A yoga therapy clinic that bridges yoga and healthcare


By Claire Whittleston

Merging yoga and healthcare: A long-time dream

Offering yoga therapy for those with pulmonary issues is close to my heart because my own mother suffered for 7 years with a rare lung disease known as cystic fibrosing alveolitis. I watched her slowly lose all quality of life, as she was robbed of her breath and energy. I sadly lost my mother when I was 20, after a lung transplant that went horrifically wrong.

My mother not only suffered from the lung disease for 7 years, but she also suffered from depression and anxiety, which worsened with the drugs she’d been given to help manage her discomfort. Knowing first-hand the physical as well as the mental and emotional effects patients and their families/caregivers can face, today I’m eager to offer yogic support.

I found the healing process of yoga as I struggled to come to terms with losing my mother. I only wish I’d known about yoga therapy sooner—to help my mother and myself. As a graduate of the Beaumont School of Yoga Therapy—the first yoga therapy school in a hospital setting—opening The Yoga Clinic Michigan seemed a natural step forward. Many students come to me during regular yoga classes to say they’re suffering with pain or disease, and I wanted to provide a place for them, a setting where those with physical, mental, and emotional trauma could access yoga therapy that caters to their specific needs.

What can you expect at a yoga therapy clinic?

My yoga clinic offers private yoga therapy sessions and more general small-group classes. Like visiting a physician’s office, you don’t need a mat or fancy clothes, and you can come as you are. The yoga therapist will get to know you through an intake form and discussion about your lifestyle, and you’ll work together to create practices that suit your needs and goals. In my clinic, specific breathwork practices, slow movements, and relaxation techniques give clients tools to support self-management.

Yoga therapy is clinically viable, with established programs at healthcare centers such as The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Cleveland Clinic, and many others. Yoga therapy can complement and accompany traditional medicine and treatments, and patients appreciate the option of a self-empowering modality. It’s still a new field, but more research on yoga therapy’s effectiveness is emerging all the time, paving the way for physicians to prescribe yoga therapy.

I’m originally from the U.K., and I have noticed a few yoga therapy clinics opening up there. This past February, I attended London’s first Yoga in Healthcare conference hosted by the Yoga in Healthcare Alliance at the University of Westminster. The conference brought together key opinion leaders and pioneers in yoga, healthcare, yoga research, health policy, and government to address how to integrate yoga therapy into mainstream healthcare. That event inspired me even more to open The Yoga Clinic!

Why try yoga therapy?

Still curious about what a session at a yoga therapy clinic might look like? Thinking about how your doctor works may help: Whereas Western medicine tends to treat a patient’s symptoms, yoga therapy addresses different levels of the human energy system to work with the whole person rather than just the condition. In a one-to-one session, I can tap into a client’s physical, mental, and emotional levels so they can increase strength, stability, restfulness, and composure—depending on their goals and the needs of their body, mind, and spirit.

Yoga therapy assists in decreasing the effects of disease and discomfort through adaptive physical movement, breathwork, relaxation techniques, and more, helping individuals to manage and sustain their own well-being.

Claire Whittleston, C-IAYT, RYT-500, is a yoga therapist who specializes in physical, mental, and emotional trauma. She is an Accessible Yoga Ambassador and owns The Yoga Clinic Michigan LLC, which provides private yoga therapy sessions and small-group adaptive yoga classes and workshops.