Yoga Therapy A Personalized Approach for Your Active Lifestyle

by Kristen Butera

Yoga Therapy A Personalized Approach for Your Active Lifestyle Author Kristen Butera Isbn 9781492529200 File size 9MB Year 2017 Pages 248 Language English File format PDF Category Fitness Yoga is more popular now than ever The benefits are recognized worldwide and athletes and therapists rely on the practice Yet its appeal is as varied as those who practice it Regardless of your activity level and fitness background yoga is truly for you Yoga Therapy A Personalized Approach for Your Active Lifestyle will help you see your daily activities in a new

Publisher :

Author : Kristen Butera

ISBN : 9781492529200

Year : 2017

Language: English

File Size : 9MB

Category : Fitness

Yoga Therapy
A Personalized Approach
for Your Active Lifestyle

Kristen Butera
Staffan Elgelid

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Butera, Kristen, 1974- author. | Elgelid, Staffan, author.
Title: Yoga therapy : a personalized approach for your active lifestyle /
Kristen Butera, Staffan Elgelid.
Description: Champaign, IL : Human Kinetics, 2017.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016049236 (print) | LCCN 2016051572 (ebook) (print) |
LCCN 2016051572 (ebook) | ISBN 9781492529200 (print) | ISBN 9781492531388
(ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Hatha yoga--Therapeutic use.
Classification: LCC RM727.Y64 B888 2017 (print) | LCC RM727.Y64 (ebook) | DDC
613.7/046--dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016049236
ISBN: 978-1-4925-2920-0 (print)
Copyright © 2017 by Kristen Butera and Staffan Elgelid
All rights reserved. Except for use in a review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying, and recording, and in any information
storage and retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
This publication is written and published to provide accurate and authoritative information relevant to the subject matter presented.
It is published and sold with the understanding that the author and publisher are not engaged in rendering legal, medical, or other
professional services by reason of their authorship or publication of this work. If medical or other expert assistance is required, the
services of a competent professional person should be sought.
The web addresses cited in this text were current as of November 2016, unless otherwise noted.
Acquisitions Editor: Michelle Maloney; Developmental Editor: Tom Heine; Managing Editors: Tom Heine and Nicole Moore;
Copyeditor: Annette Pierce; Permissions Manager: Martha Gullo; Senior Graphic Designer: Nancy Rasmus; Cover Designer:
Keith Blomberg; Photograph (cover): es/Getty Images/iStockphoto; Photographs (interior): Neil Bernstein, unless otherwise
noted; Photo Asset Manager: Laura Fitch; Visual Production Assistant: Joyce Brumfield; Photo Production Manager: Jason
Allen; Senior Art Manager: Kelly Hendren; Illustrations: © Human Kinetics; Printer: Sheridan Books;
We thank the YogaLife Institute in Wayne, Pennsylvania, for assistance in providing the location for the photo shoot for this book.
Human Kinetics books are available at special discounts for bulk purchase. Special editions or book excerpts can also be created to
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The paper in this book is certified under a sustainable forestry program.
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E6772

Yoga Therapy
A Personalized Approach
for Your Active Lifestyle

contents
Acknowledgments vii
Introduction: A Story of Collaboration, Innovation, and Perspective
xi

part I Fundamentals of Yoga Therapy
one

What Is Yoga Therapy?

3

Understand the individualized nature of yoga therapy in creating
a distinctly personal yoga lifestyle plan that supports your health
and longevity.

two

Training Movements

13

Improve movement efficiency and quality through explorations
and examples as you create more options in all of life’s activities.

three

Connecting Brain to Body

37

Explore somatic education and the concepts of identification,
differentiation, and integration as the foundations for therapeutic
yoga movement practices.

four

Developing Focus

51

Discover how breathing, sensory mastery, visualization, and
mindfulness enhance how you experience of all of your life
activities.

part II Foundations of Practice
five

Basic Practices and Props

71

Learn foundational movement patterns for health and longevity
and explore props that will help you get the most out of your
practice.

