What is yoga therapy?

Yoga therapy is yoga to manage or heal a certain condition, such as back pain or anxiety. Yoga therapy can occur in private sessions or in a group of people that are all working on healing similar conditions, such as our Overcome Anxiety Clinic. A Certified Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT) provides yoga therapy.


What are the benefits of yoga therapy?

PHYSICAL BENEFITS OF YOGA THERAPY

Physically, yoga therapy can help you to manage pain, both chronic and acute forms. Yoga therapy can help you to have better body awareness and better posture (which often times are a main contributor to chronic pain). Yoga helps us to manage stress better--and stress does not just affect us mentally: it decreases the effectiveness of our immune system, digestive system, and reproductive system, is a risk factor for heart disease, and can cause muscle tension and stress headaches.

MENTAL & EMOTIONAL BENEFITS OF YOGA THERAPY

Mentally and emotionally, it helps us to handle difficult situations with less reactivity and more clarity. It helps us manage anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms. With an ongoing relationship with a yoga therapist, we can “learn to tolerate the things in our life we cannot change, and change the things in our life we need not tolerate.” (B.K.S. Iyengar)

Yoga therapy can help us even on a spiritual level, whatever that means for us. When we connect with our mind, body, and breath, we almost cannot help but feel more whole and connected. The yoga therapist may incorporate yoga philosophy into the sessions, which can help us free ourselves from suffering. (“Pain in life is necessary. Suffering is not.” Yogic philosophy and living a yogic lifestyle helps us to avoid suffering.) Sometimes, the condition is not curable, but yoga helps us to manage the condition with more peace of mind.

A C-IAYT is trained to examine your condition from a holistic point of view, from a place of integration of the mind, body, and spirit. They do not only look at what is “wrong,” but how posture, lifestyle, diet, stress, breathing patterns, sleeping patterns, physical constitution, areas of muscular strength/ and weakness, flexibility or range of motion, and the qualities of the mind and emotions affect your condition.

Whereas, in the medical model, the “mind” and “body” are treated as separate entities. Even different systems of the body are often treated separately. We go to a psychotherapist if we are depressed; we go to a cardiologist if we have chest pain; we go to a podiatrist if we have foot pain. Within this model, the symptoms of the “dis-ease” may only be treated, while the real root of the problem remains--and many times we may not even be aware of it. For example, many people take medicines for stomach upset, but are unaware that anxiety is greatly contributing to their stomach & digestive problems. The medical model treats the symptoms, but through the lens of a yoga therapist, we address the underlying cause.

The benefit of working with a yoga therapist is that you can develop a new awareness--a more complete awareness-- of yourself and any physical or emotional challenges you are struggling with. At the same time, C-IAYT’s are trained to work with your doctor or therapist, not against them. Yoga therapy can help you unlock your own healing potential and finally allow healing to occur at every level of your being.

Sometimes, it is hard to describe to a doctor what you feel is wrong. You may have “passed” your physical exam, but you still feel “off,” or still not well. They aren’t sure how to help you, since there is nothing that can be diagnosed. From the yogic perspective, simply the absence of a disease does not equal health. Yoga therapy can help you get to the root of what feels “off,” and guide you along your path towards wholeness.   


What is the difference between yoga and yoga therapy?

Yoga itself can be therapeutic. However, it may also be viewed as simply a form of exercise. Yoga is much more than just exercise (although a regular yoga practice will increase your flexibility, strength and balance).

Yoga asana, or postures are only one of the eight limbs of a complete yoga practice. The other seven limbs of a yoga practice are Yama (ethical standards of how we conduct ourselves in life), Niyama (self-discipline and spiritual practices), Pranayama (breath control) Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses/ tuning into your inner world), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (transcendence, enlightenment, or connectedness with all things). In a typical yoga class, the teacher will have their own plan or agenda. A well-trained yoga teacher will guide students through a class and assist and/ or offer variations of certain poses so that the entire class is practicing safely. A well trained teacher will also integrate several, if not all, of the eight limbs into the practice.  

Yoga therapy, especially 1:1 yoga therapy, is client-centered, rather than teacher-centered. The 8 limbs are still a guide for yoga therapy, but knowledge base is much deeper, and there is often the integration of other modalities, such as functional movement/ corrective exercise, somatic movement, and Ayurveda (the “sister-science” of yoga). Using yogic tools, the yoga therapist facilitates an experience that is designed to empower the client. The yoga therapist is not the healer—the client/student becomes their own healer.

We have all the tools we need within us to experience wholeness & healing, the yoga therapist simply guides the journey.


Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.
— B.K.S. Iyengar

What does yoga therapy look like in a class, workshop and private yoga therapy session?

