Yoga therapy may be defined as the application of Yogic principles to a particular person with the objective of achieving a particular spiritual, psychological, or physiological goal. The means employed are comprised of intelligently conceived steps that include but are not limited to the components of Ashtânga Yoga, which includes the educational teaching. Also included are the application of meditation, textual study, spiritual or psychological counseling, chanting, imagery, prayer, and ritual to meet the needs of the individual. Yoga therapy respects individual differences in age, culture, religion, philosophy, occupation, and mental and physical health.
The Main Principles of this form of Yoga Therapy
- Create a course of treatment
- Teach what is appropriate to the individual (yukta-shiksana).
- Differences in different people must be respected (bheda).
- Teachings must consider the situation, place, or country from which the student comes (desha).
- Each person needs to be taught according to his or her individual constitution, age, disposition, etc.(i.e., obese, lean, young, old, etc.) (deha).
- The method of instruction depends on the time of year, the seasons, etc. (kâla)
- Depending on the occupation of the student, he or she will need to be taught different things (e.g., a runner would be taught differently than a philosopher) (vritti).
- One must understand the capacity of the student, how much endurance he or she has, how much memory, how much time to study or practice (shakti).
- The teaching must conform to the direction of the mind (i.e., it must take a person’s interests into account, such as exercise, devotion, God, chanting, etc.)
What to Expect from Yoga Therapy
When a person decides to initiate yoga therapy, the therapist will first conduct an initial assessment. This assessment is designed to do the following:
- Assess lifestyle and physical capability
- Discuss reasons for seeking therapy
- Create a course of treatment
Once the treatment plan is established in this first consultation, the frequency of sessions is agreed upon and sessions are scheduled. From this point, therapy sessions will most likely include the following components:
Breathing Exercises (Prayanama)
The therapist will guide the person in therapy through a series of breathing exercises ranging from energizing breaths to balancing breaths.
Physical Postures (Asana)
The therapist will teach the person in treatment appropriate yoga poses that address problem areas. For example, the “Legs Up the Wall” pose is used to treat things like anxiety and insomnia. In this pose, the person lays on his or her back with legs positioned up against the wall.
Relaxation and mindfulness are the focus of meditation when it is combined with yoga poses.
The yoga therapist attempts to calm the body and mind by providing a guided visualization intended to bring inner peace.
An important element for any yoga practice is to find a way to incorporate it into daily life. Yoga therapists provide instructions on how to use what has been learned in treatment at home.
Who Offers Yoga Therapy
The most well-known professional title to describe a yoga therapist is Certified Yoga Therapist, credentialed as CYT. However, because the field of yoga therapy is fairly young, no official, formalized certification process exists. However, there are many organizations and education programs accredited by the IAYT that offer training and certification. Some well-respected training programs include:
- Integrative Yoga Therapy
- American Viniyoga Institute
- Essential Yoga Therapy
- Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy
- YogaLife Institute
- Any training program accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT)
Though therapists vary in education and experience, most well-trained yoga therapists have a strong knowledge base in:
- Yoga philosophy, techniques, and education
- Therapeutic yoga techniques
- Anatomy and physiology
- Diet and nutrition
- Basic understanding of medical care and first aid
- Basic understanding of business ethics
You’ve decided to finally start doing yoga — but after Googling classes in your area, your head is spinning. Should you try Ashtanga or Iyengar? And what’s the difference between hot yoga and Vinyasa? The array of options can be enough to scare newbies off the mat for good.
But here’s why you shouldn’t be scared: Like cross training, incorporating a variety of types of yoga into your regular practice can help keep you balanced, says Nikki Vilella, senior teacher at Kula Yoga Project and co-owner of Kula Williamsburg. “Try a few different studios, teachers and styles. Then, stick with the one that resonates with you for a good amount of time and be dedicated to the practice,” says Vilella. “The first day you don’t like a class shouldn’t be a reason to bolt and try something new.”
