Yoga Therapy in More Depth
Apologies, this section is fairly dense with information. Its important that I give people considering working with me, or referring to me, some detail about what I do and how I work.
if you are thinking of booking a Yoga Therapy session with me, then this content may be of interest but its by no means compulsory reading.
If simply want to book a session, then you can learn about pricing and availability, and book an appointment on my booking page
What is Yoga Therapy
Yoga Therapy endeavours to give you the space, skills and resources to find your own solutions; it is a collaborative approach rather than directive.
Yoga Therapy weaves together elements of Yoga, Psychology, Neuroscience and Medical Physiology.
Yoga Therapy adapts Yoga to assist in working with specific conditions and complaints, and in particular enabling and nurturing individuals own capacity for healing on a BioPsychoSocial basis.
To be clear Yoga Therapy is a separate discipline to Yoga Teaching. The Yoga Therapy modality is unique in being able to bridge the gap between other physical and mental health disciplines.
Rather than trying to fix specific problems on a shopping list basis, Yoga Therapy endeavours to give you the space, skills and resources to find your own solutions; it is a collaborative approach rather than directive.
Yoga Therapy benefits from being evidence based, and there is much good quality independent research supporting tailored Yoga interventions.
Yoga Therapy can assist with a wide range of physical and mental health conditions – at the very least there aren’t many situations in which gentle movement, breathing and a positive mindset cannot add value, and, of course, a therapeutic approach to Yoga can go much further as circumstances dictate.
Yoga itself can be hard to define; within Yoga Therapy a full spectrum of Yoga practices are used – Yoga postures and movement, breath practices, relaxation and meditation practices. I consider that Yoga is primarily a Psycho-Spiritual practice with movement be secondary. Yoga Therapy is grounded in a non dogmatic approach to Yoga, rather than in one particular Yoga tradition or lineage.
In the UK the Complementary and Natural Health Care Council define Yoga Therapy as follows:
Those who wish to develop their natural well-being may find Yoga Therapy a useful route. Yoga therapy is taught by yoga teachers with additional training and experience in the therapeutic adaptation and application of Yoga. People may be taught one-to-one or in a therapy group setting.
Yoga therapy may help with many issues and can be appropriate for a wide range of ages and lifestyles as well as those looking for a healthier way of life. All that is needed from the participant is the desire to help her or himself and the willingness to practise regularly.
Through practising a Yoga Therapy programme the participant may, for example, become more aware of posture and breathing. She/he may also find regular practice can help to promote relaxation, aid sleep and relieve tension; it may help to contribute to an increased sense of well-being and a positive mood.
In a typical first Yoga Therapy session a medical history will be taken by the Yoga Therapist. The body, posture, simple movements and the breath may be observed and issues and concerns discussed. Working with Yoga therapeutically is about the whole person.
The Yoga Therapist will then assess how Yoga therapy may help before planning and teaching a practice tailored to the needs of that individual. Practices may include one or more of a range of techniques such as posture work, breathing, relaxation, working with sound, reflection, and/or meditation. A number of sessions are likely to be needed to confirm safe and appropriate practice.
Another useful definition is that of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, IAYT:
Yoga therapy is the professional application of the principles and practices of Yoga to promote health and well-being within a therapeutic relationship that includes personalized assessment, goal setting, lifestyle management, and Yoga practices for individuals or small groups.
Combining Evidence Based Practice and Intuition
In working with clients I rely on evidence based practice, drawing on:
- research on Yoga based techniques
- inferred benefits from research into similar techniques (for example research which doesn’t mention Yoga expressly but where the practices are similar to Yoga based ones)
- experiential wisdom of myself and other yoga practitioners, and from the Yoga tradition
However intuition is important as well, not in the least as Evidence Based Practice can be reductionist and loose sight of the wider advantages Yoga can bring in peoples lives. So I also work with you to use the bodies intuitive methods of self healing – for me this means empowering you to heal and promote well-being, and working on a reflective basis.
Collaboration with other Health Professionals
I am happy to work alongside your Doctor, Consultant, or other Healthcare / Mental Heath professional formally or informally. They can send me relevant information if you wish, and equally I am happy to keep them updated on our sessions.
Safety and Accessibility
Safety is, of course, foremost. Everything carries risk, even staying in bed. When delivered by an experienced practitioner, Yoga Therapy should be relatively safe, although always listen to your body, tell me if anything doesn’t feel right, and don’t strive for movement which is not available or not comfortable for you.
For anyone who is pregnant, Yoga Therapy should be safe, although unless you have an existing Yoga practice there will be cautions on yoga poses during first trimester.
I run my yoga practice on an accessible basis, welcoming all body shapes and abilities.
Additionally I take emotional and psychological safety very seriously.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Integrative Medicine
Yoga Therapy is a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Here is what the NHS says about CAMs:
There’s no universally agreed definition of CAMs.
Although “complementary and alternative” is often used as a single category, it can be useful to make a distinction between the 2 terms.
The US National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) uses this distinction:
- When a non-mainstream practice is used together with conventional medicine, it’s considered “complementary”.
- When a non-mainstream practice is used instead of conventional medicine, it’s considered “alternative”.
