What is Yoga Therapy?
Therapeutic yoga appears to be extremely safe. The strenuousness of the practice is titrated to each student. Beyond medical conditions, the yoga therapist factors in the client’s overall level of fitness, stamina, frailty, and specific needs and desires for therapeutic outcomes.
Yoga therapy is the use of various yoga practices such as poses, relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and meditation to help people with a wide variety of health conditions, both physical and psychological. It can be a useful adjunct to medical care or, in some cases, can be used in place of conventional approaches like drug therapy or surgery.
Typically, private yoga therapy consultations include the following:
When advising patients, it is important to differentiate between a general yoga class conducted by a yoga teacher and yoga therapy, whether individual or in a group. In developing a referral network, healthcare practitioners are encouraged to speak with those in their locality promoting themselves as yoga therapists, evaluating their training, competence, experience, willingness and ability to communicate, and trustworthiness.
Yoga therapy is often done through individual consultations. In this way, it is similar to other healthcare modalities. However, yoga therapy can also be provided in group settings in which participants have a similar condition and/or seek similar therapeutic outcomes.
In one-on- one settings, the level of assessment can be detailed, allowing for a tailored treatment plan to suit the client. In group yoga therapy sessions, however, the level of assessment is generally limited and the treatment plan less individual. In either case, the yoga practices may be modified to make them safer or more accessible to clients who may be frail or for whom standard yoga practices may be contraindicated.
1. Conducting an intake interview and/or reviewing an intake form along with reports from healthcare practitioners that include current treatment, including medications
Since the patients themselves must do the practices to gain any benefits, all that is required for successful yoga therapy is
2. Assessing the current health condition based on yoga therapy principles
3. Identifying underlying causes of the pre- senting condition from the yoga therapy perspective
Healthcare providers do not need to have an in-depth understanding of yoga to make skillful referrals to yoga therapists. Since many practices that might seem to be contraindicated can be safely adapted to meet the needs of individual students, and since different yoga approaches vary enormously, it is generally not incumbent on the referring clinician to specify which yoga tools to avoid. Rather, if the referring clinician provides general guidelines about his or her concerns, the yoga therapist can figure out which practices should be omitted or modified. For example, in a patient with diabetic retinopathy, the yoga therapist could be advised to avoid any practices that increase intraocular pressure.
Yoga therapy usually involves a number of consultations with the yoga therapist. Follow up sessions allow the therapist to refine the plan, make sure what the student has been practicing is being done in an appropriate way, and to address any new concerns that may have arisen in the interim. In the process of teaching the routine to the client, the therapist will sometimes determine that the regimen as planned is not quite right and will make modifications.
A common challenge in yoga therapy is patient compliance. A few words from the referring clinician may help motivate patients to continue their yoga program. It is also important that patients be reminded that yoga therapy is usually an adjunctive therapy and that they should continue with their other treatments under the care of their healthcare practitioners.
Yoga therapy consultations are typically several days to a few weeks apart and the client is provided with a program of yoga therapy recommendations to practice (at home, work, or elsewhere). The program may be written, photographed, or provided as audio or video recordings to support the patient. Many clients have three or four consultations over a number of weeks. In some instances, a healthcare practitioner and yoga therapist may believe that a patient is best served by regular therapeutic sessions, possibly meeting once a week over a number of months.
Adapted from The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care, edited by
Sat Bir Khalsa, Lorenzo Cohen, Timothy McCall, and Shirley Telles (Handspring Publishing, January 2016).
Contraindications and Cautions in Yoga Therapy
Timothy McCall, MD, is an internist, yoga therapist, author, and director of