offers a unique combination of traditional physical therapy and integrative
pain management techniques to help individuals enjoy the best health possible.
What Is Yoga Therapy?
In the west, Yoga therapy links the timeless insights from the tradition
of Yoga with the technology of mind/body science. It focuses on creating
wellness rather than curing disease. It views health in a comprehensive
manner that includes the physical, psychological and spiritual levels.
In classical India, Yoga therapy was a combination of Ayurveda, the medical
practice of that time and Yoga. Ayurveda provided the lifestyle, diet,
purification measures and herbs to prepare the body for Yoga. In the west,
Ayurveda is becoming more recognized for its ability to individualize
a person's health regime.
Yoga therapy in the west is used primarily to treat stress-related disorders
by reducing stress and increasing awareness. An increased awareness of
sensation helps us identify the causes of physical pain. Awareness of
our thoughts and feelings lets us view our situations from a larger perspective.
We notice more about ourselves and others and that opens us to more creative
solutions. This is accomplished with selected movement, specific breathing
techniques and meditation.
Mind/body science explains the effectiveness of Yoga Therapy in its understanding
of the relationship between stress and illness. We are just beginning
to understand the importance of stress management in creating health.
Programs at the Mind/Body Institute connected to Harvard University, the
Sharp Institute for Mind/Body Medicine and the Cedar Sinai Medical Center
in Los Angeles are pioneering this field. They are treating stress-related
disorders such as cancer, heart disease, pain, anxiety, infertility, chronic
fatigue, headache, gastro-intestinal disorders, and auto-immune disease.
When we calm the body, we calm the mind. A space is created for to recognize stress and to look at fear, anger and attachments that may be contributing to the pain or illness. Done regularly, Yoga therapy weakens the conditioned stress response and lets us view our stress as largely due to subconscious patterns of thought and perception. We can begin to make choices that more clearly reflect our highest values and priorities. It is by returning to our deepest values that true healing occurs on the physical level.
Asanas -- Yoga poses
Asanas are one of the eight components of Yoga as described by Patanjali's
Yoga Sutras. Asanas stretch, strengthen, and stabilize our physical
structure and benefit the physiology and mind as well.
The essential qualities of asanas are from the Sanskrit words: "Sthira:"
(1) steady alertness; and "Sukha:" (2) light and comfortable. When
Yoga is applied therapeutically, the poses are adapted to the individual
as directed by the physical therapy evaluation. Incorrect use of
asanas to create excessive spinal flexibility or muscle length can
cause injury, and prematurely age our movement system. Ahimsa (the
philosophy of non-violence) is in agreement with the Hippocratic
oath: "At least, do no harm."
Depending on the individual, the poses are performed either statically
or dynamically in what is called Vinyasa, a series of flowing movements.
When asanas are linked to the breath, they affect not only the physical
body but also the mind. It is through the breath that we can truly
link the mind to the body.
Pranayama -- Yogic Breathing
There are many breathing techniques used in Yoga, each with its specific
effect on the physiology and the mind. Some forms of breathing are
used to energize the body. Some are used in strengthening poses to
teach the body to respond to stressors without weakening the immune
system. The diaphragmatic breath stimulates the parasympathetic nervous
system. It reverses the cycle of stress and rapid shallow breathing
that is characteristic of the stress response. The Ujjayi breath improves
balance and endurance in more challenging asanas. Most importantly,
the combination of asanas and pranayama has a balancing effect on
the mind. Together, they remove the distractions and tensions in the
body and the mind as a preparation for meditation.
Instruction in meditation can take many forms. Some clients may choose
to use this time for silent prayer or for an already established meditation
practice. A Tibetan Buddhist form of mindfulness meditation is taught
by Allan Wallace, a former faculty member in the Department of Religious
Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, CA. Author of many books
on Tibetan Buddhism, Wallace speaks of the importance of developing
"attentional stability." The meditations can be used while clients
are on modalities in the department to develop the ability to focus
the mind. The first mindfulness meditation centers on sensations in
the body. Progressively more challenging is the ability to stay focused
on the breath, on the thoughts that come and go, and finally on the
mind itself. These initially require verbal guidance and can be as
short as 5 minutes.
Another form of meditation repeats a sound (mantra). Herbert Benson,
MD uses this form at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center connected
to Harvard University. Mantra, energized sound or sacred word, is
the basis of all religious traditions, scriptures and prayers. In
one form or another, it is the key religious practice of humanity.
Initially, when a person quiets the mind, the relaxation response
will cause drowsiness and the person may fall asleep. It is estimated
that 80% of our population is sleep deprived. For this reason, some
advise taking one-half hour of rest before beginning asanas so that
meditation can go beyond drowsiness into a state of inner wakefulness.
In this state, the heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure
decrease, while the mind stays alert. To a degree this may be experience
in single-pointed activities such as gardening, giving a massage,
most forms of art, and during the practice of asanas and other forms
of movement meditation. The more this state is cultured in the nervous
system with a sitting meditation practice, the more it flows into
our activities. Advanced Yogic masters can experience all activity
from this level.
Meditation is an important tool for healing the mind and the body.
Recent studies by both Dean Ornish and the Transcendental Meditation
movement suggest that stress reduction by itself can reduce atherosclerosis
without changes in diet and exercise. The latter study was published
in the March 2000 issue of the American Heart Association's journal
Stroke. Director of the Preventive Cardiology Center at Cedars-Sinai
Medical Center in Los Angeles, Dr. Noel Bairey-Merz says, "This
is one of the few proven stress management techniques that has been
tested with our best science. I would concur that it appears to have
an effect on blood pressure and carotid artery thickness, and it has
no adverse effects."