six

Breathing and Relaxation

87

Become aware of your breathing patterns as you learn to adapt
your breath to different yoga poses designed to help you relax
and meditate.

seven

Preventing Injury
Reduce the risk of injury with safe yoga practices that help you
modify your movements and strengthen the body for endurance,
agility, and everyday activities.

iv

101

part III Poses for Lifelong Fitness
eight

Intentions and Connections

125

Experiment with awareness and your intentions as a way to
differentiate your experience of yoga practice and the activities
of daily life.

nine

Spinal Movement Poses

143

Learn basic poses and variations for the categories of forward
fold, backbend, side bend, and twist.

ten

Variations on Traditional Poses

173

Explore poses and variations related to the core, standing,
balance, and hips.

eleven Maintaining Fitness and Activity Levels

223

Refresh and renew your practice while you continue to learn and
adapt your movements through setting goals, focusing on
transitions, and maintaining agility and balance of body and
mind.
References 233
About the Authors
234

v

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acknowledgments

From Kristen
Writing a book is no joke. I first witnessed and participated in the process years
ago when I edited my husband’s books, The Pure Heart of Yoga and Meditation
for Your Life. In general, writing takes a serious willingness to explore yourself
and your ideas. Then it takes time, patience, prayer, revisions, and more time. It
also takes a village of support and love, which I had in spades. That means that I
have a lot of gratitude to express!

My Family and Friends
Writing a book can sometimes be an exercise in being alone. For the grace that they
gave me in terms of extra time, I have to thank my family and friends for being
loving and supportive forces in my life, giving me the space that I needed to work
on the project, patiently missing me, and listening to my challenges as I sorted
through the process of writing. I especially want thank my husband, Bob Butera,
for his ongoing kindness, patience, and encouragement.

My Colleagues
Thank you to my writing colleague, Staffan Elgelid, for the incredible experiences we
had together collaborating on this work over the last 5 years. Our paths intersected
at just the right time, and our interactions have changed the way I think about and
see the world. I look forward to continued collaborations and explorations in the
years to come.
Thank you to my colleague and friend Erin Byron, who worked as a content
editor. Her enthusiasm and tireless championing of the work has been an ongoing
source of inspiration to me. The guidance and insights she brought to the writing
process were invaluable, and the final product was very much improved as a result
of all of her contributions.

The Team at Human Kinetics
My thanks to the team at Human Kinetics. Acquisitions editor Michelle Maloney
asked for a manuscript proposal at just the right time. Her willingness to discuss
and explore our interests ignited the potential themes of the book, and her belief in
the value of our work made the book possible. Developmental editor Tom Heine’s
insightful comments and attention to all of the details shaped the structure of the
work. Photographer Neil Bernstein’s keen eye brought it all to life in pictures. I
know that there are even more people behind the scenes who came together to help
bring our vision into reality, and I thank you all.

vii

acknowledgments

To My Significant Teachers
When you accumulate the amount of yoga education that I have over the years,
you owe a debt of gratitude to all who forged that path of expansion of yoga in the
West. There have been many teachers over the years to whom I am grateful, but a
few stand out as having helped me become who I am today. Darlene DePasquale
helped me create the foundations of my practice and inspired me to become a
teacher. Trailblazer Paul Grilley introduced me to the concept of structural variety
and changed my approach early on in my teaching journey. Gil Hedley helped me
to connect the study of anatomy to a sense of sacred inner knowing. Movement
maven Jill Miller profoundly inspired my leadership and movement skills at a
crucial time in my personal and professional development. Bill Harvey guided my
somatic journey and helped me to integrate my experience of self. My extraordinary husband, Bob Butera, continues to be my greatest teacher. His commitment
to our marriage and the work that we do together in the world has given me a true
partner on the path of enlightenment.

