Imagine for a moment that you have just been diagnosed with a chronic illness or are experiencing chronic symptoms which have yet to be given a label. You most likely have seen multiple doctors, many of whom referred you on to the next “specialist” and/or wrote you a script for a pain killer and told you to follow up in six months.
Unless you have ventured outside our modern healthcare system into more holistic and alternative healing modalities, it is unlikely that any healthcare provider has given you more than fifteen minutes of their time, much less discussed the root causes of your condition nor the lifestyle changes you may need to consider to continue living a fulfilling life.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease, and 4 in 10 have more than one. Meaning, you are very much not alone, dear reader. Fortunately, the story does not stop here. The World Health Organization estimates that 65-80% of the world’s population use holistic/alternative medicine as their primary form of healthcare.
In the realm of holistic healing, Yoga Therapy has emerged as a powerful intervention, providing a unique and comprehensive approach to addressing physical, emotional, and mental imbalances. It is a discipline that blends the ancient wisdom of Yoga with modern therapeutic techniques to promote overall well-being and to educate patients on how to have more autonomy over their health. In this article, we will delve into the emerging world of Yoga Therapy, exploring what it means to be a Yoga therapist and how you can embark on the transformative journey to become one.
Understanding Yoga Therapy
Yoga Therapy is an integrative and individualized healing practice that employs the principles and techniques of yoga to support individuals in managing and healing a wide array of physical, emotional, and psychological conditions. It goes beyond the conventional, western approach to yoga as merely a physical exercise and taps into its deeper dimensions to help clients understand their own mind, body and spirit connection.
By uniting ancient wisdom with contemporary medical research, yoga therapists facilitate self-healing and self-awareness in their clients. They work with individuals one-on-one or in small groups, tailoring their teachings to suit each person’s specific needs. Yoga Therapy recognizes that each individual is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, the focus is on creating a personalized and holistic healing plan for the client that addresses and unites their physical limitations, mental health concerns, emotional traumas, and spiritual growth.
The Principles of Yoga Therapy
Unlike our modern healthcare system, which generally views human anatomy as a collection of parts, Yoga Therapy is grounded in the holistic principles of yoga, which view the human being as an inseparable system of body, mind, and spirit. Some key principles of Yoga Therapy include:
● Prakriti and Vikriti: According to Yoga philosophy, each individual has a unique constitution (Prakriti) and a current state of imbalance (Vikriti). Yoga Therapy aims to restore the natural balance and harmony within an individual by understanding their Prakriti and addressing the Vikriti.
● Pancha Koshas: The human being is seen as composed of five layers or sheaths, known as Pancha Koshas. These layers include the physical body (Annamaya Kosha), the energy body (Pranamaya Kosha), the mental/emotional body (Manomaya Kosha), the wisdom/intellectual body (Vijnanamaya Kosha), and the blissful body (Anandamaya Kosha). Yoga Therapy works on all these levels to promote holistic healing.
● Ahimsa (non-harming): One of the foundational principles of Yoga is Ahimsa, which translates to non-harming or non-violence. Yoga therapists prioritize the safety and well-being of their clients, ensuring that no harm is caused during the therapeutic process.
● Svadhyaya (self-study): Self-reflection and self-inquiry are essential in Yoga Therapy. Therapists encourage their clients to explore their inner landscape, gain insight into their thoughts and behaviors, and cultivate self-awareness.
● Pranayama and Pratyahara: Breathwork (Pranayama) and withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara) are integral components of Yoga Therapy. Breathing techniques help clients manage their nervous system, while Pratyahara enables them to turn inward and focus on how their inner experiences manifest into physicality.
Becoming a Yoga Therapist
Embarking on the path to becoming a Yoga therapist requires dedication, passion, and a deep commitment to self-development. Your journey will involve several key steps that may vary depending on your location and certification program. The following are the general steps you can take:
1. Deepen Your Personal Practice: As the old adage goes, you will have to learn to help yourself before you can begin to help others. The foundation of becoming a Yoga therapist lies in having a strong personal practice. Dedicate time to deepen your understanding of yoga, exploring various styles, meditation techniques, and philosophical teachings. Immerse yourself in the practice and philosophy of yoga and build a sustainable sadhana (daily practice) that will keep you centered.
2. Complete a Yoga Teacher Training: In order to be eligible for a Yoga Therapist training program, you will first need to have gone through a minimum of a 200-hour Yoga Teacher
Training. When looking for teacher training programs you will want to prioritize programs that are accredited by organizations such as Yoga Alliance. A 200-hour training is the minimum requirement for teaching yoga, but you may also want to consider a 300 or 500-hour training for a more comprehensive education.
3. Gain Teaching Experience: In most cases, once you have completed your teacher training program, you will then need to get at least one year of teaching experience before you can apply to a Yoga Therapy program. Teaching will provide invaluable insights into the diverse needs of students, enhance your communication and interpersonal skills, and help you feel more confident guiding others.
4. Pursue Advanced Training in Yoga Therapy: To become a certified Yoga therapist, you’ll need to pursue additional training specific to Yoga Therapy. Look for accredited programs that are recognized by reputable organizations like the International Association of Yoga Therapists
(IAYT). These programs delve into the therapeutic aspects of Yoga, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and how to work with clients on an individual basis. While there are many virtual and hybrid (in-person plus remote) offerings, most programs will require at least some in-person course work, and will take a minimum of two years to complete.
5. Practical Experience and Supervision: During your Yoga Therapy training, you will likely be required to engage in supervised practical experience, where you work with clients under the guidance and mentorship of experienced Yoga therapists. This supervised practice is crucial to developing the skills and confidence needed to work effectively with diverse populations.
6. Specialization and Continuing Education: Consider specializing in specific areas of Yoga Therapy, such as trauma-informed Yoga, Yoga for seniors, prenatal and postnatal Yoga, or Yoga for mental health. Continued education and attending workshops and conferences will keep you updated with the latest research and developments in the field.
If you decide to open your own yoga business, specializing in a specific area is also an invaluable way to stand out amongst the crowd and grow your client base around the world.
7. Certification and Registration: Once you’ve completed the required training and practical experience, you can apply for certification as a Yoga therapist through organizations like IAYT. Being a registered Yoga therapist enhances your credibility and demonstrates your commitment to professional standards.
While as a Yoga therapist, you will have an expansive knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and pathology, it is essential to adhere to a code of ethics that promotes the well-being and safety of
your clients. It is critical that you teach only what you know, maintain professional boundaries, respect confidentiality, and always refer clients to appropriate healthcare professionals when necessary.
Given the short-comings of our healthcare system and the staggering rates of chronic conditions, the demand for more comprehensive and holistic healing modalities is high. Yoga Therapy is a path of compassion, understanding, and empowerment, where the therapist serves as a guide, helping clients unlock their innate healing potential and live a life of meaning, despite adversity.
A Yoga Therapist provides guidance and holistic protocols to help empower individuals manage their health sustainably and comprehensively. Becoming a Yoga therapist is a transformative journey that not only equips you with the knowledge and skills to support others in their healing process but also fosters your own personal growth and self-discovery.