"Yoga must always be adapted to an individual's changing needs in order to derive the maximum therapeutic benefit." ~ T Krishnamacharya
In January 2016 Yoga Alliance took the position that yoga teachers may not call themselves yoga therapists on the Yoga Alliance website and must remove "yoga therapist" and "yoga therapy" from their member profiles. Concurrently, the esteemed IAYT (International Association of Yoga Therapists), had been working to create a stringent set of standards for yoga therapists. It was surprising to many in the yoga community that Yoga Alliance took the position it did when it did, as it was widely known that accreditation standards were in the works with IAYT. As of May 2016, teachers may apply to IAYT and submit extensive material to be reviewed so they may be registered as a Certified Yoga Therapist. In early July 2017 I received the C-IAYT Certified Therapist designation.
Yoga therapy, derived from the Yoga tradition of Patanjali and the Ayurvedic system of health care refers to the adaptation and application of Yoga techniques and practices to help individuals facing health challenges at any level manage their condition, reduce symptoms, restore balance, increase vitality, and improve attitude. ~ Gary Kraftsow American Viniyoga Institute
Yoga comprises a wide range of mind/body practices, from postural and breathing exercises to deep relaxation and meditation. Yoga therapy tailors these to the health needs of the individual. It helps to promote all-round positive health, as well as assisting particular medical conditions. The therapy is particularly appropriate for many chronic conditions that persist despite conventional medical treatment. ~ Marie Quail, Yoga Therapy and Training Center (Ireland)
Yoga therapy consists of the application of yogic principles, methods, and techniques to specific human ailments. In its ideal application, Yoga therapy is preventive in nature, as is Yoga itself, but it is also restorative in many instances, palliative in others, and curative in many others. ~ Art Brownstein, M.D
Privately, I have worked with a wide array of clients whose conditions have included spinal cord injuries, neuromuscular disease, cancer in remission, ADD, abuse and trauma, asthma, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, scoliosis, sports injuries, musculoskeletal disease, piriformis syndrome, back pain, neck pain, chronic pain, frozen shoulder, rotator cuff injury, sacroiliac instability after pregnancy, pelvic floor weakness, challenging symptoms of menopause and other conditions. In small group classes at in-patient facilities I have worked with victims of rape, abuse and neglect, and with individuals suffering from addiction. I treated my twin infant daughter's torticollis and plagiocephaly in conjunction with a physical therapist, helping her be one of the few children with those conditions who do not need to wear a helmet to help correct them. I regularly work with students in tandem with treatment they are receiving from medical professionals. I currently am developing a Yoga and Corrective Exercise module for students at the Los Angeles School of Chiropractic at the Southern California University of Health Sciences with Dr. Richard Cheung and Sonya Perry, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT.
It is important to remember that while the right yoga instructor may be educated and experienced and instrumental in helping you heal or manage chronic conditions, yoga teachers are not clinicians and cannot diagnose problems unless they happen also to be a doctor, physical therapist or other qualified medical professional. This is part of the YA position and something I agree with wholeheartedly. Most therapeutic yoga teachers I know would never claim to be able to diagnose problems (though throughout my career I have observed some yoga teachers who would), and all trainings in which I've participated, on the student or leader side, have stressed this fact. Consider this when looking for a therapeutic yoga instructor, and consider also that, like other professions, yoga teachers may have specialties or more experience in some areas than others.
On a personal level, I am aware of the healing aspects of yoga (and potentially injurious ones), and how yoga can help you connect more deeply with yourself and others.
- Years ago, yoga helped me to manage anxiety, be present in my body, and change unhealthy thought patterns, thereby helping me to cultivate a different relationship to myself and heal a long-time eating disorder. Yoga also helped me rewire other thought patterns that kept me from having aspects of the life I wanted to have. I feel this awareness is a lifelong process as we move through the various stages of life.
- I have slight scoliosis (sideways spinal curvature) that affects my hips, spine and shoulders, and my personal practice and study about this has given me an immense amount of information to help students.
- As a teacher, I healed a painful, long-time rotator cuff injury that I sustained years and years ago during a power yoga class. It occurred while jumping back to chatturanga before I had the strength to do so—IF I ever should have been doing so. As someone with challenged shoulder positioning due to scoliosis, jumping back to chatturanga doesn't really benefit me or cause me to grow, and it is an action I probably never should have been doing and is happily retired from my practice. I had to drastically change my practice for a while in order for it to be healing and not hurting, the biggest change being not weight-bearing in my shoulder (like, no Down Dogs) and slowly and rebuilding strength in ranges of motion that had been suffering. Now that I've healed I once again can bear weight in my shoulder, and I occasionally enjoy periods of a nice, rhythmic flow to my personal yoga practice, but I don’t see it as an athletic competition and regularly put my knees down in vinyasas or skip them entirely. I focus on the subtleties of the moves and make the practice fit me. I am not competitive in my yoga practice, and it took years of practice to get to that place.
- Yoga helped me stay present through the grief of numerous pregnancy losses over the course of many years, and find moments of joy in my life as we dealt with the stresses of an intense amount of grey-area decision-making, fear and pain that arose during fertility treatments.
- My twin pregnancy let me experience firsthand what it feels like to carry around more weight than my skeleton usually carries, how challenging it is to experience chronic pain, and how it feels to build core strength from a weakened state.
- As a parent, yoga has helped me deal with the stresses, fears and anxieties of parenthood. It helps me to enjoy and be truly present with each phase of my kids' development and not pine for the loss of stages I'll never get to experience with them again. (I wish I could have little clones from each developmental stage to go visit, because it's gone by so fast! Though at 4 1/2 we're going through some challenges I won't miss!) Yoga has helped me to be kinder to myself when my parenting doesn't meet my high expectations--something I struggle with. It’s also helped me carve out a healthy amount of space for self-care.
- Most recently, years of yoga training helped me manage the unknowns of why I had a single unexplained seizure, and whether or not I will have another—which will mean a diagnosis of adult-onset epilepsy. [Which eventually occurred.] It was pretty shocking to wake up in an ambulance to be told I had a seizure and later have the word “epilepsy” come into my consciousness and possibly refer to me. As I said to others around this time: this is when the REAL yoga kicks in. Click here for a blog I wrote about the experience, which made me so grateful the support of my yoga practice and the opportunity to practice the deeper dimensions of yoga.
Yoga Sutra 1:2 ~ yogas citta vrtti nirodhah ~ Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of the mind
Yoga Sutra 2:46 ~ shtira sukham asanam ~ Practice with steadiness and ease
Yoga Sutra 2:47 ~ prayatna saithilyanta samapattibhyam ~ Release tension and effort while doing asana
Click HERE for yoga therapy inquiries.