With plans in place to introduce yoga therapy into the NHS, what elevates it above its class counterpart? Here’s what it can do for you…
Hot yoga, bunny yoga, naked yoga; it may seem like the various facets of this ancient practice increase year on year, but yoga therapy is different – it is, for the most part, a prescribed healing method. Therapists choose yoga techniques in relation to how they will specifically benefit individual clients. “What a lot of people don’t know, is that the body can hold as much trauma as the brain,” explains registered yoga therapist Judith Davis (mindedyogawinchester.co.uk). “A lot of the time, yoga therapy works in conjunction with talking therapy; it’s multifaceted in that respect.” To find out more, we asked what you should expect during a session.
“Yoga is based on the belief that your body and mind are inextricably linked,” explains Judith. “Many people find that going to yoga regularly helps to bring about peace in their lives, but yoga therapy works on a deeper level.” There are many reasons why people choose to go or are referred by their GP, but some of the conditions commonly treated by yoga therapists include anxiety, depression, back pain, chronic fatigue, Crohn’s and even alcoholism. “Before we begin the therapy, you would complete quite a long detailed questionnaire and we would discuss any issues,” says Judith. “If you’ve experienced trauma, for example, we wouldn’t need to go into what it was or talk in great detail about how you felt about it – we would focus on releasing trauma by working with the body as much as we can. If you’ve got a physical issue, such as back pain, then we can use movement and take steps to ease that as well.” Yoga therapists study anatomy alongside yoga, so they are competent in taking on clients with medical issues such as the above and devising individual programmes, depending on what each person needs.
It’s important to remember that yoga therapy is specifically a complementary therapy and health conditions are viewed by yoga therapists through a holistic lens. Before embarking on yoga therapy, consult with your GP first.
“When someone walks into the room for the first time, we observe their breathing before anything else (you can tell a lot by how someone breathes), then we do a physical assessment to see if their body is aligned correctly and if they’re moving freely,” explains Judith. “Often, there will be a blockage in a certain part of the body that’s preventing ease of movement. We also include meditation and mindfulness into programmes, as well as suggesting adjustments to their lifestyle, routine, diet and sleeping pattern. It’s important to take a look at the whole picture in yoga therapy.” After the first initial meeting, your yoga therapist will then build on what you’ve decided to work on. “Programmes vary for each person,” says Judith. “For some people, it might include fast-flowing sun salutations to help build their energy; for others, it might be lying still for a long time and practising yoga Nidra (a full-body scan where you lie on your back and assess how you’re feeling from your head, to your fingertips and toes). This brings a sense of calm and focus to the present.”
At present, the minimum training standard for a yoga teacher is 200 hours. For a yoga therapist, there is an extra 800 hours on top of that. This additional education includes knowledge about health conditions and how to use yoga as a form of healing.
Any keen yogi knows that breathwork is a huge element to the practice, but it’s even more important in yoga therapy, as Judith explains: “More than often, we include some form of breathwork in therapy. The way we use our breath can change our mental state, reduce anxiety and help us achieve calm. If someone is very depressed or feeling quite low, breathwork can boost their mood, build confidence and make them feel energised. Often, our minds take us to specific places that sometimes make us feel unsafe. For example, if you’re worried about something, then you’ll play out scenarios in your head before the event even happens. We all get trapped inside our heads a lot, which makes it easier for us to lose that connection to our body and the ground beneath us. What breathwork does is pull your mind away from your troubles and worries, and focus instead on bringing you back to the present moment.” Yoga therapists often see people who are suffering from chronic stress. “A lot of people aren’t in touch with their bodies at all,” says Judith. “I’ve worked with people who, when I’ve asked ‘Can you feel your hands?’, they can’t actually feel them. So in yoga therapy, we take the time to reconnect you back to your body, which is something that chronic stress takes away from us.”
Do you think yoga therapy might be for you? You can find more information at the themindedinstitute.com
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