While millions of people around the world today use yoga as a form of physical exercise and countless others use it for spiritual liberation, the number of people using yoga as a therapy is perhaps its greatest area of growth.
Physicians are more frequently encouraging patients to try yoga as an alternative to more invasive treatments that have inconsistent outcomes and potential deleterious side effects. A 2008 Harris study conducted by Yoga Journal found that over 14 million Americans had a doctor or therapist recommend yoga to them. 49.4% of the practitioners in the same study stated that they started practicing yoga to improve their own overall health and those studies were before yoga was really popular here in our culture.
Yoga Therapy is the philosophy, science, and art of adapting classical yoga techniques to contemporary situations in order to treat people’s physical, mental, and emotional ailments. The late master B.K.S. Iyengar said it best: “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” Perhaps this is what distinguishes yoga as a therapy from other disciplines because it is adaptable to each individual, rather than the disease. In some cases its aim is to cure, in some cases it is to heal, and in some cases it is simply designed to bring ease amidst intense incurable health-related challenges.
Just like its method as a treatment, Yoga Therapy’s road to the West has been slow and steady. Formally, its practice stems back to yogis in the early 1900s that most people have never heard of such as Shri Yogendra of Mumbai, Swami Kuvalayananda of Lonavla, and Shri Rama Mohana Bramachari, who lived high in the Himalayan mountains near the border of Tibet. Bramachari was the teacher of Professor Tirumalai Krishnamacharya who is regarded as “The Father of Modern Yoga.”
Krishnamacharya therapeutically altered the classical asanas (poses) to better fit them to people’s bodies. In addition, he advocated the use of props which his sucessor, B.K.S. Iyengar went on to further develop; similarly, Krishnamacharya altered the 5000 year old Indian tradition of only offering yoga to Brahmin men by teaching his first female student, Indra Devi, and many other women thereafter.
Inspired by what he learned from his father, Krishnamacharya’s son T.K.V. Desikachar came to the West in the 1970s and motivated the first generation of Yoga Therapists in the United States including the co-author of the best-seller, “Yoga Anatomy,” Leslie Kaminoff, the founder of Viniyoga, Gary Kraftsow, and Dr. Larry Payne, who founded the first Yoga Therapy studio in Los Angeles in 1984 and whose Yoga Therapy Rx Program at Loyola Marymount University was the first Yoga Therapist training program offered at an accredited university.
Now the book “Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine” details myriad ways that yoga is being used as a therapy by doctors, licensed healthcare professionals, scholars, researchers, and yoga therapists and practitioners.
The book features chapters written by some of the world’s leading experts in their fields including cardiologist Art Brownstein, M.D. who offers years of insight on why he presribes savasana for 20 minutes per day to cardiac patients; Richard Miller, Ph.D. shares the practices and results of his scientifically backed iRest system of Yoga Nidra that has been used by the military for stress and PTSD; Matthew Taylor, D.P.T. lends his reflections on how Yoga Therapy can be integrated into physical rehabilitation and physical therapy practices; Shanti Shanti Kaur Khalsa, Ph.D. explains the energetic psycho-emotional approach in the Kundalini tradition; Jnani Chapman, R.N. proposing ways in which Yoga Therapy can be applied in cancer treatment; sports scientist, LeRoy Perry, D.C., describes yogic practices that he has used with great success while training Olympic athletes and championship sports teams; and as author of the best-selling “Yoga for Depression and Anxiety” I was asked to write about Yoga Therapy’s expanding role in treating mood disorders.
Ultimately Yoga Therapy supports, enables, and empowers individuals to use ancient healing practices to complement Western modern medicine. Yoga Therapy can transform challenging health circumstances, change people’s perspectives, and positively influence wellness habits.
So whether you are suffering from back pain or heart disease or depression or anxiety, or going through cancer treatment and want to relax from some of the symptoms of chemotherapy, Yoga Therapy can help. Check out our new book “Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine” and see how you can use Yoga Therapy to help ameliorate physical pains as well as mental and emotional afflictions.
(This article was co-written by Dr. Eden Goldman)