There can be overlap between these categories.
For example, aromatherapy may sometimes be used as a complementary treatment, and in other circumstances is used as an alternative treatment.
A number of complementary and alternative treatments are typically used with the intention of treating or curing a health condition.
Yoga Therapy can fit into both the Complementary and Alternative definitions, and is part of the wider concept of Integrative Medicine where the focus is on the individual and making best use of both Conventional Medicine and Complimentary and Alternative Medicines for the individuals health.
Integrative Medicine is defined by the US National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health as:
Bringing conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way. It emphasizes a holistic, patient-focused approach to health care and wellness—often including mental, emotional, functional, spiritual, social, and community aspects—and treating the whole person rather than, for example, one organ system. It aims for well-coordinated care between different providers and institutions.
In the UK The College of Medicine defines Integrative Medicine as:
Integrative Health aims to achieve the optimal state of health by taking into account evidence-based Conventional Medical Practice, evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Health, and Evidence-based Self-Care and Behavioural approaches that is patient-centred, science-based, and multidisciplinary. It takes into account the patient-practitioner interaction focusing on the person as a whole and their wider community and is informed by the latest scientific evidence, making use of all the appropriate preventative, therapeutic, and lifestyle approaches available.
Yoga Therapy is not an urgent care modality, and immediate physical or mental health needs must be referred to your GP or agencies like the local crisis team.
BioPsychoSocial Model of Well-Being
You willl read the term BioPsychoSocial in the context of Yoga Therapy.
The BioPsychoSocial model of health suggests an interconnection between Biological, Psychological, and Socio-Environmental factors in Health and Well-Being.
It shows that a person’s health problems can be connected, and they may be more complex than previously imagined, eg
- back pain may be related to our social and emotional lives rather than damage to our spine
- emotional health problems may have a complex root in our past
Sometimes spiritual is added as well creating a BioPsychoSocialSpiritual model, as strong spiritual beliefs correlate with better resilience to stress and emotional turbulence.
The BPS or BPSS model means there are a number of approaches into improving our health and wellbeing, for example medication from your Doctor, alongside Mind Body work in Yoga.
Eastern Models of Health and Well-Being
Yoga Therapists often use the Koshic model of Health and Well-Being as part of integrating Western and Eastern understandings of Health and Well-being.
The Koshic model comes from Yoga philosophy – specifically the Taittiriya Upanishad of c600BCE – and suggests that a person can be considered to have a number of “layers”:
- Annamaya kosha – the food layer – dealing with the physical body
- Pranamaya kosha – the energy layer – dealing with our nervous system and sense of vitality
- Manomaya kosha – the mind layer – dealing with thinking, senses and mental processing
- Vijñānamaya kosha – the wisdom layer – our innate sense of wisdom, intellect and discrimination
- Anandamaya kosha – the bliss layer – our connection to higher conciousness and to our spiritual roots
You may be more familiar with the energy body in Yoga being considered in the context of the Chakras and a chakral analysis can be equally important, especially in the Pranamaya kosha, the energy layer.
Our main Chakras – energy centres – are:
- Muladhara – root chakra – sense of survival and basic needs
- Swadhisthana – sacral chakra – sense of self
- Manipura – navel/solar plexus – sense of power and energy
- Anahata – heart chakra – sense of love for ourselves and others
- Vishuddhi – throat chakra – sense of hearing and being heard
- Ajna – third eye chakra – sense of wisdom and intuition
- Sahasara – crown chakra – sense of spiritual connection
There is considerable value in looking at our health and well-being through these alternative models, and just as Western anatomy creates a map of the physical body, these Eastern models give us alternative maps to help with understanding our current perspective. They are part of the picture which can be missed by systematised Western medicine. None of this is to criticise the valuable knowledge base and successes of Western Medicine, just to recognise its limitations when considering whole person Well-being.
How Yoga Therapy and Yoga Differ
As a Yoga Therapist, a question I am often asked is “What is the difference between a Yoga Teacher and a Yoga Therapist?”
A Yoga Therapist is a specialist in tailoring Yoga to your individual needs to help address health concerns or improve your well-being. To support this a Yoga Therapist will generally have a broader and more comprehensive training compared to a Yoga Teacher.
I sometimes liken my work as a Yoga Therapist as having a foot in the Yoga world and a foot in the Medical world. The Yoga techniques I offer are supported by both evidence based practice; a broad understanding of our human physiology; and an understanding of common medical concerns. Obviously I am not a doctor – although some of my Yoga Therapist colleagues are doctors or other medical professionals – and if you require urgent or emergency care then you must contact your GP, NHS 111, or Emergency Services.
Another difference between Yoga Teachers and Yoga Therapists is that Yoga Therapists often have affiliation with Professional Bodies, which means we work to a very robust set of ethical guidelines. Some Yoga Therapists in the UK will be registered with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), others with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), a UK “Accredited Register”. I am registered with CNHC. The British Council for Yoga Therapy (BCYT) set best standards for Yoga Therapy in the UK.
Of course, these divisions are not set in stone – many Yoga Teachers also work therapeutically with clients, so there is a continuum.