Yoga is both a recent fitness craze and an ancient recipe for lifestyle practices to optimize health and wellbeing at all levels of “human being” – the physical, energetic, mental/emotional, inner wisdom, and connection to spirit. The full spectrum of yoga practices is described in the Yoga Sutras, written by the great Sage Patanjali, published around 400 CE. Patanjali expounded upon yoga traditions from ancient traditions, and defined 8-limbs of practices that cover all layers of being.
The Healing Power of Yoga
The Yoga model of wholeness includes 5 layers or Sheaths, called Koshas. They are physical (Anamaya Kosa), energetic (pranaymanay kosha), mental/emotional (manomaya kosha), inner wisdom, intuitive knowledge, the silent witness, (vijnanamaya kosha); and the bliss body, the connection to spirit (Anandamaya Kosha). Yoga is therapeutic when the full spectrum of practices is used to bring the whole being into balance.
In fact, research has shown yoga to be effective in over 100 different conditions and diseases. You can view the list and links to the studies on Dr. Timothy McCall’s website. The full spectrum of Yoga includes exercise, diet (plant-based), breathing techniques, concentration, visualization, mantra, affirmations, chanting, meditation, and ultimately, Samadhi – bliss – experiencing the vastness of being through connection to All.
Allopathic medicine is increasingly recognizing the benefits of treating the whole being, thanks in part to the growing evidential research. Doctors are increasingly recommending yoga to their patients to for issues such as reducing stress and anxiety, and relieving back pain and other chronic pain. Yoga is used in many cancer treatment programs.
Not All Yoga is the Same
The popularity of yoga has inspired an plethora of teacher training programs and Yoga styles and fads, including yoga with goats, and yoga in bars with beer steins replacing water bottles for in-class refreshment and black lights and loud music for ambience.
There is a clear need to distinguish yoga teachers practicing yoga as therapy from those focused on yoga as exercise. The IAYT has established requirements for 800 hours of training beyond the initial 200-hour yoga teacher certification, and has a multi-year process for accrediting training programs. The goal is to establish credibility and trust, and recognition for this new profession of yoga therapy that utilizes ancient practices. There is currently no licensure for Yoga Therapists, which prevents payment from insurance. But many hospitals and medical practices now employ yoga therapists and the field is slowly growing.
Just as importantly, patients need to know which yoga classes they can safely attend if they are looking for relief from pain, stress, anxiety, or are healing from surgery or managing chronic disease. A therapeutic yoga class offers modifications for different levels of ability to make it safe, accessible and effective for improving health and wellbeing. Individual yoga therapy creates and individualized practice that includes a combination of yoga practices from all of the 8 limbs to help clients manage their own conditions.
Yoga can be a very transformational practice when growing self-awareness inspires healthy lifestyle changes.
Author: Brahmi Gold-Bernstein, C-IAYT, E-RYT 500, is the director of TriYoga Boston. TriYoga offers weekly therapeutic classes for back pain, and chair classes for Arthritis and Chronic pain, and therapeutic workshops for a variety of conditions.