With all the many benefits of yoga being announced in the news on a regular basis, you may wonder if yoga is right for you. If you have any kind of illness, injury, or painful condition, however, a regular yoga class may actually do more harm than good. That’s why yoga therapy can be the answer for so many people.
What Is Yoga Therapy?
Most people have heard of yoga, and many people may have even taken a yoga course or two. But few people have heard about yoga therapy, a method of using yoga to help strengthen, heal, and rehabilitate the body.
While a traditional yoga practice may take place in a room with people of many different abilities, a yoga therapy class is designed to be tailored to an individual, so it’s more likely to be one on one, than to a full class. This makes yoga therapy closer to an appointment with a physical therapist, than to a yoga class.
Why Take Yoga Therapy
Yoga is a great way to reducing stress and stretching and strengthening the body. Some types of yoga, such as Forrest Yoga, are designed to rehabilitate as well. So why make an appointment with a yoga therapist, rather than simply attending a yoga class for beginners?
The answer lies in the personalization. A student that has an injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome may try out a Hatha yoga course – a fairly gentle method of yoga – thinking that it will be a good way to gain strength in the wrists and arms. Unfortunately, this style of yoga, in addition to being gentle, also puts a great deal of emphasis on wrist usage. Poses such as Plank, Upward Facing Dog, Downward Facing Dog, and Crow, all stress the wrists during class. For someone with no wrist injury, this is a great way to strengthen the area and help to prevent future injuries.
In a person with carpal tunnel syndrome, however, a class like this would be extremely painful and frustrating. And while some teachers offer props or suggestions that can help make the class easier, many teachers lack the type of expertise needed to help each person modify the poses to make them work.
This is where yoga therapy steps in. Rather than offering a class for carpal tunnel sufferers who may have varying degrees of pain, strength, and flexibility, each class is tailored to the individual. This means that the therapist can see exactly what it is you’re able to do – and not do – and then find a way to not only work around the problem area, but also find a way to help treat it. The result is a class that over time can help rehabilitate an injury, while still strengthening and stretching the rest of the body to help prevent further injuries.
Yoga Therapy vs. Physical Therapy
Physical therapy offers many of the same benefits: rehabilitation from an injury, as well as stretching and strengthening of the body, so why do yoga therapy instead? The difference lies in the other benefits that yoga brings, such as deep rhythmic breathing, meditation, and stress release. Yoga therapy can be done at absolutely any level, no matter how injured or ill a person is, simply because yoga is the linking of breathe with movement. So a person who is extremely ill or injured may be instructed to simply focus on breathing and mediation while their body begins to heal. Other movements linked with breathe can be brought in slowly as the patient’s physical condition improves. There is no pushing beyond a person’s capabilities, and all the many benefits of yoga can be felt without fear of further injury.
Physical therapy is also typically focused on rehabilitating just the one area that is injured or affected. This can be a very effective form of treatment for some issues, but what happens when those issues stem from other areas, such as a back pain coming from a weak core or an uneven gait?
Yoga therapy attempts to treat the entire individual – not just one aspect of it. Many yoga therapists also take a holistic approach, attempting to get to the root of the problem to correct it, not just the symptom itself. This approach can be very effective for many people, particularly those whose pain or illness is affecting all areas of their lives and how they interact with things.
Who Can Benefit from Yoga Therapy
When yoga therapy is done correctly anyone can benefit from it regardless of their age, ability, or physical condition. It is, however, targeted toward people who have a specific illness, injury, or ailment that they are looking to improve or find ways to work around. This may include, but is not limited to,
- People who have been in car accidents
- People with arthritis
- People with lupus and other systemic diseases
- People with a sports injury
- Children with conditions such as cerebral palsy and autism
- The elderly
- People who have had knee or hip replacements
- People with back problems
- People with limited mobility
Because yoga therapy combines the best of yoga with the one-on-one assistance of physical therapy, nearly anyone can take part and gain from it.