The YogaLife Institute Community
As the book was being written, we moved our beloved YogaLife Institute studio.
So many people helped us clean, pack, move, unpack, and pull the new location
together. The contribution of the YogaLife community offered support during a
time of tremendous transition for me. The work they do keeps YogaLife a thriving
hub of consciousness and transformation, and for that I am eternally grateful.
In particular, senior teachers Libby Piper, Erika Tenenbaum, and Jennifer Hilbert
were early readers of the manuscript as well as early adopters and contributors to
the developing methodology. Collaborating with them is one of the great joys of my
life. The YogaLife studio manager, Erica Saellam, helps keep all of the trains running
on time, and her hard work and dedication improve everything that she touches.
Asana models Erin Byron, Al Cochrane, Derek Hopkins, and Libby Piper brought
a tremendous amount of positive energy into the photo shoot sessions. Working
with them was a joy, and the quality of the photos in the book was expanded by
their clear intentions and contributions.
And finally, a huge offering of gratitude goes out to anyone and everyone who
has participated in my classes, trainings, seminars, and asana labs over the years.
Your dedication and willingness to learn and explore continually inspires, uplifts,
and drives me forward. Seeing you discover your potential, and then share it with
others, makes me feel like I am on the side of the angels. Many blessings to you all!

From Staffan
I doubt that anyone who has written a book can thank all of the people who have
helped in various ways. There simply isn’t enough space to thank everyone. The
people I will mention are just a fraction of all who have supported me.
First, I want to thank my coauthor, Kristen Butera. It was a pleasure seeing our
ideas move from the yoga studio to the page, back to the studio for refinement,
and then back to the page in refined form. What a joy to muck around with the
concepts until we felt that they were ready to be written down. I am looking forward to continued mucking around with you and bringing these concepts to a
bigger audience.

viii

acknowledgments

To the people at Human Kinetics, you have all given us amazing support. Thanks,
Michelle Maloney, for contacting Kristen and getting the book off the ground.
Thanks to Tom Heine for editing and editing and editing. You did a phenomenal
job. Thanks to Neil Bernstein for showing us how a real professional photographer
works. It was an eye-opening experience to work with you.
A huge thanks to Erin Byron for editing the first drafts. I am sure that Tom also
thanks you since it made his job easier. Thank you to Erin Byron, Al Cochrane,
Derek Hopkins, and Libby Piper for volunteering your time. It was an absolute
treat working with you all. I wish I could make the asana look as easy and elegant
as you guys do.
I have been fortunate to have many phenomenal teachers throughout the years.
I especially want to thank some of my Feldenkrais teachers whose work, insights,
and encouragement have inspired me on my journey. Thanks to Larry Goldfarb
for giving me a Feldenkrais lesson in Wisconsin a couple of decades ago. It really
changed the way I looked at myself. I also want to thank you, Larry, for all the
great writing that you freely share with all of us. Thanks to Jeff Haller for creating
workshops and then putting the workshops on DVDs for those of us who can’t
make it to Seattle. Your insights about movement and strength are second to none.
As always, I have to thank my mentor, Yvan Joly. Thanks for always taking time
to answer my e-mails and meeting with me when I am in Montreal. Without your
guidance, Yvan, I would have been lost a long time ago. All three of you have made
an impact on how I look at movement and the development of movement. If you
had not freely shared your work with me, I could not have written this book.
To Matt and Michael my “On Your Authority” buddies, chatting with you guys
and creating the podcast every other week is a true source of inspiration. Hopefully
one day we will even get people to listen to our podcast… Oh well, we have so
much fun chatting that we would do it even without an audience!
As always, thanks to all the students I have worked with; you have taught me
much more than I have taught you.
To Helena, thanks for putting up with my crazy ideas, traveling with me to
Springsteen concerts, putting up with me teaching on weekends way too frequently,
and giving me the space to write this book. (I hope I remembered to tell you that
I have signed a contract for my next book.)
Last, but not least, thank you to everyone I didn’t mention. Thank you for
supporting me as I fumble my way through life while creating my own path. As I
look back on the path, it looks winding and hilly, and there are dead ends here and
there, but it is full of all the many good memories that you all have contributed.
Much love to all of you!

ix

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introduction
A Story of Collaboration,
Innovation, and Perspective