Yoga isn’t necessarily a ‘one-size-fits-all’ practice, either. Different types of yoga might be best for different people. “A 20-year-old and a 70-year-old probably don’t need the same things,” Vilella says. “Someone who is hyper-mobile and flexible doesn’t need the same thing as someone who’s muscular and stiff.”So with all the choices out there, where do you start? Don’t lose your ujjayi breath (that’s yogi speak for calming inhales and exhales). We’ve got your definitive list of classes that specialize in yoga for beginners — plus tips for identifying the style you might like best.
Yoga Types You Need to Know
It’s all about the basics in these slower moving classes that require you to hold each pose for a few breaths. In many studios, hatha classes are considered a gentler form of yoga. However, the Sanskrit term “hatha” actually refers to any yoga that teaches physical postures. “It’s a practice of the body, a physical practice that balances these two energies. So, in reality, it is all hatha yoga,” Vilella says.
Get your flow on in this dynamic practice that links movement and breath together in a dance-like way. In most classes, you won’t linger long in each pose and the pace can be quick, so be prepared for your heart rate to rise. Teachers will often pump music, matching the beats to the sequences of the poses.
Here you’ll get nit-picky about precision and detail, as well as your body’s alignment in each pose. Props, from yoga blocks and blankets to straps or a ropes wall, will become your new best friend, helping you to work within a range of motion that is safe and effective. Unlike in Vinyasa, each posture is held for a period of time. If you’re new to Iyengar, even if you’ve practiced other types of yoga, it’s good to start with a level one class to familiarize yourself with the technique.
If you’re looking for a challenging yet orderly approach to yoga, try Ashtanga. Consisting of six series of specifically sequenced yoga poses, you’ll flow and breathe through each pose to build internal heat. The catch is that you’ll perform the same poses in the exact same order in each class. Some studios will have a teacher calling out the poses, while Mysore style classes (a subset of Ashtanga) require you to perform the series on your own. (But don’t worry — there will always be a teacher in the room to offer assistance if you need it.)
Prepare to sweat: Bikram consists of a specific series of 26 poses and two breathing exercises practiced in a room heated to approximately 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity. All Bikram studios practice the same 90-minute sequence so you’ll know exactly what to do once you unroll your mat. Remember, the vigorous practice combined with the heat can make the class feel strenuous. If you’re new to Bikram, take it easy: Rest when you need to and be sure to hydrate beforehand.
Hot yoga is similar to Bikram in that it’s practiced in a heated room. But teachers aren’t constrained by the 26-pose Bikram sequence. While the heat will make you feel like you can move deeper into some poses compared to a non-heated class, it can be easy to overstretch, so don’t push beyond your capacity
. Kundalini Yoga
Celebrity devotees including actor Russell Brand and author Gabrielle Bernstein have given Kundalini a cult-like following. Yet, this physically and mentally challenging practice looks very different from your typical yoga class. You’ll perform kriyas — repetitive physical exercises coupled with intense breath work — while also chanting, singing and meditating. The goal? To break through your internal barriers, releasing the untapped energy residing within you and bringing you a higher level of self-awareness.
If you want to calm and balance your body and mind, this is where you’ll find your zen. The opposite of a faster moving practice like Ashtanga, Yin yoga poses are held for several minutes at a time. This meditative practice is designed to target your deeper connective tissues and fascia, restoring length and elasticity. You’ll use props so your body can release into the posture instead of actively flexing or engaging the muscles. Like meditation, it may make you feel antsy at first, but stick with it for a few classes and its restorative powers might have you hooked.
While it may feel like you’re not doing much in a restorative yoga class…that’s the point. The mellow, slow-moving practice with longer holds gives your body a chance tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to experience deeper relaxation. You’ll also use a variety of props including blankets, bolsters and yoga blocks to fully support your body in each pose.