Who Can Become a Yoga Therapist?
Like both yoga teachers and physical therapists, yoga therapists must complete rigorous training programs to become qualified to practice. All yoga therapists are certified yoga practitioners, and have completed at least 200 hours of training, although most have gone on to get certified at 500 hours or more.
To become a yoga therapist, you need to have a detailed understanding of anatomy, and many people take several different anatomy courses to that affect. Some yoga therapists will also complete physical therapy programs as well, although this is not required to practice one-on-one or at most yoga studios. Yoga therapists looking to get hired at hospitals or in other clinical settings should be prepared to get additional certification.
Looking for a Yoga Therapist
If you think that yoga therapy sounds like something that you would like to try, be prepared to search out the right therapist for you. Many yoga therapists work primarily on specific sections of the body where they have more experience, greater interest, or a personal interest. A good therapist will also have a strong yoga practice, and may teach standard yoga classes as well.
When searching for a yoga therapist, be prepared to ask several detailed questions to help you find the right person to assist you.
Word of Mouth
One of the best ways to help find a therapist that can work with you is through word of mouth. Begin by asking at the studio you practice at, or at a studio a friend or family member attends. Ask if there is a yoga therapist on staff, or if a teacher at the studio knows someone that they can recommend. If you have a specific ailment you’re hoping to get help with, be sure to ask if this person has ever dealt with this problem before.
Once you locate a therapist, make sure you take the time to ask some very specific questions of them before you agree to an appointment. Find out things such as:
- How long they have been practicing yoga
- When they got certified and how many hours they have completed
- How long they have been practicing yoga therapy
- What anatomy courses or other relevant experience have they completed that makes them qualified to treat you
- What experience they have dealing with your specific issue
- What outcomes have other people that they have treated experienced
Also ask to get some references of people that they have treated in the past that you can speak to. Make sure to call on a few of them and get detailed information about how the treatment went for them, what they found beneficial, and what they felt didn’t work. Yoga therapy should never involve pain; if you speak to a practitioner or a former student who says that pain is involved, find a new therapist.
Find Out if They Are Affiliated with the IAYT
The International Association of Yoga Therapists is one of the most recognized schools and associations for yoga therapists. They look to close the gap between yoga and medical care, and many of their therapists work in hospitals and other medical settings. If you find a therapist that is associated with the IAYT, you can be sure that you are getting a level of care and experience that you may not find elsewhere.
If they are not associated with the IAYT, make sure to find out if they are associated with any other programs or groups you can research to find out more about their credentials.
Ask for a Treatment Plan
Once you agree to begin sessions with a yoga therapist, make sure you get a detailed treatment plan that will include exercises for you to do on your own. The more you practice the things you will learn in the class, the faster you can rehabilitate your body, so practicing at home is often just as important as attending the sessions. Make sure that you have a detailed treatment plan in place, and that changes and modifications to it can be made if you don’t see improvement by a set time. Some treatments can take weeks to months to see results from; if this is the case, make sure you know that up front if they don’t expect quick results so you know how long you’ll need to stick it out.
Ask About Modifications
Some injuries and ailments can’t be entirely overcome, but they can be worked around. While you may not be able to attend a standard yoga class at the time you are attending yoga therapy, it may be a goal for both you and your therapist to work toward. From that end, make sure you ask about what modifications to basic poses you can do to help you get through a traditional class without further injuring yourself or causing pain. A good therapist should be able to show you numerous modifications that you can use during a class so that you can participate without any issues.
Try Yoga Therapy for Yourself
If you’ve ever wondered if a yoga class would be good for you, or you’ve ever tried a class only to stop due to an injury or pain, consider trying yoga therapy. With its approach to treating the whole person and not just the symptoms, yoga therapy can often be a more effective way to manage pain and other symptoms than traditional methods. Give yoga therapy a try and get ready to rehabilitate your life.