In the study of yoga, it is common to start in one place, only to end up somewhere
completely unexpected. The possibilities for learning through yoga are as endless
as the practice itself. Ultimately, this book is a story about one of those unexpected
journeys. It is the work of two people with similar interests and completely different
backgrounds coming together at exactly the right time to influence each other and
create a new perspective on yoga therapy practices.
My (Kristen’s) curiosity about yoga started in the year 2000. As a lifelong lover
of the arts, my first yoga classes fed my natural impulse to explore the varied
aspects of consciousness and the human experience. I dove wholeheartedly into
the study of yoga, and it changed my life for the better. In 2006, I took a leap of
faith and quit my corporate job to participate in an intensive yoga teacher training
program. That same year I met and married my husband Bob, who holds a PhD in
yoga therapy. My personal immersion into the yoga lifestyle was complete. I began
managing certain aspects of the YogaLife Institute, the yoga studio and education
center in Pennsylvania that Bob started in 1996, along with editing Yoga Living
magazine and teaching yoga classes full time.
My yoga journey toward becoming a teacher of teachers evolved at a rapid-fire
pace over the next five years. I accumulated thousands of hours of in-class teaching experience and significantly expanded my yoga education, accumulating some
2,500 hours of yoga and anatomy training. Around my fifth year of teaching full
time, I experienced a life-changing spinal injury, which took me to physical therapy. The initial work with my physical therapist required that I better understand
my movement habits and compensation patterns, and I spent the year completely
focused on uncovering old habits and exploring new movement patterns. During
that time, I took a break from practicing yoga poses and in doing so began to question some of what I had learned during my intensive training period. As I healed
and began to reapproach my yoga practice, I knew that many of the ways that
I had been engaging with the yoga poses would have to change. Inspired by the
learning that happened in my physical therapy sessions, I began to clearly understand what worked and what didn’t, and for my personal learning I augmented
my practice by exploring movement practices outside of the field of yoga. Pilates,
Feldenkrais, Continuum, Yoga Tune Up Structural Integration, Craniosacral, and
Somatic Movement therapies have all revolutionized, invigorated, or supported
my personal yoga practice.
My (Staffan’s) background growing up as an athlete in Sweden shaped many of
my ideas about the body and movement. I have always taken an interest in alternative healing, so it has been natural for me to combine that personal knowledge

xi

introduction

with my professional experience in the physical therapy world. As a physical therapy practitioner and teacher of physical therapists, I have always found inspiration
and insight through studying athletics and somatic movement practices. (Somatic
movement practices such as the Feldenkrais Method, Alexander Method, and others
emphasize the individual’s perceived internal bodily sensations and experiences as a
basis for how the person acts in daily activities.) I continue to be fascinated by the
experience of movement. Curiosity about creating more awareness through movement eventually led me to become certified in the Feldenkrais method, a training
that greatly influenced my perspective on the body and its expressions. Exploring
my movements and looking at habits changed the way I experience myself, along
with the way I understand culture and society. It also influenced the way that I
look at physical therapy.
Over the years I have worked in various settings across the United States, observing how physical therapy is practiced. I have worked with world-class athletes,
dancers, musicians, and actors to satisfy my curiosity about how habitual movement can limit performance and expression. For the last eight years, I have taught
students at the graduate level in the Physical Therapy program at Nazareth College
in New York. My classroom continues to be a laboratory where we explore the
intricacies of movement and the human body. A natural evolution of my studies
was to explore the field of yoga therapy. As a result, I became involved with the
International Association of Yoga Therapists in 2004, and in 2011 joined the Comprehensive Yoga Therapy training program at the YogaLife Institute. A year later,
I began collaborating with Kristen and teaching in the program.
The timing of our meeting was fortuitous because we were both ready to explore
different perspectives on movement and its relationship to the human experience.
During the first years of our collaboration, we got to know one another, asked
questions, and shared ideas and resources. Then we reviewed all of the movement
practices we had explored over the years and talked about their effects and what
the differences and similarities were between them in terms of learning outcomes.
What made one method more or less effective, why, and for whom? What does
effective really mean in terms of a movement practice? The more we reflected and
observed and played with different concepts in our classes and trainings, the more
interested we became in how the nervous system evolves by solving movement
puzzles. We landed on the concept of habits and created learning structures that
use variations of yoga poses to challenge the nervous system. The ability to adapt
to new environments and apply learning from yoga practices into our life activities
became of particular interest.
During our years of collaboration, we talked a lot about teaching concepts and
spent time examining a variety of teaching mechanisms and systems for exploring
movement. As educators by nature, we also talked a lot about learning styles,
pedagogy, timing, and delivery. At that time we also developed the foundational
concepts outlined in this book as we wrote presentations for the Comprehensive
Yoga Therapy training program. Of course, the work spilled over into our other
classes, workshops, trainings, and sessions with private clients along with our personal practices. When we were lucky, we got to spend whole weekends teaching
together, and in this environment, we could observe each other teach and observe
students while the other was teaching. After the practices were over, we immediately discussed the students’ experiences of the practices. As we continued to teach,
observe, listen, and discuss, we could clearly see the efficacy of the principles in the