YOGA THERAPY IN THE CLASSROOM

A typical weekly class on our schedule is not necessarily “yoga therapy”  within the technical definition, but they are therapeutic in nature. We pride ourselves in having a wide range of styles of classes, and teachers with different therapeutic specialties. Some of our teachers are yoga therapists, or yoga therapists in-training. Some of our classes are extremely restorative (meaning: all postures are done on the floor, deep stretching & relaxing), and some classes are more energizing or vigorous. There is something for everyone, both beginner-level as well as for the seasoned practitioner. Either way, our teachers are all highly trained and experienced, and our small class sizes insure that no one’s needs get “lost in the crowd.”  


THERAPEUTIC YOGA WorkshopS

Within a workshop format, you have the opportunity to “dive into” a more specific topic that interests you. These topics all fall within the wide spectrum of yoga therapy. Workshops look similar to a class, but you may receive handouts or materials on the topic, and you have more time to fully explore and have a personal experience with the topic.


YOGA THERAPY Private SessionS

Before having a 1:1 yoga therapy session or before the first session in a therapeutic group, such as the Overcome Anxiety Clinic, you will fill out a confidential questionnaire so that the yoga therapist or instructor has an overview your health history, past yoga experience, goals, challenges, lifestyle, etc. Which yogic tools are chosen for you in your session depends on your needs.

In a private session, there is always some form of a “check in,” (which may include a body scan meditation) in which you are able to observe the body and mind in the present moment. Your needs that day determine the flow of the session. Yoga therapy sessions look very different from one client to another. The yoga therapists supports you in your unique journey of healing.

YOGA THERAPY SESSION TOOLS

Depending on your specific goals and needs, yoga therapy sessions can include any of these tools:

  • Yoga posture (asana)

  • Breath control (pranayama)

  • Meditation techniques

  • Functional movement scans & posture training

  • Somatic movement (slow, meditative movement that trains the body to move in a more functional way)

  • Journaling or self-reflection exercises

  • Yoga philosophy

  • Mantra or affirmation

  • Assistance in creating a home yoga practice

  • Vinyasa yoga (movement with breath)

  • Yin or Restorative Yoga (longer holds and deeper stretches)

private session Pricing

  • NEW CLIENT SPECIAL:  2 FOR $150

  • INDIVIDUAL SESSION: $110

  • 3 SESSION PACKAGE: $285

  • 5 SESSION PACKAGE: $450

  • 10 SESSION PACKAGE: $850


What is the origin of yoga therapy?

“Yoga therapy” is a term for a relatively new field, although the art and science of yoga dates back to thousands of years. Yoga stems from traditional Indian medicine and originally looked nothing like the complicated poses you may associate with yoga today.

Thousands of years ago, the practice of yoga was written down in the ancient texts called The Vedas in the language of sanskrit (The Vedas are the oldest written scriptures known to man, and sanskrit is the oldest language). At the time these texts were written, it is believed that these yogic practices were already several hundred years old and had been passed down from teacher to student verbally before being written down.

Yoga, in its original form, had nothing to do with physical fitness. Yoga was more in the realm of “the science of the mind,” whereas Ayurveda (which translates to “the science of life”), is more in the realm of “the science of the body” and physical health. Ayurveda is also referred to “the sister-science of yoga,” and stems from traditional Indian medicine (5,000 years old).

In the ancient Vedic texts, there were only 4 yoga postures (and none of them involved downward dog or doing a handstand). The 4 postures were for meditation. Then, the ancient sages started noticing aches and pains while they were meditating, so they came up with a few more postures that were meant to release tension in the body so that they could meditate more effectively.

Yoga has been defined in different ways by different traditions, but the core of yoga is a practice of self-awareness and self-healing for ailments of both the mind and body. (In Indian medicine, we are viewed as a whole, mind and body are not separate entities.) In other words, yoga has been used for therapeutic reasons for thousands of years.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (which were written between 3000 B.C. and 500 A.D. by Sri Patanjali--most likely by many people that held that title) systematically clarified the practice of yoga by breaking it down into 8 Limbs:

  1. Yama (Ways to conduct yourself in the world)

  2. Niyama (Inner/ spiritual practices)

  3. Asana (Posture)

  4. Pranayama (Breath control)

  5. Pratyahara (Withdrawal of senses)

  6. Dharana (Concentration)

  7. Dhyana (Meditation)

  8. Samadhi (Super-conscious state/ Enlightenment)


12 interesting historic facts of yoga & yoga therapy

Over the years, the practice of yoga spread through the world and had many different influences. (The book Yoga Body:The Origins of Modern Posture Practice is an incredibly interesting, in-depth source of information on how modern yoga practice came to be what it is today. An excellent & revolutionary read.) In a very incomplete nutshell:

  • Yoga went through a period where only the lowest in society practiced yoga; “yogi” was a dirty word to call someone. They were vagabonds, and shunned wherever they went, similar to the gypsy culture.

