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What is Integrative Yoga Therapy and What Are Our Students Prepared To Do With It?
By Joseph & Lilian Le Page

Members of the "What is Yoga Therapy" panel shown here: Larry Payne, Joseph Le Page, Gary Kraftsow, and Shanti Khalsa. Other members were Mukunda Stiles, Michael Lee, Lisa Walford, and Swami Ramananda.

Joseph Le Page, Integrative Yoga Therapy, Presented at the First Annual SYTAR (Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research) Panel Discussion of "What is Yoga Therapy," January 19, 2007, Los Angeles.

I founded IYT in 1993, in part as an exploration of this very question, what is yoga therapy? Rather than being a personal project, this exploration has enjoyed the participation of many teachers and distinguished mentors from different yoga traditions and yoga therapy approaches. Through this exploration, important foundational principles of yoga therapy have emerged:

Foundational Principle #1: Yoga therapy is multidimensional healing. Integrative Yoga Therapy uses the model of the five koshas to facilitate healing at all levels of the person, including:
  1. The physical body, and all the physiological systems
  2. The energy body, including the chakras, nadis, and pranavayus
  3. The psycho-emotional body
  4. The wisdom body, the deeper level of mind where core beliefs are held and can be transformed
  5. The spiritual body, holding the possibility for recognizing our true nature as Unity.

True healing occurs when yoga therapy brings balance to all of these levels of being.

Foundational Principle #2: All the limbs of yoga are equally important and work together as a vehicle for this multidimensional healing. In relation to the healing process, each of the limbs has an essential purpose.
  1. Yama and niyama are guidelines for lifestyle alignment and change.
  2. Asana is a vehicle for healthy posture and alignment of the physical body and also a metaphor for steady and comfortable posture in daily life.
  3. Pranayama is a vehicle for expansion and channeling of the life force through breathing and breath awareness to balance the energy body and subsequently balance the flow of life force to all the physiological systems.
  4. Mudra, often included as an anga or limb in the traditional texts of hatha yoga, is a vehicle for opening, deepening, and sustaining channels of communication with the subtle body, which serves as a deep reservoir of powerful healing energy.
  5. Pratyahara, especially in the form of yoga nidra, is a vehicle for relaxation and deconditioning of all the psychological patterns that feed the stress response and subsequent stress-related illness.
  6. Dharana is focusing awareness, and re-focusing of that awareness toward the true self, the source of health and healing.
  7. Dhyana, meditation is the path to and state of natural health: integration of body, breath, mind and spirit.
  8. Samadhi is our own true nature as Unity, which is the essence of health and healing from the yoga perspective.
Foundational Principle #3: Unity is health; yoga therapy is spiritual healing. The traditional texts of yoga focus on the ultimate healing that comes from spiritual liberation, freedom. The day-to-day work of the yoga therapist often focuses on the need for healing at relative levels, such as pain relief in the physical body and stress relief in the mind. These relative needs for healing can be held within the wider vision of healing as freedom and liberation. Physical healing can be seen as the freedom of the body to function in its own intrinsic order and wholeness. Energetic healing is the freedom to explore and integrate fully our energetic being while liberating it from energy blockages. Psycho-emotional healing is freedom from constricting thoughts and emotions and the freedom of the mind to rest in its natural state, serenity and objectivity. Healing of core beliefs is freedom from all the demands we place on ourselves and the world to prove, to compete, and to possess, that fuel the stress response. Spiritual healing is the freedom to simply be who we truly are.

Foundational Principle #4:
Illness is separation. Physical illness is related to stress, and in yoga therapy the stress response is seen in the wider context of the five kleshas, or obstructions, that are the deeper source of illness: The kleshas are:
  1. Avidya - a sense of separation that comes from confusing our true self, timeless Unity, with our changing personality.
  2. Asmita - identification with and seeking solutions through the personality, where the "I", with all of its expectations, is always at the center of every situation.
  3. Raga &
  4. Dvesha - the binding likes and dislikes that form a cycle of craving and seeking happiness only through the personality.
  5. Abinivesha - existential fear and anxiety that go along with identifying myself as a limited and mortal.
These five kleshas are the fuel for the stress cycle and resulting stress-related illness. In our everyday work as yoga therapists, we offer stress management techniques in the form of postures, breathing, etc, but what distinguishes our work as yoga therapists is our deeper understanding of illness as separation and health as unity.

Foundational Principle #5: Yoga therapy is an art and science that can be applied specifically to the needs of individuals and particular health conditions. When we combine all of the foundation principles into an integrated system, including #1, the model of the five koshas, #2, the importance of all the limbs of yoga, #3, yoga therapy as spiritual healing, and #4, understanding that the kleshas and subsequent stress response are the source of illness, a comprehensive art and science of yoga therapy emerges. This science can be applied to any individual or group, with any health challenge.
Students of Integrative Yoga Therapy learn to unfold this system, both in individual sessions and in therapeutic group programs, in the fields of healthcare, education, and spiritual transformation. Using yoga as a vehicle for healing the individual, society, and the planet, the yoga therapist is also transformed, coming to recognize his or her own nature as oneness.

 

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