xii

introduction

book—identification, differentiation, and integration—reflected back to us in our
students’ learning outcomes.
The timing was right, and Human Kinetics called Kristen for a proposal just at
the point where we had realized that we had enough information to write a book
about the perspective we had formed. We were excited about the opportunity to
reach folks beyond our classrooms so that they could also experience the benefits
of the structures and practices that we had created. The rest of our collaboration
story is what you are holding in your hands now. The work has already taken us
to new and unexpected places. Who knows where else we will go? For the time
being, we are considering it a living thing, and are looking forward to seeing how
you will interact with the perspective we are sharing. We are curious about how
you will use the structures for practice and what your new levels of integrated
awareness will be. It is our hope that the work that you do as a result of reading
this book will contribute to the continued enjoyment of all your life’s activities.

How to Best Engage With This Book
The purpose of this body of work is to guide you to more deeply understand yourself
through applied yoga therapy practice: to identify, differentiate, and integrate the
areas of your life that you want to realize more deeply. As you do so, be willing to
explore your movement habits in new and creative ways. Open your mind to new
experiences and get ready to have fun exploring what is possible in a yoga therapy
practice. Once you have a sense of what we are laying out as the framework for your
exploration, have fun expanding the framework and connecting the practices into
other activities. Whenever you come across a highlighted exploration in the book,
do the practices and spend time reflecting on your experience. Understanding the
structures that we lay out will be important, but taking the concepts into realized
experience will help you make more meaningful and personal connections with
what you are learning. This book is organized progressively in three parts.

Part I: Fundamentals of Yoga Therapy
This section introduces the concepts and supporting information about yoga therapy. It will explain the whys and hows of our perspective on yoga therapy practices
and illuminate how they can support your active lifestyle. This section starts you
on your yoga therapy journey with a variety of thought, movement, and breath
explorations. Chapter 1 explores the differences between yoga and yoga therapy.
Chapters 2 and 3 introduce you to the movement systems and discuss how to
connect the brain to the body, challenge the nervous system, and solve movement
puzzles. Here we also introduce the concepts of identification, differentiation, and
integration that run throughout the book. Understanding those concepts will help
you get the most out of the practices. Chapter 4 builds on that learning and introduces important information and experiences related to breathing, visualization,
sensory mastery, and mindfulness. Understanding and applying these practices will
enhance the work that you will do later in the book.

Part II: Foundations of Practice
The second part of the book offers insights into creating a practice based on inquiry
and curiosity. We start with a look at the creative use of props and then move into

xiii

introduction

exploring the concepts of structural variety, body sensations, cultivating awareness, and the limits of practice. We also explore more experiences with adaptable
breathing, meditation, and relaxation. We look at injuries from two perspectives:
first, how to prevent injuries in yoga practice and then how to use yoga therapy
practices to prevent injuries in other activities. This section sets you up to create
an intelligent and sustainable yoga therapy practice for yourself.