Health Benefits of Yoga
For a slower flow that asks you to hold poses for what feels like eons, opt for yin yoga. “Yin yoga typically incorporates longer holds in passive poses that promote greater flexibility, especially in the hips, pelvis, and spine,” says Wood. Not to be confused with a gentle or restorative class, in yin yoga you will typically hold each deep stretch for three to five minutes to lengthen beyond your muscle and into your connective tissue or fascia. Even though it is intense in its own right, Burch says it’s still a relaxing type of yoga, and your instructor will ease you into each stretch. Yin yoga will help “increase mobility in the joints and relieve stiffness and tightness in the muscles, and it also helps to heal and prevent injuries,” says Burch. Another plus? It’s great as a recovery tool or cross-training workout. It’s the perfect practice for after a more active workout like spinning or running, as it can give you a deep stretch your tight muscles crave. (Don’t forget the important post-run stretch. Here’s your race training game plan to prevent injury.)
While Wood says that Hatha yoga is really the umbrella term for all the different practices of yoga, the way most studios and gyms use this title is to describe a slower-paced class in which you can expect to hold poses longer than in a Vinyasa class, but not as long as you would in a Yin flow. Burch says that this type of yoga is all-inclusive as “students of ages 8 to 88 benefit from this total body workout.” You can expect more challenging standing poses, and the option to choose a hot Hatha class if you’re into that. And while you might be hesitant to try a hot yoga class (of any kind), Burch says the benefits are enticing. “It’s challenging and promotes a deep sweat to help eliminate toxins and encourage muscles and joints to stretch further and more deeply with a lower risk of injury.”
While Yin and restorative yoga both focus more on flexibility than strength, they do play very different roles. “The key difference between Yin and restorative yoga is support,” says Wood. “In both, you practice longer holds, but in restorative yoga, your body is supported by a combination of props (bolsters, blankets, straps, blocks, etc.) that cradle the body in order to soften the musculature and allow prana (essential energy) to flow to the organs to restore vitality.” Because of that added support, restorative yoga can be perfect for de-stressing the mind and body, or as gentle exercise to complement a strenuous workout from the day before.
Anyone and everyone, especially newbies
If you see a sign-up sheet for a class at your local gym simply titled “yoga,” it’s likely Vinyasa yoga. This ultra-popular form of yoga is just like Power Yoga minus the heat. You move with your breath from pose to pose and rarely hold postures for any length of time until the end of class. This flow offers strength, flexibility, concentration, breath work, and often some form of meditation, which makes it a great starting point for beginners, says Wood. “The intensity and physicality of nonstop movement can help to focus the mind of newer yogis.” (Revamp your usual Vinyasa flow with these 14 yoga poses.)
Recovering from an injury
Iyengar yoga places a heavy focus on props and alignment so it can be another great option for beginners and anyone with flexibility issues, or as a way to dip your toe back into exercise after an injury.In these classes, you will move more slowly than you would in a typical Vinyasa class,” says Wood. “You’ll also do fewer poses in order to follow very specific instructions for executing precise actions in the body.” Iyengar teachers are typically well versed in common injuries, so this is a safe bet for when you’re still in the rehab phase.
A mix between meditation and yoga
Regardless of your fitness level, if you are more interested in the mindful aspect of yoga, you might want to unroll your mat for a Kundalini flow. “Kundalini yoga is not posture based; therefore, it’s accessible to everyone, regardless of age, gender, or body type,” says Sada Simran, director of Guru Gayatri Yoga and Meditation Center. “It’s a practical tool for everyday people.” Wood adds that in a Kundalini class, you’ll use chanting, movement, and meditation tap into your consciousness. You can expect a bigger spiritual workout than physical.
Advanced yogis who are ready to tackle Instagram-worthy poses
If you’ve watched your yoga teacher effortlessly float into a handstand and then back into a Chaturanga push-up position, you were either scared or inspired—or both. This requires a lot of core strength, years of practice, and likely an Ashtanga background. This disciplined form of yoga is the basis of modern day power yoga and, if you stick with it, those impossible-looking poses and transitions can eventually become a part of your arsenal of yoga skills, too. True, yoga isn’t about impressing your followers with cool poses, but setting a goal and challenging your practice will help you build strength and confidence.