What is Yoga Therapy?

As many of you know, I am enrolled in a Master of Science in Yoga Therapy program which is the first degree of its kind in the United States. There is actually only one other program like this in the world and that is in India! Let me get straight to the point... What is yoga therapy? To answer this question, it's important to look into the roots of the words yoga and therapy. In today's culture, the word yoga is ubiquitous with heated rooms, crazy postures, and exercise routines. However, what does the word yoga really mean? Yoga comes from the root Sanskrit word, Yuj (pronounced like "huge" but without the sound of the H). The word yuj translates in English as union. Therefore, using the practices and principles of yoga, the goal is to unite the mind, body, and spirit. There's a much deeper philosophy here but for the purpose of understanding yoga therapy, we'll stick with the basics. Now, let's take a moment to look at the meaning of therapy. The word therapy is derived from the Greek word therapuein meaning to restore in a spiritual and medical sense. So now you have a basic sense of the meaning of the words yoga and therapy. Officially, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) defines Yoga Therapy as: The process of empowering individuals towards improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga. The IAYT purposefully made their definition of yoga therapy very broad so that we as yoga therapists could choose the applications, teachings, and practices of yoga that most resonate with us as therapists. Since we have all of the basic background information established... WHAT IS YOGA THERAPY? Yoga therapy is a holistic and integrative medical modality that has been practiced for thousands of years in India and has had a small presence in Western culture for about thirty years. As a clinical practice, yoga therapy is rooted in four basic principles:

  • The human body is innately whole

  • Each individual is unique

  • Yoga is inherently self-empowering

  • Our state of mind is crucial to the healing process

Fortunately, the university that I am attending is pioneering the effort in yoga therapy becoming as mainstream as other modalities such as psychotherapy and physical therapy. As a yoga teacher and soon-to-be yoga therapists, it's important for me to emphasize the difference between a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist. Yoga teachers are primarily focused on teaching students the practices and principles of yoga whereas a yoga therapist is focused on working with the suffering patients and clients are experiencing. Patients and clients may be symptomatic or asymptomatic, or have one or several medical diagnoses. The yoga therapist then uses the tools of yoga therapy as a means of healing the whole person; mind, body, and spirit.

This is an extremely exciting time to be entering this field because so much of what the ancient yogis knew for centuries is now being validated through modern medical research. I'll certainly be discussing this more in the future. If you have any questions about yoga therapy, please do not hesitate to e-mail me; in fact, I encourage you to ask questions!

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