When assessing pain, trauma, or injuries, Yoga Therapists are trained to ask a very different set of questions from any other kind of medical or wellness professional. This is because Yoga practitioners are trained to understand the connectedness between the mental, physical, and spiritual centers of a human being. Unlike standard Physical Therapy, a Yoga Therapist may find that an external physical ailment is actually caused by an internal energetic blockage or illness, due to their holistic approach in treating an injury. If this sounds too esoteric or far from your comfort zone, we urge you to keep an open mind. Yoga can change your life.
An Overview of Yoga Physical Therapy
According to Yogic philosophy, every single experience you have ever had is retained and imprinted within the fibers and tissues of your physicality. From a holistic standpoint, you are essentially a vessel, and energy travels through various paths within your body. The way in which it flows can be manipulated by how you move, how you breathe, and how you think. Yoga originated in India and many Eastern religions have a similar understanding of energy as the life force or vitality of a human being. In Chinese, the word for this is, “Chi.” In Japanese, it is “Ki.” In India (and in the Yoga discipline), the word is “Prana.” (“Prana” is also the word for breath, which in Yoga, is inherently linked to your life force.)
When the energy (or Prana) that is meant to flow freely through your vessel gets stuck, it manifests in physical ailments of the body. So, for example, in Western medicine, and in standard Physical Therapy, when someone has an injured hip, physiotherapy will likely involve targeting the muscles around the hip joint and mobilizing the joint itself. A doctor may prescribe pain medication or a steroid to combat inflammation. When a Yoga Therapist treats a hip injury, he or she will not only aim to mobilize the injured area with yoga poses (known as Asanas), but will also incorporate breathing and meditation exercises that target the hip and the second or Sacral Chakra. This is the home of one’s emotional self, sensuality, sexual relationships, and creativity.
Understanding the Chakras
A major difference in approach between Yoga and Physical Therapy is that a Yoga Therapist will likely treat a physical injury with sequential poses that target specific Chakras. Here is a fun fact: the word is pronounced “chah-krah,” not, “shah-krah,” as you will often hear in the Western world. “Shah-krah” actually translates to, “cucumber,” which would sound very silly in this sort of context. Imagine if your therapist came in and told you that today you would be doing a series of poses to treat your hip cucumber. Not exactly what you had in mind, right?
There are seven chakras within the human body. They are centers of energetic vibration, which cannot be shown anatomically but are aligned from the base of the spine through the crown of the head. When a Yoga Therapist moves a client through an Asana practice, they are helping that person to access and heal these pivotal centers, which are directly connected to the emotional and spiritual parts of their being. By intentionally breathing into and visualizing the release of these parts of ourselves, we are able to heal holistically, from an internal and universal space.
A Yoga Therapist will almost always say that for any physical ailment that a client may have, there is far more to the story. The story could be as direct and obvious as physical abuse or trauma. It could also be as esoteric as a car accident-related injury. In the latter case, the Yoga Therapist may conclude that the client got into an accident because he or she was rushing and has taken on too much. The remedy for the physical ailment may, therefore, involve releasing and healing energy in the solar plexus Chakra, which is where the ego lives and where we hold on to how we are perceived by others, especially in our careers and professions.
Make no mistake, however. Yoga Therapists are highly knowledgeable in anatomy and physiology. To even obtain the most basic yoga certification, one must undergo 200 hours of training and education. Typically, at least 50% of that is rooted in anatomy. Depending on the school or program, it could be much more. Yogis must have a comprehensive understanding of anatomy, injury prevention, and modifications for various medical indications (including but not limited to pregnancy).
The Health Benefits of Yoga
According to the CDC, yoga and meditation can help manage stress and can improve your memory. It also has many physical benefits, such as strengthening and toning of the muscles and improved flexibility. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are several other reasons to practice yoga, such as relief of menopause symptoms, management of anxiety disorders, clinical depression, or PTSD, and even weight loss.
The Benefits of Physical Therapy
While it may appear at first glance to mostly attract women, yoga was actually created by ancient Indian men. In fact, many of the poses (or Asanas) have been slightly adapted by Westerners to better suit the female body, given that the centers of gravity differ between genders. The benefits of yoga for men are plentiful. In addition to the aforementioned advantages, men may enjoy improved overall sexual function from a regular practice. Those who suffer from premature ejaculation (PE) may find that they have better control when adopting a consistent and habitual yoga routine into their lives.
The Western world is extremely plagued by a disconnect between body, mind, and spirit. When we ignore any of those major parts of ourselves, we become ill or injured. Yoga is a powerful practice and tool to unite the planes of human existence. The word yoga literally translates to “to join,” or “to unite.”
If you have never tried yoga because you have preconceived notions that it is just for flexible people, or only upper-middle-class housewives do it, or it is all too “woo woo crunchy granola,” think again. Yoga is for everybody and every body. It can be life-altering in the most positive of ways. Namaste.