The tools of yoga therapy

Did you know you can do yoga therapy from anywhere? All that’s required is an intention to practice! No fancy clothes, no special equipment, and DEFINITELY no particular physical abilities needed!

Yoga therapists have at their disposal all of the tools of yogic practice, which they use to promote health and well-being within the context of a therapeutic relationship. In the West yoga is often equated with special stretching exercises or a physical workout, but yogic practice includes so much more—and all of these tools can be adapted to serve an individual client’s needs!

Here’s a quick tour through some of the most commonly used yoga therapy practices.

Breathwork, or pranayama, is one of the traditional eight limbs of yogic practice. Consciously changing your breathing pattern is an effective way of bridging the physical and mental-emotional aspects of our systems. Depending on the variation used, breathwork can affect your energy in a number of ways—calming or energizing, for instance—and it’s a gateway to other practices of concentration, focus, and introspection.

Meditation, like breathwork, is an important yogic practice that takes many forms. Trouble sitting still? Your yoga therapist might recommend a walking meditation to help you settle the mind. Focusing on an object such as a candle flame or on cultivating a quality such as compassion are some of the other ways in which you might be encouraged to look within.

Mantra, at its most basic, is a sound we’ve imbued with meaning. A yogic tool for controlling thoughts and possibly accessing peaceful states or deeper meditation, mantra can be repeated aloud or silently.

Mudra refers to gestures, usually shapes made with the hands and fingers. The different patterns are said to affect our systems in different ways, possibly related to the strong neurological connections between our hands and our brains. These effects make mudra a means of experimenting with the subtle shifts created with our intentions and by moving our bodies in particular ways. Like mantra, mudra can be a meditative tool, too.

Philosophical principles are at the root of yogic practice. Your yoga therapist might suggest working with a certain yama or niyama (the ethical principles of yoga that we can use to ease our suffering), or studying a foundational text like the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita.

And yes, your yoga therapist might employ that most familiar of yogic practices, the physical postures of asana. In Sanskrit, the traditional language of yoga, asana means “to sit with”—you’re essentially sitting with yourself and using the postures to explore the nonjudging witness Self at the core of your being. Even though they’re performed on the gross physical level, the poses are still a way of exploring your own system, inside and out. Infinite variations mean that yoga postures can be adapted to be accessible to anyone (sometimes through visualization!) and to help address a range of conditions and life circumstances.

Yoga therapy is completely customized based on an individual assessment and on goals you co-create with the yoga therapist, even when you’re working in a small-group setting. This individualized, client-driven approach means that any of these practices can be a starting point to improved health and well-being. Find an IAYT-certified yoga therapist to identify your own beginning here.