What is Yoga Therapy?
This article originally appeared in the April 2006 edition of Yogi Times:
“Yoga Therapy: Unlocking the Hidden Vitality” by Antonio Sausys
It’s widely known that Yoga can enhance your physical and emotional well being, but when Yoga is practiced with a therapeutic intention in the form of Yoga Therapy, it can help prevent and aid recovery from physical and mental ailments. Yoga has long been practiced with therapeutic intentions as way of transforming both the body and the mind.
According to classical texts, most of the problems in our health come from a state of ignorance of who and what we are. By offering a vehicle for self-knowledge, yoga provides an opportunity to become acquainted with our essence, in tune with the Oracle at Delphi’s command: “Know thyself.” From a psychological standpoint, therapy is defined as the possibility of accessing self-knowledge that will enable us to change that what we consider dysfunctional. A number of research studies have proven the effectiveness of Yoga Therapy as developing exactly that type of awareness.
The applications of Yoga Therapy range anywhere from maintaining health, to recovering from illness – in some cases, even those considered incurable. The first stage of healing involves the movement of vital forces in the system. Practitioners of many Eastern forms of medicine believe that every illness involves a certain level of energy blockage. By promoting the flow of prana, or vital force, yoga combats those blockages, restoring the basic condition for health. Common applications for Yoga Therapy also serve structural problems such as spine misalignments or joint function. Deeper applications may even aid more intractable problems such as AIDS and cancer.
By combining different techniques such as massage, stretching or alterations of the circulatory patterns, yoga promotes specific changes in muscles, joints and organs altering the vital functions of the body. A good example would be the way Yoga Therapy can help overcome panic attacks. By practicing a balancing breathing technique, a sense of control is gained, combating the fear and anxiety produced by its loss. Additionally, by practicing Tratak, a specific technique that involves eye movement, the pituitary gland is reset via the optic nerve, influencing the ‘fight or flight’ reaction so intimately related with the syndrome.
On a psychological level, the introspection promoted by yoga is essential to the self-knowledge process that fuels psychic transformation. The different relaxation techniques allow the troubled mind to calm and decrease its activity while promoting stability. Yoga considers the psyche to be spread in different centers along the body (chakras). Each related to a nervous plexus, an endocrine gland, an organ or group of organs and specific psychic qualities. By acting upon the chakras, yoga brings light to any psychic blockages, making them available to the conscious mind. The modern western correlate of this scheme is in the core of psycho-neuroimmunology, a branch of psychology that studies the interaction between the nervous, endocrine and immune systems, explaining some of the subtle mechanisms of psychosomatic medicine.
The fact that the different branches of science are now acknowledging that everything in the universe works together with absolute, intimate and exquisite interrelationship is part of the basis of the increasing success and respect that Yoga Therapy is gaining among main stream medical practitioners. As more clinicians use these techniques either for themselves of or their patients, and as more masters design specific applications of yoga, the spectrum of Yoga Therapy grows exponentially.
More than following just one style or one branch of yoga, Yoga Therapy feeds from virtually all styles and branches, combining the tools that each one of them bring in the design of a yoga sadhana, or a routine that addresses the given condition. Even though different Yoga Therapists follow different procedures to establish the sadhana, a pretty general scheme would first determine the condition to be treated, and then an evaluation of person’s general abilities. Then the appropriate techniques can be chosen from the various disciplines which best serve the therapeutic process.
At last, the logistical aspects of the execution of the sadhana should be determined, such as order of practice and number of repetitions. The person then can practice this sadhana on his or her own, or receive the expert guidance of a Yoga Therapist. The sadhana is then updated according to the progress that the student accomplishes.
The integration of mind and body is very important for the healing process, but perhaps the main area where yoga comes in handy is the inclusion of the ‘spiritual’ realm into the equation. Even if the student or patient belongs to no religion, or even if she or he does not acknowledge the existence of spirit, the practice of some of these techniques can eventually integrate this aspect of the self
After all, the Earth is spinning, and it needs not our acknowledgment, nor it does it need us to push it!