Many of us love our yoga classes. Once a week we stretch and move in time with our breath and come out of the class feeling wonderful. That feeling may stay with us through the day, perhaps even into the evening, but at some point, we revert to our normal ways, forget to be aware of our breath and bodily sensations and proceed to slouch and lean our way through the rest of the week.
Some of us may attend two classes a week and that’s great, but two hours out of a total of 168 isn’t very much. And after all, yoga is about more than simply making shapes with our bodies isn’t it? If yoga were merely about physical fitness, what benefits would it have over, say, playing tennis or running?
Yoga therapy is a way of bridging the gap between our yoga practice and our daily lives. Writing for Yoga Journal, Dr Timothy McCall calls it the “best overall stress reduction system ever invented”. Yoga therapy aims to bring us closer to a sense of wholeness. It’s about helping us to unite body, mind and emotions, and it assists us in cultivating a greater sense of awareness. If all that sounds a bit new-age then rest assured that it’s based on sound science.
Yoga therapy has been found to positively impact many health conditions from musculoskeletal ailments to cardiovascular complaints. While yoga therapy is an emerging science, early studies are extremely positive: it’s been shown helpful in cancer treatment and has the potential to help conditions ranging from rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease and schizophrenia to the mental health problems experienced by military personnel.
But can yoga therapy help us if we are already healthy? Absolutely! Most of us have some kind of ailment, whether it’s a niggling feeling in the wrist or the hips that we keep meaning to get around to exploring or a tendency to make the same detrimental relationship decisions over and over again. Yoga therapy can help.
Lying somewhere between the realms of therapy session and yoga class, a yoga therapy session aims to address the underlying causes of our suffering, whether it be physical, mental or emotional. Attending an initial consultation, we can expect to fill in a questionnaire which will enquire into our medical history and lifestyle. We will then be assessed via a range of physical and verbal analyses. Then comes the most important part: homework.
Unlike with a yoga class, we are expected to do extracurricular work when it comes to yoga therapy. And therein the alchemy lies. We may be given postures, breathing and relaxation practices to do at home and the more regularly we are able to perform them the better results we can expect. That’s not to say we should beat ourselves up if we don’t manage daily practice. After all, one of the main tenets of yoga is surrender, and sometimes we have to surrender to the practicalities of life.
Our health system is stretched beyond its limits and it seems the time has come for us to take our health into our own hands. More and more, yoga is being recognised as a way to do this and if you want my humble opinion, it won’t be long until yoga therapy is playing a much bigger role in the NHS and beyond.