There are many answers to the question What is yoga therapy; I’ll give you a few of mine.
Yoga therapy draws deeply on the ancient roots of yoga practice and philosophy and broadly on the modern branches that are evidence of yoga’s continuing evolution as a method for growth and transformation. The image of a tree is evoked in yoga texts because it is an apt expression of the way we find stability and grow to expand in balanced fashion. Yoga therapy as it is being defined today is in many ways a rebalancing of what yoga can offer.
Prior to the proliferation of yoga schools and group classes, a seeker had to find a teacher and commit to study over time to learn the practices of yoga. The teacher ideally gave the student a practice specific to the needs and capacity of the individual at the time, rather than a generalized good-for-most class approach. According to my teacher, Gary Kraftsow, he learned from his teacher Krishnamacharya that the 4 chapters of the yoga sutras were written for 4 different students. Each chapter offered practices for now, and a path to progress over time, designed to match the interests and abilities of the student. Yoga therapy is the modern equivalent of studying with a teacher who knows you and has a broad based knowledge of yoga to draw on, so that a good match can be made between where you are and what you need to help you move to where you want to grow.
Yoga therapists are experienced yoga teachers who have undertaken additional study, self-practice, and mentored training. Yoga is first and foremost a practice of self-development and discovery. It is through continuing to learn via their own study, practice and experience working with students that yoga therapists develop a broader repertoire of skills.
Yoga therapists seek to address the needs of the individual as a whole person at all levels of their being: body, physiology/subtle energy body, mind, emotions and attitudes, inner wisdom, and universal connection. Yoga therapy offers the opportunity for an individual who wants to use yoga in a more personalized way to promote healing and growth to work 1:1 with a teacher who is prepared to empower him or her in this way.
There is a broad spectrum of individuals who might benefit from yoga therapy. Yoga therapists can recommend particular asanas and ways of practicing them though adaptations, modifications, and attention to the attitude and approach a student brings to his/her practice. These adaptations can help a practitioner recover from an injury or illness, regain lost range of motion and flexibility, or conversely, strengthen what has become weak through under-use. Yoga therapists can also help replace dysfunctional movement patterns (e.g., manner of sitting, standing, walking) with functional ones that promote balance and relief of chronic tension and pain.
In addition to adapting the form of asana, and selecting those asanas which may be most beneficial to a given individual in the moment based on his/her condition and interests, yoga therapists draw more broadly on the wealth of yoga practices that may not be taught as routinely in a group class. Yoga therapists vary in terms of their individual expertise and scopes of practice, but in general they are well prepared to offer breathing practices, guided visualizations, and meditation practices also tailored to the individual. The scope of yoga is broad, and through all the ancient texts a consistent theme is that finding your personal path is essential to your own happiness and fulfillment of purpose on his earth. It can feel a maze to figure out what is best to do when you are on your mat at home. The teacher/student relationship was the vehicle through which a more experienced and compassionate other guided the next generation of yogis to find their paths. In the western world, therapeutically trained yogis are filling the gap left by yoga learned through drop-in class and intensive study with a master teacher that meets many needs but often not the one of on-going personal contact.
Lisa Kaley-Isley is a yoga therapist in the American Viniyoga tradition having trained with Gary Kraftsow. She is also a long-time yoga student of Yogarupa Rod Stryker, founder of Para Yoga; and Pandit Rajmani Tigunait in the Himalayan Institute tradition. She is a PhD Clinical Psychologist trained in the US with years of experience working with individuals struggling with anxiety, depression and a wide variety of health conditions. To schedule a first or follow up appointment with Lisa Kaley-Isley contact reception at The Life Centres Islington or Notting Hill.
From Monday 6 October, The Life Centre teacher Lisa Kaley-Isley will be offering private Yoga Therapy sessions at Notting Hill at 13:00–17:00 every Monday.
Read more about Private Yoga Therapy.