31 Dec Yoga Therapeutics

One way of looking at yoga practice is seeing two different ways in which to work. Granted, this is a little simplistic, and ideally both ways of working are present in any practice, but I find the model useful nonetheless.

Firstly, we have the serious, dedicated practitioner, who travels the yogic path sincerely and with an element of passion and devotion to the practice, going deeper and deeper and deeper with each passing day, month, year and decade. For this practitioner, the practice will naturally become more complex and advanced on many different levels as he or she matures. This is a wonderful way of working, and certainly yields sweet, delicious fruits all along the way. However, yoga practiced in this way can feel a little bit like an exclusive club sometimes, and I am a big advocate for making yoga accessible to all. This is where Approach #2 comes in.

The other way of working involves using the toolbox of yoga to address any issues you are currently facing, be they physical or mental. The fast growing field of yoga therapy addresses this approach with great detail, and this is where therapeutic yoga comes in. 

Let’s take a little look at this yoga toolbox I mentioned a moment ago. Rather than looking at yoga simply as a linear path, where one practice grows out of another one in sequence, we can take whatever teaching is appropriate to us at any given moment and build it into our day to day routine in order to bring about positive change. This toolbox is really rather extensive! 

We include all the different asanas, including different, modern ways of working with them, plus the range of kriyas aka cleansing techniques, as well as breath work (both classical pranayama and far more accessible exercises) and of course working directly with our mind. Therapeutic yoga aims to work directly with whatever problems you are currently facing in any arena of your life to bring about positive change.

Here is a little example from my own personal teaching history. A few years ago, I was introduced to a wonderful Swedish lady who was diagnosed with chronic lower back issues. Her doctor had even told her that there was nothing she could do, she would just need to be far less physical than she used to be, and take a lot of medication. Thankfully, this didn’t sound right to her, and she started looking for alternative ways of working with her body. It was at this point that I met her, and I after our initial session I prescribed a little routine for her to practice daily. She did it twice every day! And found that the change was instant. After the first session, she was without pain for a few minutes, the first time this had happened in a long time. By the end of our ten days together, significant change had taken place, she was walking far more comfortably, and generally felt a great deal more comfort in her body.

The body has a remarkable capacity for self-healing, as long as we help it along a little, and encourage it in the right way, and this is something I do my best to impart when teaching yoga in a more therapeutic context.

If you are not a regular practitioner of yoga, know that the world of yoga is full of transformative techniques that can make a massive difference to you. You may be working with a serious injury, like my student above, or perhaps are just feeling a little stiff and uncomfortable. Maybe you suffer from panic, worry, or general stress, perhaps you are desperately trying to lose weight but seem unable to do so, or maybe you just feel unsatisfied in your life and have no idea where to even start. Working with yoga on a therapeutic basis will give you the means to start building up your own toolbox of techniques to start improving your quality of life, and will support any other medical or therapeutic regime you may already be following.

If, on the other hand, you are already a dedicated practitioner of yoga, know that therapeutic practice can still be very useful. I only stumbled upon this way of working after nearly a decade of deep, dedicated daily practice, and it really transformed my own views surrounding yoga and its potential for change, not to mention given me a wide array of tools to help me go deeper in my own work. And when those injuries or issues come along, and they will as this is part of the nature of being alive and having a body and a mind, you have something at your disposal with which to work.

I was afflicted with a serious back injury early last year. I can’t even begin to tell you how disastrous this felt at the time. And yet, with the help of a very good physiotherapist, and my own work in the past with yoga as therapy, I found myself recovering really very quickly, and am now grateful for this, at the time, harrowing experience. The gratitude comes from having the wonderful effectiveness of yoga as therapy confirmed to me, and being able to share with others how to work with such a problem.

The older I get, and the more I explore the wide array of practices and techniques yoga gives us, the more amazing and grateful I am to be immersed in this yogic world. And I always welcome and deeply love the opportunity to share some of what I have found, in my own experience, to be brilliantly helpful on so many levels