Part III: Poses for Lifelong Fitness
The final part of the book builds on everything that you have learned in the
previous sections and continues to expand your knowledge base of yoga poses.
You will explore the power of intention as you continue to put the principles of
identification, differentiation, and integration  into practice. You can customize
the hundreds of pose variations highlighted in chapters 9 and 10 to support your
intentions for your evolving yoga therapy practice. We encourage you to explore
and use this part of the book as much and as long as you like—there is enough
material to engage you for quite some time. We hope that you come back to this
section over and over to adapt and augment your practices as your goals and needs
change over the years. The final chapter, chapter 11, gives you more ideas for how
to use everything that you have learned in the book to help maintain your active
lifestyle. It also introduces new areas for you to focus on and play with as your
practice continues to expand and grow.
Happy exploring!

xiv

part I

Fundamentals of
Yoga Therapy

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one
What Is Yoga
Therapy?
When you think of yoga, what comes to mind? What have you thought, read, or
heard about what yoga is—or is not? The answer to this question is as varied as
the people who might answer it. Everyone brings with them a unique perspective
and history that influences their approach to yoga as an art form or discipline.
There are oversimplifications:
Yoga is all about stretching.
Yoga is a religious practice.
Yoga is a way to keep fit.
There are overreaches:
Yoga can cure XYZ condition.
Yoga is good for everyone.
Yoga is better than therapy.
And there are personal outcomes:
Yoga helps me deal with my stress.
Yoga makes me a better person.
Yoga keeps me balanced.
What’s interesting is that within the right context, any of these statements could
be considered true, even the oversimplifications and overreaches. Some people consider yoga to be a part of their fitness routine and nothing more. For many people,
yoga is part of a rich religious and cultural history. Others see it as a nondogmatic
devotional practice. Some folks dabble in all of these things but don’t consider
themselves to be a “yogi” or “yogini.” Anecdotes abound about how yoga helped
someone heal a serious health condition, lose weight, manage anxiety, minimize
back pain, reduce medications, maximize performance, increase energy, and more.
Chances are you have done some yoga or at least know a few people who have.
Perhaps a friend, physical therapist, or chiropractor suggested that you give it a
try. Maybe you’re a new yoga teacher or seasoned professional continuing your
education, hungry for new information that will empower you and your students.

3

Yoga Therapy

Whether through first- or secondhand experience, you probably have noticed
that there are about as many types of yoga as there are flavors of ice cream. Fastpaced classes that leave you needing a good shower and a gallon of water afterward
are common offerings at local gyms and studios. Less common, but still available,
are classes that gently lull you into a deep state of relaxation that lasts for hours.
Esoteric classes focusing on some of the lesser-known aspects of practice such as
balancing the chakras, chanting, or meditating also happen in local studios, parks,
community centers, clinics, and other venues. If you’re lucky, you may have experienced classes that clearly weave a combination of the aforementioned possibilities
into a well-rounded practice. While all of these experiences are different and valid,
they share a common thread: They fundamentally focus on teaching techniques in
a generalized group setting. This is a primary characteristic of what we might call
yoga classes or group yoga practices.

Yoga vs. Yoga Therapy
Because you or someone you know may have experienced some kind of profound
shift or healing in a group yoga class, it might feel like a leap for us to say that while
the outcomes may have been therapeutic, they were not necessarily yoga therapy.
Yoga therapy may look similar to regular yoga from the outside, but beneath the
surface is a discernible difference.
The primary feature of yoga therapy lies in the individualized nature and personalized learning outcomes of the practice. More than a teacher in a group class
offering you a skillful adjustment or postural suggestion for the physical practices,
it’s a practice customized just for you. Yoga therapy takes into consideration the
totality of your human experience—the unique combination of your physical body,
existing health conditions, individual history, view of the world, disposition, life
goals, inter- and intrapersonal relationships, work–life balance, emotional awareness, mental stamina, and sense of spiritual connection. Instead of generalized technique instructions that you must retrofit to your needs, yoga therapy empowers you
with support structures from which you create a distinctly personal yoga lifestyle
plan.

