What happens when the ancient art of yoga is combined with Western medicinal philosophies? You get integrative yoga therapy, a hybrid form of yoga and contemporary medicine that relies on the healing powers of centuries-old practices but with a modern-day twist.
Integrative yoga therapy is a novel approach to holistic healing that combines elements of yoga and modern medicine. Classic yoga disciplines like these are used to curate individualized treatment programs that are administered under the direction of yoga therapists:
Although integrative yoga therapy relies heavily on familiar yogic concepts and techniques, there are fundamental differences between the therapeutic form of yoga and the classic version. Are you interested in learning more about integrative yoga therapy? Whether you are planning to seek treatment or want to teach others, everything you need to know to get started is below so read on.
What Is Integrative Yoga Therapy?
Yoga is a comprehensive mind-body practice dating back thousands of years. In the Yoga Sutras, an ancient text that outlines the eight “limbs” of yoga, the Indian sage Patanjali outlined the fundamental concepts of yoga, including the familiar disciplines of asana (physical poses), pranayama (breathing techniques), and dhyana (meditation). These same components are found in integrative yoga therapy.
One of the core elements of integrative yoga therapy, and what sets it apart from regular yoga, is that it is specifically geared toward treating individuals with health challenges, be they physical or mental in nature. In other words, unlike yoga which is commonly practiced in a group setting and is intended to contribute to overall well-being, integrative yoga therapy is used to treat a particular ailment.
Applications for integrative yoga therapy include:
- Treating chronic pain, such as that associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and back and neck issues
- Physical conditioning exercises designed to improve strength, flexibility, and balance
- Alleviating anxiety, depression, stress, and insomnia
- Improving cardiovascular health through the management of conditions like high blood pressure and high heart rate
- Palliative-type care for illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease
As far as what patients and clients can expect from an integrative yoga therapy session, most instances involve one-on-one interaction with the therapist who will be responsible for devising an individualized yogic program following an in-depth initial interview.
It is important to keep in mind that integrative yoga therapy, by its very nature, is a collaborative endeavor. In order for the therapist to devise an effective game plan, the patient must be frank and forthcoming about the particulars of the ailment being treated. It is also incumbent upon the patient to diligently and faithfully practice the yogic techniques prescribed by the therapist.
What Are the Elements of Integrative Yoga Therapy?
The ancient art of yoga is a collection of mind-body disciplines that individually, are life-enhancing practices in their own right. Taken together, they combine to form a holistic lifestyle with the common thread of self-awareness and self-enlightenment tying them all together. In a similar fashion, integrative yoga therapy utilizes yoga techniques to treat ailments and restore health.
Here is a closer look at some of the yoga disciplines that form the backbone of integrative yoga therapy practice today.
The third limb of yoga is asana which is the Sanskrit word for “pose”. Yoga poses are an essential part of integrative yoga therapy practice and are used to treat a variety of ailments and to promote physical and mental well-being in patients.
Among the many benefits of practicing asanas are:
- Increasing strength in the various muscle groups of the body
- Improving flexibility in the joints, ligaments, and other soft tissues
- Encouraging healthy cardiovascular activity and improving circulation
- Asanas can aid in achieving proper alignment of the spine
- Boosting the body’s immune system
When thoughtfully prescribed and monitored under the watchful eye of an integrative yoga therapist, asanas can play a vital role in the treatment of ailments and the rehabilitation from injury.
Dhyana is the yogic practice of meditation and it is the seventh limb of yoga. Meditation is widely practiced for its calming effects and as a means of attaining a state of deep relaxation. Practitioners meditate to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and disconnect from the chaos of everyday life.
In the practice of integrative yoga therapy, meditation is a powerful tool for healing, rehabilitating, and restoring not just the mind but also the body. Meditation goes hand in hand with other elements of yoga, most notably asanas and pranayama.
Meaning “seal” in Sanskrit, mudras are gestures made with the hands and the particular arrangement of the fingers not only has its own name but also triggers a unique effect on the mind and body.
Central to the concept of mudras is the element of the universe that each finger represents:
- The thumb signifies fire and shared consciousness
- The index finger represents air and consciousness on a personal level
- The middle finger symbolizes connectivity
- The ring finger signifies the element of the earth
- Lastly, the pinkie finger represents water
In integrative yoga therapy, mudras are prescribed by therapists according to the patient’s ailment and the course of action that is needed. For instance, the buddhi mudra, which is formed with the palms facing up and joining the tips of the thumb and pinkie together, may be prescribed to a patient by a therapist to increase receptiveness to new ideas and enhance cognitive function.
Along with asanas, the discipline of breathwork, known in Sanskrit as pranayama, may be one of the most widely practiced aspects of yoga.
It is also an important technique utilized by integrative yoga therapists to treat patients for a wide range of ailments, both physical and mental in nature, including:
- Improving lung function and treating conditions like asthma and bronchitis
- Stress relief
- Alleviating sleeplessness
- Increasing concentration and improving focus
- Treating high blood pressure
Through mindful breathing and techniques that regulate the taking in and letting out of each breath, yoga therapy patients can enjoy a number of key benefits that can aid in the treatment of illness or promote a faster recovery.
Positivity is a powerful healing force and integrative yoga therapists can incorporate the use of sankalpas – personal resolutions – into the programs they develop for patients. These goal-setting exercises can provide focal points for channeling energy when performing yogic practices such as asanas or pranayama and can serve as motivation to adhere to at-home regimens prescribed by therapists.
Who Is My Vinyasa Practice?
One of the aspects of yoga that makes it so popular among people from all walks of life is its inclusivity. This has never been more true than now, in this digital age when the availability of online resources makes learning new skills as easy as plugging in and logging on.
For yoga practitioners seeking to elevate their yoga game, My Vinyasa Practice is a vital resource that caters to the needs of all yogis regardless of experience or skill level.
Among the many programs it offers is its IAYT Yoga Therapy Certification, which is an intensive training program that prepares students to become clinical yoga therapists (prior completion of a 200-hour training is required).
For thousands of years, practitioners have enjoyed yoga’s wide-ranging benefits for boosting their mental and physical well-being. Now, modern medicine has teamed up with yoga to develop the fast-growing hybrid discipline of integrative yoga therapy and the results have been promising.