  • Holy men in India started practicing it to see if they could find a shortcut to enlightenment. They tried self-starvation, hanging themselves upside down from trees for days, cutting themselves, etc.--all to see if putting themselves through excruciating pain could create enlightenment.  They failed. They decided that the 8 limbs were the best route after all.

  • Yoga became popular among royalty in India. Only the most rich and privileged men were allowed to practice yoga. Yoga was taught 1:1 or 1:2. The personal teacher/ student relationship is highly valued. Women were not allowed to learn.

  • The 1800’s were a big century for Yoga: Yoga postures were used to train soldiers to be more agile and focused. Yoga receives influences from German gymnastics and European contortionist culture. Enter: All of the twisty stuff and Sun Salutations. (Ashtanga yoga origins from this era.)

  • Yoga was first officially brought to America by Swami Vivekananda in 1893. A Parliament was called with all of the early American scholars. They had a goal: to integrate culture from east into American culture. The result was the Vedanta Society, a lineage of yoga that still exists today in US.

  • Indra Devi (“The First Lady of Yoga,” 1899-2002) became the first female yoga teacher under Sri Krishnamacharya and had already started her first yoga school in China before moving to California in 1947. She became a “yoga teacher to the stars”: Greta Garbo, Jennifer Jones, and Gloria Swanson. She lived to 102, and has been photographed doing handstands in airplane aisles at senior citizen status. Devi used her knowledge of the physical practices of yoga, the esoteric practices of yoga, health food & lifestyle practices to create “yoga” as we know it today. (Indra Devi was a bad-ass. Look her up. Just sayin’.) Until she brought yoga to America on her own terms and broke through glass ceilings, yoga was a male-dominated discipline. People flooded her classes, and reported relief from  asthma, anxiety, headaches, insomnia….benefits that have since been studied and can back up the effectiveness of yoga. Indra Devi was responsible for creating this new awareness in the Western world-- a true period of “yoga therapy” rising.  

  • Light on Yoga” by B.K.S. Iyengar was published in 1966. “Iyengar Yoga” develops as a standard for alignment in yoga postures, and incorporates yoga props for customized alignment. Enter: The study of kinesiology and physical therapy to the world of yoga. Western medicine starts to take a widespread interest in “mind/body” practices such as meditation and breathing techniques. “Yoga” is not always the word used in studies, but the practices are yogic techniques.

  • 1980’s: Dr. Dean Ornish, a well-respected medical doctor, proved in his studies that lifestyle changes, breathing and meditation techniques (all from a yogic lifestyle), can reverse heart disease. This creates a new standard for heart health care in the West. For the first time, a program including yoga, a Dean Ornish program for heart health, can be covered by health insurance.  Yogic practices becoming integrated into Western Medicine becomes a possibility. More studies emerge on arthritis, anxiety, chronic pain, and many other conditions.  

  • Founded in 1989 by Larry Payne, Ph.D. and Richard Miller, Ph.D., the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), had a mission: To establish yoga as a recognized and respected therapy.

  • In 2016 IAYT’s long-awaited Professional Yoga Therapist Certification is launched, with the new credentials “C-IAYT.” This includes a Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility, and a Scope of Practice.

  • 2018: Yogatherapy.health is launched, a public-facing website where anyone can find information on yoga therapy: Where to find a Certified Yoga Therapist in your area, information on how yoga can help various conditions, and information for doctors.  


 

Recommended Next Steps:

infinity-private-yoga-therapy-session.jpg

schedule a therapeutic yoga session

Experience a personalized approach to healing and wellness first hand. Schedule a private therapeutic yoga session to address any mental, physical or emotional condition or for individual support in establishing or deepening your yoga and/or meditation practice.

Anxiety Clinic_APRIL 2019_IG-04.jpg

OVERCOME ANXIETY CLINIC

A therapeutic yoga series designed for those who suffer from anxiety; Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder and PTSD. Led by Certified Yoga Therapist Kirsten Higgins, M.Ed., C-IAYT, you will learn and practice self-healing modalities which are effective in reducing the effects of anxiety while also learning techniques to navigate difficult emotional experiences.

infinity-yoga-therapy-sequence-for-digestion.jpg

[blog] Yoga therapy sequence for digestioN

Before you indulge, try the sequence below in the morning, prior to eating any breakfast. This will stimulate agni, your metabolic fire.  Ideally, drink only room-temperature, warm or hot beverages beforehand (no caffeine before this sequence if possible, which only dehydrates you and slows digestion). 


 
I have been working with Kirsten for the last few months and I feel stronger physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She is a wonderful and caring individual and I am honored to have her practice with me. I am thrilled that she has opened a studio for all to share in her talents.
— S.K.
Kirsten is the best!!! Kirsten has been leading my wife and I in weekly yoga sessions for the past several years. She is a fun, patient, and intuitive teacher. She also has worked with my 80 year old mother. We all highly recommend her.
— J.B.