What is Yoga Therapy anyway?
Isn't yoga for women? For flexible people? For circus freaks? Isn't "gentle yoga" or "restorative yoga" the same as yoga therapy? Why is Ashtanga yoga's Primary Series called "yoga therapy" in Sanskrit when it's so tough?
Yoga Therapy is not the same as commercial yoga classes, although they may share some aspects like the poses (asanas) or breath techniques (pranayamas). Many people (not just women) come to yoga classes as classes are an easy way to be introduced to what was originally a method for transforming oneself from an ordinary human being to one who is "enlightened", perfectly balanced and able to easily to become one with the universe.
The physical postures help with balancing the body - if your hamstrings are tight, your quadriceps may be weak; if you abdominal muscles are weak you may experience back pain. The breath practices help boost your energy levels by increasing your body's ability to bring in and utilize oxygen. Once you have energy and your body is more balanced your mind will naturally be less distracted by aches and pains as well as more able to focus and concentrate. It is impossible to "meditate" unless one can be freed of distractions.
Yoga classes are designed to help as many people as can attend the class and are usually designed to accommodate beginners in easier classes, more experienced practitioners in more vigorous classes, and highly adept yogis in very challenging classes. Yoga Therapy sessions are designed to help a single individual with that person's unique issues whether they are physical, energetic, emotional, or a combination.
The advantage of a class is its cost - many studios offer community based classes that can be quite inexpensive. The disadvantage is that if you have an injury the instructor may not be prepared to assist you or have the knowledge and training necessary to guide you properly while still taking care with students who are not working with pain.
A Yoga Therapist can design a yoga class around specific conditions, such as high blood pressure or knee pain, so that everyone in the class at least shares the same condition. This ensures that everyone will learn something about their condition and how to work with it in a safe way. This can be quite cost effective for those who have more experience with exercise in general or who have high self awareness.
A private Yoga Therapy session is a great way for someone who feels intimidated by group classes and begins with the therapist asking you to talk about your injury; how did you become injured, how is it affecting your daily routine, what is the nature of the pain you experience, what other treatments have you tried, what helps and what doesn't? Knowledge or experience with commercial yoga is not necessary, as your therapist will begin with what brings you into the office and design a home program that will gently and gradually guide you to the self knowledge necessary to practice mindfully so that you find healing even if your condition is chronic.
This sense of finding healing in the face of an uncurable condition is what helps the yogi find peace in every moment, acceptance of what is, and gratitude for the opportunity to grow as a spiritual being in a physical body.
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you find peace!