After a remarkable and transformative three years I walked away from my experience as a Yoga Therapy client with a new found desire to continue the work on the other side of the mat. I enrolled in a Yoga Therapy program in San Diego, CA and began my journey towards IAYT certification. As soon as I enrolled in training I began working with special populations as a Yoga Therapist within a care team. My first two rotations were in mental health and I’m so grateful for the experiences gained from working with LPCs, LCSWs, and other medical professionals.
As I moved through my training IAYT began to shift their focus from the physical therapeutic applications of yoga to a more holistic approach that includes cognitive function. My experience with mental health and group therapy coupled with my training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy helped me to navigate and understand the changes to the curriculum requirements as IAYT began to change their certification standards. These experiences also gave me specialized tools to work with clients experiencing cognitive dissonance, anxiety and depression without relying on talk therapy.
Yoga Therapy Defined
Essentially, Yoga Therapy is not designed to replace traditional talk therapy, or cognitive processing. Yoga Therapy is designed to complement other therapies and provide the client with additional tools that help to balance the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual bodies in relation to one another. My experience in clinical settings primed me for the responsibility of holing space in a group therapy situation as well as in one on one sessions. In both settings Yoga Therapy can be used to leverage the eight limbed path, the philosophy of yoga and the laws of nature to help clients feel less anxious, more balanced and more receptive to life.
Yoga Therapy differs from talk therapy in that it does not require a story and there is not necessarily a cognitive processing component . When meeting with a Yoga Therapist you might briefly discuss your present experience in the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual bodies. Your Therapist might have questions for you about your intake of food, water, sleep, asana, pranayama and Sadhana practice. Your Therapist might also look at trends over long periods of time and might even look at your behavioral patterns against the seasons. After the intake portion of your session your Yoga Therapist will recommend practices and may even guide you through several practices to help you get a feel for the process. You will likely go home with some suggestions for all eight limbs of yoga and your Therapist might schedule a follow up session to check in and see how you’re doing.
Yoga Therapy For Anxiety
Yoga Therapy can be very helpful for those dealing with anxiety but I caution against using it instead of traditional talk therapy. Cognitive processing found in traditional psychotherapy is extremely beneficial when facilitated by a licensed professional. Many Yoga Therapist are not trained in CBT or DBT and therefore should not be holding space in this way. At the end of the day, Yoga Therapy is not designed to be a mental health solution but, rather, it is designed to be a complement to traditional therapies and treatments.
Group Yoga Therapy
A typical Yoga Therapy group session will involve an introduction and check in followed by a short education around the tools you’ll be practicing. When working with small groups this process can take from 10 to 20 minutes. The Yoga Therapist will set a clear intention for the group and will communicate the boundaries and procedures that will be upheld. This creates a contained environment where participants can openly share and connect. This also helps to foster normalization where participants feel included and less isolated by their experiences.
The introduction portion of the practice will be followed with a group practice. When I work with anxiety in clinical group therapy I begin with a slow grounded flow that helps to move energy throughout the channels of the body. I follow this practice with a custom Yoga Nidra that includes deep relaxation and I conclude practice with pranayama. Each participant receives a handout on the practices along with their effects on the body. I find this helps to reinforce the educational aspect of group therapy.
One On One Yoga Therapy
One on one sessions are very similar to group sessions. A short inventory is taken and then a plan incorporating the eight limbs of yoga and perhaps some Ayurveda is recommended to the client. One on one sessions are deeply transformative and healing. I, personally, still enjoy working one on one with my Ayurvedic Practitioner. It helps me to cultivate a deeper Sadhana and more well rounded yoga practice.
The Skinny On Certification
Yoga Therapy is an emerging career and it is in its infancy. I’ve learned so much through both my experience as a Yoga Therapy client and my certification journey. If you’re interested in working with a Yoga Therapist there are a few things to keep in mind. Remember that certification is not the same as a license. Currently, Yoga Therapists are not required by the States or the Federal Government to have a license. This simply means that there is NO professional requirement for someone to call themselves a Yoga Therapist. I started practicing Yoga Therapy in clinical hospital settings well before my certification was complete and I know many other teachers with 500 hours of Yoga training who call themselves Yoga Therapists. There is nothing wrong with this but it is important for clients to understand the difference.
A Certified Yoga Therapist has completed a certification program above and beyond a yoga teacher training. If you’re looking for a Yoga Therapist with specialized training in Yoga Therapy you will want them to have some kind of certification. Hospitals and clinical rehabilitation facilities do not require individuals hired as Yoga Therapists to be certified as of now and that does not look like it will change any time soon. This is largely because clinical professional settings are used to government regulation and licensing. Since Yoga Therapy is not yet regulated by the government it does not require one certification over another at this point.
Selecting A Yoga Therapist
It’s important to consider is the reason you’re interested in Yoga Therapy. Yoga Therapy can quickly turn into dependency where the client is dependent on the Therapist. To avoid this consider what your intention for seeking Yoga Therapy is and communicate that clearly to your Therapist. You might decided to work together for a number of weeks before reevaluating the relationship. I highly recommend this approach. When I work one on one with individuals I typically create a care plan that has a defined beginning and ending point so that we can stay on track. Look for someone who cares enough about you as a client to create a virtual container where your best interests are always the main priority.
Once you’ve found someone you like you may want to try one of their group sessions and one of their private sessions. Decide which environment is most supportive for your practice. Remember, the relationship you have with a Yoga Therapist, a teacher, a doctor or Clinical Therapist is always about YOU as the client. If you ever feel like you’re under, less important, or submissive to your provider take that as a RED flag to find someone new. With that said, remember that we are all human and, oftentimes, our providers are unintentionally behaving in a way that is not conducive to our healing. Learning to be an advocate for your experience is part of life’s unfolding. Embrace it and remember every experience is simply a messenger along the path.