by Jaime Boswell
As yoga therapy becomes a bit more mainstream in the U.S., with yoga therapy schools now receiving accreditation and yoga therapists being certified through the accredited programs, it is a good time to talk about some of the questions that are popping up about yoga therapy. Last month I wrote to answer the general question of “What is Yoga Therapy?”. This month I want to talk more about the difference between a yoga therapy session as compared to a general yoga class or even a private yoga class.
I’ll start by also addressing another question I am seeing a lot – “Isn’t all yoga therapeutic?”. My vague answer to this question is that yes it can be, and yet very often it is not. The reason being that we are all very different – different life stages, different health conditions, different mental and emotional states, different physical structures – so what is therapeutic for one student, may not be for the student on the next mat over. What is therapeutic for you one day or during one stage of your life, may not be so at a different time.
Yoga teachers are taught to lead classes that will be suitable to most people that attend. Yoga classes can be designed to attract a sub-set of students, for example gentle yoga and power yoga will attract different students, so the way the classes are taught will be based on what is suitable for the average student attending. If a student finds the style of class that suites their needs it may very well be therapeutic, and be giving them just what they need. However, if that same student goes through a major life change, experiences an injury, or a chronic illness, the same class may no longer be right for them.
I often hear of students, and even yoga teachers, saying they cannot practice yoga because of an injury or an illness. It maybe they cannot practice in the way they were accustomed to or in a general class, yet there are so many ways to practice yoga that there is always something that is accessible and therapeutic. Helping clients find the practices that are therapeutic for them based on their individual physical, mental/emotional and spiritual needs is the role of the yoga therapist.
Prior to any yoga therapy session, group or individual, clients will fill out an intake form providing the therapist the needed information to begin to develop a plan. Group sessions are kept small and geared toward specific health challenges, so that the therapist can develop classes that meet the therapeutic needs of all participants. At the beginning of any session, private or group, the therapist will do a check in, learning the current state of needs directly through the sharing of the client(s) and through trained observation, the planned session is then modified to reflect the current needs.
When working privately the therapist may use additional assessment tools to really get to know and understand their clients, these may include structural assessments, such as testing range of motion, muscle strength, and flexibility, or mental/emotional inquiry through guided meditations and reflections. Each session is as unique as the individuals seeking help.
To close I would like to answer one last question, “Who should seek out working with a yoga therapist?”. My answer to this is anyone that is interested in learning how to improve well-being through being an active participant in the healing process. Yoga can be therapeutic for anyone that puts into action the tools that will specifically help in their healing process. You do not need to be a yogi, understand Sanskrit, or be interested in all aspects of yoga – the yoga therapist will meet you where you are and help to provide you with tools that fit into your lifestyle and integrate with any other medical approaches to healing.
Jaime Boswell is currently studying yoga therapy in the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy, an accredited 800-hour program of study. As part of the certification process Jaime is working on a practicum under the guidance of a certified yoga therapist, and anticipates completing her certification in 2018. Jaime will be offering therapeutic one on one and a group therapeutic series entitled: Therapeutic Yoga for Improving Sleep, Concentration and Overall Well-Being. The series begins Tuesday, February 6th at 4pm. To learn more, click here.