Monthly Archives: October 2006

What is Yoga Therapy Anyway?


Coffee Therapy
courtesy IdleType

I define yoga therapy as the practice of yoga with the intention to reduce suffering of any form – physical illness, emotional suffering, social isolation.

…the practice of yoga … asks, how is this individual suffering in this moment, and what could reduce that suffering?

…it’s again about finding a way to be comfortable in the present moment…

These quotes are from Kelly McGonigal, a yoga therapist whose scientific research summaries I’ve used in some of the Health posts on AshtangaNews.


Cookie Therapy
courtesy Minuet

Seeing that she is a Yoga Therapist, I got curious about Yoga Therapy, which to me, seems a little antithetical to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ Do your practice and all is coming. But I figured I was missing something, and my curiousity led me to Kelly’s interview from the International Yogatherapy Conference in May 2006.

From reading the research summaries on her website, I would define yoga therapy as using specific sequences of asana, along with breathing and meditation exercises, to try to obtain healing benefits


Cat Therapy
courtesy Boboleta

for particular conditions. The yoga therapist creates a sequence that her client can perform and works one-on-one with her client (or in small groups) rather than teaching a one-practice-fits all sequence (like the Primary Series).

I would never suggest that yoga will replace medical care. In some cases, with some illnesses and injuries, yoga might be a sufficient treatment. But in general, yoga is about making this whole experience more comfortable. Yoga helps rehumanize the often dehumanizing experience of physical or emotional illness.


Weekend-in-the-Country Therapy
courtesy me

Yoga therapy seems to be especially beneficial for people suffering from chronic pain, especially back pain, and long-term illnesses, like cancer and AIDS. Kelly states that she’s seen the most impact on emotional suffering.

…Most people discuss the value of yoga in terms of prevention – yoga, as a lifestyle, may help to prevent certain common diseases in the U.S. But I think that yoga is becoming so welcome in medicine and psychology because it is not being presented as an alternative medicine, or alternative-to-medicine. It is presented as a way to reintroduce some of the core values of healing: helping individuals maintain some sense of power over their own well-being, honoring the importance of seeing the “whole” person and not just treating symptoms, and finding a way to prevent unnecessary suffering.


Light Therapy
courtesy Onkel Ulle

I have to say that looking at other online sources about yoga therapy, I still find the field a little too flaky, a little too touchy-feely, new-agey for my comfort. For example, the yoga therapy section on Yoga Journal’s website has articles that gives specific advice for treating Hepatitis C, vision problems, and even recommends specific postures to alleviate erectile dysfunction.

On the other hand, I found Kelly’s concise explanation of preventing unnecessary suffering in the present moment and her focus on traditional scientific research is intriguing, valuable and very well-stated.

If you want to learn more about yoga therapy, a good place to start is the International Yogatherapy Conference‘s section about yoga therapy. Atypically, Wikipedia does not (yet) contain good information about yoga therapy.


Ashtanga Therapy
View of the Old Shala from Above, courtesy Govinda Kai

Double the Sweat, Same Low Price: Ashtanga in Mount Shasta

…the best way i can describe the panic i felt is that it was literally as if i had unwittingly followed a group of strangers who jumped from a cliff into a frigid a mountain lake. i only realize upon entry that there were no near banks to which i could easily swim. i would have to be patient and calm, have faith in humanity, and believe that i could make it to the shore and that it would be an experience worth having.

That was from Wendy Spies who wrote an account of the sweat lodge (eh?) available at Tim Miller’s retreat at Mount Shasta, California,

In 2007, Tim Miller will teach at Mount Shasta on the following dates:

  • July 28 – August 4, Primary Series
  • August 4 – 11, Second Series

Mount Shasta, courtesy of ladder_711 on Flickr

Wendy also wrote thoughtfully about pregnancy and Ashtanga for AshtangaNews. Thank you, Wendy!


The patio at Vivify

For those of you who do get to Mount Shasta, our favorite sushi chefs, Sachio and Ayako Kojima (formerly of Kabuto A&S in San Francisco), now own and run an organic Japanese food restaurant in Mount Shasta, Vivify. It looks too good.