What Is Yoga Therapy

Jeanette Conery

By Jeanette Conery

The International Association of Yoga Therapists (the accrediting body for all yoga therapists) says that “Yoga Therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the philosophy and practice of Yoga.” It’s important to know that yoga therapists aren’t setting out to “cure” anything. My goal is to help my clients feel better. Yoga therapy is a complementary (not alternative) therapy, which means that I’m trained to work as part of your health-care team. Occasionally this means consulting with your doctor, physical therapist, chiropractor, and so on. Yoga therapy can be applied to maximize outcomes in physical therapy (PT), prepare for surgery, manage stress, improve posture, cope with chronic pain, and so much more.

Yoga therapy is unique in that it addresses the entire person. In my own style of teaching, nothing is “off limits.” I use whatever tools I can (and there are many) to help the person in front of me, including things such as self-myofascial release, cognitive behavioral strategies for chronic pain, and ergonomics advice for the car, office, and travel. To me, yoga is anything that gets people to pay more attention to how they live and to live with more ease. I strive to present yoga to people in a way that’s appropriate and beneficial to the person in front of me, no matter his or her health status or abilities. I often describe my style as “yoga for people who don’t do yoga.” Whenever I hear people comment that they think yoga isn’t for them because they’re not “flexible enough,” I can’t help but smile. This yoga is for you. I frequently work with clients who don’t get up and down off the floor, who have spinal injuries and fusions, and who have severe chronic health issues. In fact, I find connecting with these people to be very rewarding.

There’s a quickly growing body of research for the efficacy of yoga therapy in improving a wide range of conditions. When seeking to use yoga as an aid to your wellness, it’s important to find a yoga therapist who is certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). These individuals have 1000-plus hours of training and a mentored clinical practicum. That’s compared to the 200 hours of training required to be a yoga instructor. While there are certainly very skilled and experienced yoga instructors in Chico, yoga therapy training integrates the practices of yoga with an understanding of common medical issues, such as congestive heart disease, COPD, inflammation, joint replacements, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, and aging, to name a few. You can search for certified yoga therapists near you at IAYT.org. I’m now halfway through my yoga therapy training, which is why you’ll notice I refer to myself as a “therapeutic yoga specialist,” and not a “yoga therapist.” Yoga therapy is not a licensed profession, so there’s no law against my using the title. I choose to wait until graduation out of respect for the ethics of my profession. If you look me up on the website, you’ll find me listed as a student member. Currently, there are no C-IAYTs in Chico.

Yoga therapy is available in private sessions and group classes. The difference between a standard yoga class and a yoga therapy class is that the instructor is a certified yoga therapist, and each individual in the class has filled out an intake questionnaire. This way, the instructor is aware of the condition of everyone in the room, can keep an eye out for safety, and can structure the sequence of the class to address as many concerns as possible. At Creating a Sustainable You we offer “semiprivate” therapeutic yoga classes. These classes are set to a maximum of four participants. While these classes are extremely beneficial for a variety of people, it’s still what we call a “birdshot approach” to yoga therapy. For this reason, I encourage newcomers to have at least three private sessions with me as they’re starting out. It helps you make the most of your practice. I often send my clients home from private sessions with “homework” because I know that you’ll benefit the most from our time together if you’re connecting with your practice every day. I do my best to make these practices short and easy, so they’ll fit well into your life.

On a personal note, I absolutely love my job. I work at Creating a Sustainable You with Candi Williamson (voted best massage therapist by CNR readers for the last two years) and an amazing team of massage therapists. My work is effective because it’s sincere. Through the years I’ve learned to use yoga to deal with my own chronic pain, depression, insomnia, and stress. It’s an honor to offer these tools for the good of others. I offer two weekly semiprivate therapeutic yoga classes (Tuesday noon and Thursday 10:30am) as well as private sessions. I will offer three-hour neck and shoulder workshops in July, August, and September. Each is targeted to a different group: athletes, regular folks, and those with spinal injuries. In August I will begin a six-week series on back pain (Wednesday evenings 5:30-6:45pm). For more information or to sign up, email creatingasustainableyou@gmail.com.

Jeanette Conery is a therapeutic yoga specialist at Creating a Sustainable You.