The spiritual discipline of Yoga evolved over thousands of years, focusing on moral, mental and physical practices to develop the will, integrate body and mind, elevate the spirit and realise our ultimate nature. Throughout the ages, Yoga has variously been defined as mastery over the senses and mind (Kathopanishad), cessation of the fluctuations of the mind (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras), and equanimity of mind (Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita).
While traditional Yoga in its many forms is primarily concerned with healthy individuals, the main concern of modern Yoga therapy, or Yoga chikitsa is to restore the mental and physical issues of ailing individuals to a state of holistic rebalance. Today Yoga chikitsa is an emerging field in the process of defining itself both in India and the West. Around twenty years back, Yoga therapy was accepted by the Government of India, Ministry of Health, as an indigenous Medical System.
There are many schools of Yoga (Raja, Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Hatha etc.). Yoga therapy, with its emphasis on the integration of body, breath and mind is most aligned with Hatha Yoga, the “forceful Yoga” that aims to perfect the physical body as a pathway to the Divine. In general terms, Hatha Yoga and Yoga therapy aim to develop purity, power, and harmony between all bodily and mental functions, especially via the nervous system and subtle channels. The intent is to create a joyful, adaptable, vibrant way of feeling and living across all levels of being—physical, vital, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.
Physical and Mental Health Benefits
For those who seek physiological health and stability, Yoga therapy can provide improved strength, stamina, flexibility, digestion, immune function, blood pressure, heart health, relaxation, and sleep; and decreased bodily weakness, discomfort, and disease. For those who need psychological uplifting, Yogic concepts and practices offer more stable emotions, greater peace and clarity, and higher moods). To help us cope successfully with the stress of modern living, Yoga trains the internal systems and conscious mind to cultivate powers of adjustment and adaptation.
Essential Principles of Yoga Therapy
Three fundamental principles of Yoga therapy include:
• Relax the body
• Slow down the breath
• Calm the mind (and reintegrate the mind with the body and spirit)
These three principles are all strongly interrelated and can be approached in any order.
Learn to Relax!
Today, rather than worship a God of Grace, many worships a god of tension. Modern “civilized” societies indoctrinate us into beliefs that we must constantly do something. And progress and achievement are gauged through accumulating stuff, perceived and measured through our physical senses. If not active and succeeding, fears and anxieties take over.
But it is only when the physical body is fully relaxed that its cells can recharge, heal and enjoy balance and holistic health. The primary step, therefore, in Yoga as a practice and therapy, is to learn to physically unwind. To deal with tensions, stresses and blockages of a physical and neurological (nervous) nature, Yoga has many relaxation therapies including:
Loosening practices are known as Shitileekarana Vyayama. In different Yoga traditions the approach is slightly different and called by different names, such as the Pawanamuktasana Series (of Satyananda Yoga of Bihar School), and Upa-Yoga (of Isha Hata Yoga). In general, these are simple warming, opening, and stretching exercises to loosen up joints, muscles and facilitate the flow of life-force prana.
In the practice of Hatha Yoga a number of postures have a strong effect on physical relaxation, such as:
• Balasana (Child’s pose)
• Viparita Karani (Inverted action pose)
• Shavasana (Corpse pose)
To explore the practice and benefits of these three postures, go to SOULS’s Youtube channel.
Additional, associated relaxation therapies include:
• Simple breathing practices (an aspect of pranayama, the fourth limb of Sage Patanjali’s eight-step path).
• Learning to rest and withdraw the five physical sense organs from an outward orientation, to focus and/or rest them inside the body (An aspect of pratyahara, the fifth limb of Sage Patanjali’s eight-step path).
• Following a Yogic and/or Ayurvedic diet that focuses on principles of purity, freshness, vitality, and harmony.
• Spending time in natural environments and tuning in to Mother Nature.
In the beginning, relaxation practices continue to involve the intellect. But with practice, as we learn how to de-stress and relax, thought gives way to deeper intuitions of the body, heart, and soul.
Teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati; BKS Iyengar; Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev; Paramahansa Yogananda; Gitananda Yoga.
Principles and Methods of Yoga Therapy, compiled and edited by Yogacharya Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani.