The Rise of Yoga Therapy

yoga therapy
Photo by yogicphotos

We already know that yoga has therapeutic effects. Scientists say we can change our brain through meditation, and studies have shown that yoga is beneficial for back pain, insomnia and a host of other ailments. Plus, anyone who has a regular yoga practice will tell you that yoga helps them to destress, to feel healthier and even happier.

According to a new survey from the National Institute of Health, the number of Americans that are practicing yoga has doubled in the past decade.  These days, yoga is becoming more than just a way for people to exercise and relax after work. People with chronic pain are turning to “yoga therapy” to help with pain management in much the same way they would make an appointment with a physical therapist or take herbal supplements.

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Though many yoga classes can have therapeutic benefits, “yoga therapy” is likely to be a bit different than your favorite class at the local Bikram studio. Teachers opting to train as yoga therapists typically have a strong emphasis on anatomy, working with injured students, as well as working one-on-one with students to treat and manage specific health issues ranging from low back pain to chronic illness. While there are many yoga teachers who could feasibly help with various health issues, a yoga therapist has been trained to do just that.

Many aspiring yoga instructors are opting for teacher trainings that specialize in yoga therapy as more Americans are having yoga ‘prescribed’ to their health regimen as a natural therapy for pain management and physical ailments. We also know that it’s not uncommon for mental health workers and counselors to suggest yoga to their patients.

“It was interesting how many people turn to complementary medicine for management of pain,” says Dr. Josephine Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at NIH. “And [to see] the growing interest by Americans in the mind-and-body approach.” Briggs also points out that yoga and other therapies aren’t so much an alternative to Western approaches to health, but a complementary practice.

While many yoga teachers lead classes for students of all ability levels (beginner to advanced), yoga therapists are tailoring instruction even more so to meet a wide range of physical and mental health needs. One of the key elements of yoga therapy is accessibility, which offers practitioners opportunities to do yoga whether they’re healing from a spinal injury, recovering from substance addiction or suffering from a chronic or life threatening illness.

The increase in people seeking and training in yoga therapy certainly signals a push for the benefits of yoga-as-therapy to be explored more scientifically. As yoga therapist Cora Wen  stated in a recent interview with Yoga Basics, “There seems to be some confusion about yoga therapy. We understand that sports therapy is for the athlete and dance therapy is for dancer; physical therapy is for the dancer, the athlete and the general population, but yoga therapy is not just for yoga practitioners. Yoga therapy is the therapeutic application of yoga science and art that can be used in sports, dance, physical and occupational therapy and rehabilitation. Yoga therapy is really more of a complementary and alternative medicine. It’s for all people.”

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Have you had a personal experience with yoga therapy? How important is it to regard yoga as a therapy as opposed to another exercise class?

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