Yoga is an ancient school of philosophy from India. It includes practices for the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga has been used as a tool to support spiritual evolution for thousands of years, and continues to offer a wealth of benefits to modern practitioners. But modern yoga classes consist mostly of young people in athletic wear moving quickly through a sequence of physically demanding poses. It is not uncommon for a yoga class to be referred to as a good workout.
There are innumerable yoga fusions and adaptations that focus on the heating, strengthening, and calorie-burning potential of yoga. This may be helpful for people seeking detoxification, strength, and mobility some of the benefits of a vigorous yoga practice.
However, many people cannot safely practice yoga in this way. For elderly people, people recovering from injury or illness, people with disabilities, or people who are simply new to the practice, vigorous yoga classes are inappropriate and even dangerous.
Yoga for Everyone
The discrepancy between the reality of yogas potential and the popular appearance of yoga has led many to believe that yoga is not for them, and even to the idea that yoga is an unsafe discipline. But at its core, yoga is capable of supporting everyone if properly adapted to the needs of the individual student.
More than just a workout, yoga was developed as a system to support and cultivate health in the entire human being. Traditionally the goal was not to merely achieve a degree of physical prowess. Some of the main purposes of practice were to create enough ease in the body that one could sit in meditation comfortably, and to clear stagnant energy and disease so that people could live long and healthy lives. It was and still has the potential to be a healing practice, whatever a persons skill or fitness level.
The key to having yoga be a healing practice is to find a yoga teacher that can work with your specific intentions for practicing. There are several styles of group yoga classes that can be supportive for people with therapeutic needs. Many studios offer Beginners, Gentle, Yin, Adaptive, and Restorative Yoga classes, all of which usually include modifications and options to make the poses safe and accessible for students with therapeutic needs.
A rising trend in the yoga world actually taps into an ancient way of transmitting the practice. The field of yoga therapy is emerging as a healing modality that can support both the physical and mental health of students of any body type or background. Yoga therapy is usually distinguished from group yoga classes in that the practitioners work one-on-one with students to create and adapt a sequence of poses that is tailored to the students unique needs. This personalization can help students understand how the poses and ways of moving can actually help their bodies heal.
Types and Benefits of Yoga Therapy
Physical yoga therapy addresses the specific needs of people working with injuries, illnesses, limited mobility, or debilitation of any kind. Preliminary research indicates that therapeutic yoga can create more ease and flexibility for people with back pain, insomnia, carpal tunnel, heart disease, back and knee pain, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis. This type of yoga practice increases blood flow to all the organs, supporting overall health and longevity.
Because the joints full range of motion is explored in safe ways during therapeutic yoga sessions, cartilage can be protected and healed and chronic joint and spine pain can be lessened and even eliminated.
Yoga therapy is also very supportive for emotional concerns. It has been shown to help people working through post traumatic stress disorder, grief, anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional challenges. Some people find it as helpful, and even more relaxing, than talk therapy. The focus on clarifying the mind, slowing the breath, and bringing ones attention to the present moment draws people out of negative repetitive thoughts and emotional instability or sadness. Practicing therapeutic yoga can lead to increases in serotonin levels and decreases in the enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters. This means that yoga therapy can help lessen depression from both physical and emotional angles.
Physiologically, therapeutic yoga helps balance the autonomic nervous system, calming the fight, flight, or freeze response and inspiring the rest and digest response. This means less chronic stress, and lessened production of the stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that interfere with digestion, fertility, creativity, and our ability to integrate life experiences.
Yoga is popularly understood primarily as an exercise modality for people who already have a certain degree of fitness. But traditionally yoga was used to support the healing of ones body and mind, whatever physical condition a person might be experiencing. The field of yoga therapy taps into this ancient wisdom and perspective, drawing on centuries of physical, physiological, and psychological wisdom to support modern practitioners in experiencing healing from the inside out.