Yoga Therapy as a Lifestyle Practice
Yoga therapy is intended to be an integrated practice of amplifying, maintaining,
and restoring health during the various cycles of life, whether you are already active,
looking to become more active, or simply wanting to continue your beloved activities
well into your golden years. Using this practice, you can make more conscious and
proactive choices to support your health and longevity, which in turn can offer an
enhanced experience of daily life.
Yoga therapy participants are encouraged to make healthy choices about work–
life balance, nutrition, rest, relationships, movement, and thought patterns. Focusing on lifestyle factors shows promise in the areas of reducing stress, decreasing
inflammation in the body, slowing physical and mental degeneration, amplifying the
immune response, regulating physiological functions, bringing vitality and energy to
the body, managing pain, increasing body awareness, and improving musculoskeletal function. In this way, yoga therapy supports the entire person—body, energy,
senses, intellect, and spirit—in the quest to stay vital and active.

4

What Is Yoga Therapy?

Yoga therapy offers foundational lifestyle guidance from traditional yogic texts,
most notably the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Upanishads, Hatha Yoga Pradipika,
and the Bhagavad Gita. This vastly rich tradition is now incorporated into modern
health care and is studied by a diverse group of scientists and medical practitioners.
Scientists are applying their own definitions and understanding of how yoga works
to relieve a myriad of psychological and physical ailments. These coalesced resources
provide us with scientific insights, offering general guidelines for active, healthy
living. Practices include movement, breathing exercises, mental techniques, lifestyle
education, and philosophies on personal growth that are intended to bring physical
and psychological processes into balance.

Growing Evidence Base
We live in exciting times when the more traditional practices of yoga are meeting
the needs of modern society and are included in cutting-edge scientific research.
Although this kind of study offers amazing new insights into how the ancient practices work as a healing discipline, it also has pitfalls. It is challenging to quantify
something as vast and holistic as yoga therapy. When the entirety of the human
experience is taken into consideration, where does a researcher start? Is it even
possible to pinpoint where and how the healing happens? Is it the poses, breathing
exercises, changes in attitude, reduction of stress, improvement in sleep, meditation
practices, better diet, or the increased sense of spiritual connection that brought
about changes? It’s tempting to point to one thing and say, “That’s it; that is what
healed me” but often that is not the case with the holistic model. One change begets
another, and it is often the connections we make between things that are at the core
of our most powerful healing experiences.
As yoga therapists, we want to be careful about fitting into the reductionist scientific model, while remaining open to integrating the insights and understandings
that come out of scientific studies. Many smart, dedicated people in the field of yoga
therapy are working to better quantify how the practices work. The applications
that are coming out of the scientific studies are paving the way for yoga therapy
to be accepted into the mainstream health care system, which is important for the
field to progress. But we need to remain aware that trying to retrofit the vastness
of yoga therapy into the healthcare model, or reducing yoga therapy to a set of
standardized techniques, has the potential to greatly reduce its usefulness.
This requires that practitioners in the field of yoga therapy cooperate with and
learn from research, but without being beholden to the scientific model. We need
to look at how the research fits into the bigger picture so that we can refine our
scientific understanding of how yoga therapy works and at the same time keep the
holistic perspective intact. We think of this as an evolving dialogue between the
traditional mind–body orientation of yoga practices and the established fields of
medicine, psychology, anatomy, biomechanics, biology, kinesiology, and neuroscience. It is possible that we will be able to pinpoint the exact mechanism of action
in some cases, but in others we won’t. Not knowing exactly how something works
shouldn’t deter us from using it if it does. This living in and exploring unquantifiable
territory can be uncomfortable, but in many ways it is the essence of yoga itself.
Some of the most promising research supporting the use of yoga therapy is coming
out of the field of neuroscience. This book will use the nervous system as a guide
for practice, offering structures to cultivate deeper levels of awareness, sensitivity,

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