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And how does it both differ from and work in conjunction with allopathic medicine and talking therapy?

In April 2021 I embarked on a diploma in Yoga Therapy. An incredibly vigorous course involving attendance in 60 days of lectures and practical’s, supervision, my own yoga therapy, numerous homework’s’, essays, a lot of reading, client sessions, yoga therapy observations, case studies, dissertation, four very long written exams, examined practical’s’, journaling and more.

It is an ongoing journey and I still have final exams, dissertation and case studies ahead, but I wanted to explain why I embarked upon this journey and what yoga therapy is. I am asked this a lot!

I grew up with yoga and I have taught it for 20 years, some of that time was whilst working as a clinical negligence lawyer in private practice in London and then prison law and human rights lawyer in the Home Office and some whilst a full-time mother. I’ve managed (somehow) to navigate the London yoga teaching scene with my sense of humour (almost) intact and have seen so many passing yoga fads come and go. I’ve witnessed an explosion in yoga teaching programmes (some brilliant and some less so!) and the consequential flooding of the yoga market with new teachers. When I started practising at Tri Yoga in Primrose Hill (made popular by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow) and the Life Centre in Notting Hill, yoga was considered a little “out there” and it has been wonderful to see its integration into mainstream society and an acknowledgment of its benefits. I’m yet, however, to be convinced that yoga has become truly accessible to everyone.

In 2020 the Covid Pandemic hit us all in various ways and it is still to a much lesser degree ongoing. Periods of isolation saw a rapid decline in mental health and rise in anxiety especially amongst certain populations*, and it was during the pandemic that I became really concerned about the increase in anxiety especially amongst teens and adolescents * and started to think about what else yoga might have to offer. I was also disillusioned with the glossy advertising and the way established and experienced hard working yoga teachers were (and still are) being treated and paid that I wanted to explore other avenues whilst still teaching an amazing yoga sangha/community that means so much to me.

What is Yoga Therapy?

A multidimensional way of healing.

The application of specific asanas, breathing techniques, mindfulness and psychotherapeutic principles backed by biomedicine and neuroscience to address a specific physical or psychological problem. Yoga therapy takes a whole person approach and in my view is unique in that it defers to the wisdom of scientific and medical advances combined with yoga philosophy such as the Koshas and/or the Chakras as multidimensional lenses through which to view a person and approach a yoga therapy plan. More on the Koshas and Chakras in another blog.

Allopathic Medicine

Otherwise known as western medicine or biomedicine this treats the symptoms of illnesses and disease using medication and surgery and is evidence and science backed. We have many reasons to be grateful for the development of allopathic medicine (penicillin for a start).

But there is more to the treatment of disease than pharmacological intervention and surgery. Yoga therapy explores ways to create and improve wellbeing and lifestyle, it adopts the biopsychosocial model of care to combine biological, psychological, and social factors in a holistic way for the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals. It explores how the breath impacts the body, how the mind impacts the breath, how the body impacts breathing patterns and more. Focus is on autonomy and self-efficacy and providing a treatment plan with tools that the individual can use. An opportunity for the individual to feel empowered and to be actively involved in yoga and mindfulness and lifestyle changes which benefit them and all whilst supported by a yoga therapist.

What happens if a patient’s symptoms are healed through medication, but the causes of their symptoms also include habits/environment/lifestyle/breathing patterns and those don’t change? Yoga therapy offers the chance to make those changes so that the effects of medication are not short lived. Do the habits, breathing, posture (habitual tension holding patterns) create the illness or does the illness create the poor breathing and /or posture? These are the kinds of questions that yoga therapy considers.

What about stress? Yoga therapy via its impact on our autonomous nervous system and immune system can help to both reduce the impact of stress and gives us tools to cope with stress. Stress impacts almost every disease from cardiovascular disease to cancer. Yoga Therapy offers tools to help alleviate the symptoms of co morbidities/ conditions which can arise with a diagnosis. Examples could be addressing insomnia, achy joints, depression, anxiety, digestive issues and more. Yoga Therapy explores ways to build interoceptive and proprioceptive awareness and giving the ability to safely explore our internal landscape has seen it used to assist in Eating Disorder recovery * and treatment for PTSD ( see the use of yoga therapy for war veterans in the USA).

Talking therapy

Perhaps the best example of talking therapy is CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which explores the reframing of the way we see things, the reappraisal of our reactions and attempts to interrupt our thoughts and reactions to free us from harmful patterns of behaviour. The focus is on a top-down approach – a cognitive approach. This can be challenging for those lost in rumination or who have compromised neurological functioning.

How does yoga therapy differ and how can it help? Yoga therapy not only supports a top-down approach with a bottom-up approach via asana, breath, and regulation such as grounding and orienting but rather than ask us to change how we think it invites us to learn ways to be with uncomfortable thoughts, to learn essential regulatory skills to build better emotional reactivity and perhaps new ways of being in the hope that unhealthy habits/behaviours can fall away on their own.

Yoga therapy could be seen as allowing, accepting, evolving, and focusing on the whole person in conjunction with allopathic medicine and to support or work alongside talking therapy but it is neither a diagnostic tool (in that it is not meant to diagnose illness) nor a form of talking psychotherapy. It is however a fabulous multifactorial way to promote psychological, physical, and physiological wellbeing from the inside out.

What next for me?

At the moment I'm enjoying the learning experience ( although four lengthy written exams perhaps less so!) and next year will decide where to take this journey. In the meantime I have three case studies to complete early next year so if you or anyone you know might be interested in 6 yoga therapy sessions with me then please get in touch.

*Saeed H, Eslami A, Nassif NT, Simpson AM, Lal S. Anxiety Linked to COVID-19: A Systematic Review Comparing Anxiety Rates in Different Populations. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Feb 15;19(4):2189. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19042189. PMID: 35206374; PMCID: PMC8871867.

*Hawes MT, Szenczy AK, Klein DN, Hajcak G, Nelson BD. Increases in depression and anxiety symptoms in adolescents and young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychol Med. 2021 Jan 13:1-9. doi: 10.1017/S0033291720005358. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33436120; PMCID: PMC7844180.


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