and check the yoga schools’ accreditations and relevant qualifications to make sure you are selecting a yoga class that is highly regarded and can deliver a quality service.
How much will it cost?
A one-on-one therapeutic yoga therapy session can range in price from £30 and £60 where you can expect individual adjustments and a personalised treatment plan.
Yoga therapy is more cost-effective in groups, typically ranging from £10 to £30, and even less if you purchase a series of sessions. Groups will typically comprise of people suffering similar ailments.
How often should I practise yoga?
Like everything in life, practice makes perfect! The more you can find time for this invigorating mind and body movement, the more refined your practice will become and the more chance you will likely see an increase in the benefits of yoga. Creating regularity is key.
Is yoga good for beginners?
Your yoga therapist is committed to establishing a safe and welcoming space for everyone no matter of their age, sex, body type or flexibility level as this is one of the fundamental grounds to the practice of yoga. It is about creating a space of non-judgement, losing the obsession with attachment and abandoning the fear of these false identities. You are not expected to be a certain person, or look a certain way or even attain a particular pose. Yoga is a practice of ‘Metta’ loving-kindness, the ultimate form of self-love that anybody can benefit from.
Can I practise yoga if I am pregnant?
Yoga is widely considered to be a safe form of exercise during pregnancy and can help to alleviate related aches and pains as well as build up core strength to adapt to the extra weight of the baby. What’s more, it can also help from an emotional and stress perspective by promoting relaxation in the mind and body.
There are various exercises that can be particularly useful to pregnant mothers along their entire journey including after their baby is born.
If you are contemplating yoga whilst pregnant it is important to firstly seek advice from your doctor. Assuming you receive the all clear, it is also important to find a yoga professional with experience working with pregnant women to provide guidance on safe exercises.
What are the benefits of yoga therapy?
Yoga can be an excellent form of physical activity, mobilizing every part of the body, both strengthening and stretching the muscles. But it is more than just a great workout, Yoga can become a whole mind and body practice. Incorporating the meditative breathing techniques can bring this greater sense of self and flow-on benefits that can help you manage the symptoms of certain conditions.
What are the key risks associated with yoga?
As with any physical activity, Yoga comes with a risk of injury if not practised with some level of care. If you do have any injuries or medical conditions, it is always best to consult your GP before you begin to make sure this therapy is suitable for you.
Resources and further yoga therapy information
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