What is Yoga Therapy?
Yoga Therapy as an alternative healing modality emerged in the last few decades. It is a sister healing art to Ayurveda. They are deeply intertwined. Just by practicing Yoga asanas one receives great benefits. Originally yoga is meant to be mostly applied for spiritual realizations.
So Yoga Therapy is in essence the application of Yoga to Healing.
We can go back to the history of yoga in the time period from 600-200BCE, the time of Samkhya, Jainism and Buddhism. Before that the Vedic teachings were prominent and they are influencing the modern thought and the development of spiritual teachings all around the world today.
Yoga and Ayurveda
Ayurveda is an ancient healing modality dated more than 5000 years ago. Many principles of Ayurveda and Yoga are the same. Yoga has been developed for the spiritual realization and Ayurveda for healing. However these two sciences have great significance and can contribute in enhancing each other for both spiritual and healing purposes.
Ayurveda has a strong developed herbology, using many herbs and plants for healing. Yoga Therapy is using many practices like: meditation, asanas, pranayamas, prayers, chants, Hatha Yoga cleansing practices known as Shatkarma and more. Combined, these two healing modalities can be of great assistance in healing process.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Around 200 BCE, the great sage Patanjali codified existing Yoga practices into an eight-limbed system of practice which is still followed by a majority of Yoga traditions today. These include:
Pranayamas (breathing practices)
Dhyana (pure meditation)
Samadhi (absorption of the mind in the object of ideation)
He was able to map the different stages of higher consciousness. And create the path to spiritual realization and helps us to understand the workings of the human mind. The sutras has become a model and the basis for Yoga Psychology and Yogic approaches to treating depression, anxiety, and other mental and emotional disturbances.
Classical yoga therapy believes that the true healing must occur on the physical, subtle, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of being. In yoga Therapy we also use the Vedic and Tantric kosha model (the layers of the mind) in combination with Yogic techniques selected specifically for each person individually.
The Hatha Yoga
The Hatha Yoga system of asanas started being more developed by 200 AD, and by 12th century we have the text of Hatha Yoga Pradipika with eight basic asanas. The text also states that there are eight asanas, and that the practice of asana removes disease. Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written by Svatmarama, who was the member of Nath sect of Northern India. This tradition developed Shatkarma practices, the first limb of seven limbed discipline of Hatha Yoga. This is the tradition of classical Yoga Therapy.
The Shat Kriyas (or Shat Karmas), meaning “six cleansing actions” were derived from the purificatory branch of Ayurvedic medicine called Pancha Karma.
These early proponents of Hatha Yoga were quite familiar with principles of Ayurveda, and they described the healing benefits of Hatha Yoga practices in Ayurvedic terms. The modifications developed allowed to internally cleanse their bodies without needing the supervision of an Ayurvedic physician. They are still used today to cleanse the body and prevent disease.
In the fifth chapter of the Hatha Pradipika it is said that “In all diseases the Yogic patient should carefully take treatment according to the methods prescribed by the science of Ayurveda and also avail oneself of Yogic methods”. Specific asanas, pranayamas, and Hatha yoga mudras are described in this text in terms of their effects on the doshas. Several diseases that can be treated by Yogic methods, proper diet, and cleansing practices are mentioned.
Yoga Therapy Today
At the modern times, Yogis and Indian physicians came into contact with the principles of western medicine. Understanding the medical anatomy, the organ systems and subtle anatomy of charkas according Tantra, led yogis to understand the correlations between the charkas and endocrine glands and to explain in western terms exactly how Yoga practices were able to enhance health.
Through the teachings of Bihar School of Yoga, based in Tantric practices, more methods for deep relaxation and emotional release have been developed and one of such practices was Yoga nidra.
In the last part of 21st century, several researches were conducted to affirm that yoga is a viable healing tool to be effectively used in variety of health conditions. The famous study by Dean Ornish on the ability of Yoga therapy to reverse coronary artery disease, has been carried out in the west. Among other benefits, Yoga practices have been shown to decrease cholesterol, insulin requirement in diabetics, frequency and severity of asthma attacks, chronic pain, stress, anxiety, and depression. Regular practice of Yoga has been shown to improve thyroid function and to be helpful in the management of cancer and diabetes II. In some patients, complete remissions of metastasized tumors have been reported in patients who meditate four or more hours per day, and in 1984 NIH recommended meditation over prescription drugs as the preferred treatment for mild hypertension. Deep relaxation techniques were very successful in stress management and hypertension clients.
The International Association of Yoga Therapists, based in Prescott, Arizona, maintains an extensive library of published research in Yoga therapy.