It's been quite a few years since I've written a regular yoga blog. Since then, I qualified as a Yoga Therapist. So to kick off the resurrection of my blog, I thought I would explain more about Yoga Therapy. I hope you find it of interest! I'd love to hear your comments and any questions you may have.
WHY YOGA THERAPY?
You can read a bit more about me and my journey into yoga therapy here, but through training to be a yoga teacher, I realised I wanted to share yoga as a wellness tool that was accessible to all. This led me to train as a Yoga Therapist.
But it’s a funny thing with Yoga Therapy. Most people have never heard of it and even many of my family and friends still don’t know that I am a Yoga Therapist. In many ways, that doesn’t surprise me. While most people can easily conjure up a mental image for a Yoga Teacher, few can do the same for a Yoga Therapist. What on earth does that look like?
SO WHO IS A YOGA THERAPIST?
A yoga therapist is a yoga teacher who has completed further training (mine was two years) to become a yoga therapist. Accredited courses have to meet an approved curriculum, including research skills, supervised case studies, as well as external assessment(s) of the therapist working with a client.
Graduates of these courses are then eligible to register with the CNHC (Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council) which is an independent UK regulatory body. NHS workers can refer people to any of the professionals included on this register (assuming they know it exists!) So as you would expect, there is a Code of Ethics and best practice to adhere to as well as staying up to date with skills and knowledge.
AND WHAT IS YOGA THERAPY?
Yoga therapy often involves working with an individual to design with them, practices that use a variety of yoga techniques. Some of these may be familiar to what you see in a yoga class, but often applied in a different way. The practices are chosen to meet the goals, needs and interests of the individual. It’s also important to consider when they will be done, how often, and for how long in order to fit in with other daily demands the person may have.
~ IT’S GOAL ORIENTED:
The overriding aim for all my yoga therapy clients is to enhance their sense of well-being in a meaningful way for them. Not only will this vary from person to person, but also over time as situations arise.
So their goals may be fitness, injury rehab, pain management (including back pain), supporting a health condition, or help with poor sleep, stress, or anxiety. Often several sessions are required to develop a personal program, to give them time to learn and embed their practices, and to track progress toward their goals.
~ IT'S A COMPLEMENTARY PRACTICE:
Yoga Therapy sits well alongside other supports a person may be receiving, whether this involves medical care, physiotherapy, or talking therapies to give a few examples. When I begin working with a client, I take a medical history, and ask about work, lifestyle, diet, sleep, hobbies, typical stress levels, etc. I also enquire about other treatments or care they may be receiving. My aim is to integrate these as much as possible with the Yoga Therapy practices.
~ IT USES A HOLISTIC APPROACH:
At the heart of yoga therapy is seeing the whole person, not just an ailment or a condition or a goal. Yoga therapy recognises that body, thought, emotions, energy and sense of self all affect each other.
The yoga therapy sessions enable clients to see this big picture, to set personal wellness goals, and to develop the skills and tools to achieve them. For example, a person may seek yoga therapy to provide relief from hip pain, which has also impacted their sleep, energy, mood, and confidence. So in addition to specific physical practices, they may also be given a guided relaxation to use at bedtime, short breathing practices through the day to support energy levels, anxiety, and pain management, and perhaps an affirmation to redirect negative thinking and bolster confidence. But they decide what feels helpful and achievable.
SO WHAT HAPPENS IN A YOGA THERAPY SESSION?
Initially information is gathered about the person, including medical and lifestyle details. The client then expresses why they have sought Yoga Therapy. From this, we establish the goal for yoga therapy and collaborate to select practices. These may incorporate existing interventions such as physiotherapy exercises.
Our session time gives space to notice any habitual unhelpful patterns (e.g. negative self-talk, posture, sleep routine) and techniques to embed supportive habits. Often breath awareness and breathing techniques feature as this can be fundamental to managing energy. Relevant physical practices usually will be included, with mobility and strength important to enhance physical ease.
Each session gives time to review selected practices, discuss any challenges, and adjust, add, or remove as needed. Aspects of mindfulness are important, to develop the habit of regularly “checking in” with oneself to notice shifts in physical sensation, mood, mental state, energy and to alter course as required. This is all part of effective self-care skills. We also consider timing and frequency of practices to achieve the desired effects.
Often health care and wellness services can feel like we are a passive recipient of skilled people doing things to us. Yoga therapy differs markedly from this. The ethos is to empower individuals with knowledge and skill to enhance their own well-being, alongside other supports and care they may receive over their lives. These tools help us to navigate through challenge and change at any stage of our lives.
YOGA THERAPY IN A NUTSHELL!
I have to confess I haven’t found a really snappy and succinct way of describing yoga therapy! The key descriptors to me are holistic, complementary, to enhance well-being, uses a broad range of yoga practices, client collaboration, goal oriented, and empowering.
I hope you found this of interest, and I’d love to hear your comments, or any questions you may have. If there are specific topics you’d like to hear more about, simply contact me to let me know!
In future weeks, I’ll be posting on both Facebook and Instagram short practices you may want to try as well as other information. You can follow these social media channels using the links shown at the bottom of any Yoga Well website page.
Wishing you peace and wellness.
Ruth is a yoga therapist and yoga teacher based in Cheltenham, UK. She emphasises yoga as a tool for well-being, for individuals and in her classes, in person or via zoom.