Clinical Yoga Therapy
Tools to Benefit Overall Health
by Darla Nagel
Yoga therapy is a growing profession differentiating itself from contemporary yoga practice by its application in healthcare settings and its empowerment of individual patients. In other words, yoga classes, even if they emphasize breathing over poses on mats, are not necessarily yoga therapy.
Veronica Zador, certified yoga therapist and experienced registered yoga teacher, established and directs International Institute of Yoga Therapy, Michigan’s first fully accredited yoga therapy program. She explains, “Unlike studio-based classes led by a yoga teacher, yoga therapy helps people self-activate well-being through effective and adaptive breathing, meditation and, only when appropriate, physical movements in a clinical setting. Yoga therapist training follows an academic model with clinical experiences and exposure to peer-reviewed research. The certification includes over 1,000 hours of training.”
According to Zador and the International Association of Yoga Therapists, a yoga therapist does the following:
• In a virtual or physical clinical environment, meets with inpatients or outpatients on a one-to-one or small-group/symptom-specific basis
• Emphasizes self-management in attending to how patients move, how patients breathe and even how patients think, which empowers behavior change and influ- ences perception of pain
• Generates a feeling of healing and comfort to self-actualize a meaningful life
• Adapts care plans to life stages, cultural traditions and faiths
Zador provided an example of a yoga therapy application: winter-related aches and holiday-related mood changes, as exhibited by Yvonne (not her real name). Yvonne was overwhelmed with seasonal family and financial expectations and presented to a yoga therapist with depression, mood swings and physical aches in her low back and shoulders. In a virtual yoga therapy session, Yvonne learned self-management techniques for reducing the effects of stress, anxiety and pain, including soft, warming breathing techniques emphasizing restfulness and gentle movement adaptations to manage pain.
Yvonne remarked afterward, “I thought those days of being strong, of feeling strong, were over for me. Then, when I used that soft warming breathing, I felt—something like I have super-powers to manage the feelings that were getting me sad and frustrated.”
According to “Yoga Therapy and Pain,” a 2018 White Paper published by the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health and co-authored by Zador, “Yoga therapy promotes autonomic nervous system regulation, strengthens interoceptive skills, fosters positive psychological states, increases physical health and resilience and enhances prosocial behavioral attributes such as compassion. Yoga therapy therefore offers cost-effective, long-term management and self-management strategies for chronic conditions.”
Yoga therapy should accompany rather than replace medical treatment for pain and chronic conditions. A patient’s healthcare team or specialist can make referrals to yoga therapy as a tool to benefit overall health.
Darla Nagel is a Michigan-based writer for Natural Awakenings.
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