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How yoga therapy helps anxiety

By Nikola Ellis, 21-Jun-2022 07:00:00

I’m no stranger to anxiety. In fact, it’s what brought me to yoga therapy in the first place. After years of debilitating anxiety and frequent panic attacks, yoga therapy offered me a pathway to healing that has supported my mental health for over 30 years. So how does yoga therapy help anxiety and what are the tools that yoga therapists use to support students experiencing symptoms of anxiety? This blog offers insights and practical tips you can start using right away to relieve anxiety with yoga therapy.

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By Nikola Ellis, 15-Jun-2022 07:30:00

Can an experienced yoga teacher who works with students with health issues call themselves a yoga therapist? Not according to Yoga Alliance. In fact, if a yoga teacher advertises their services as 'yoga therapy' without recognised yoga therapist certification, Yoga Alliance is likely to de-register them.


Why does Yoga Alliance threaten to de-register teachers who claim to be yoga therapists without recognised training? Because there is a WORLD of difference between a yoga teahcer and a yoga therapist. 


The training standards are the first major difference. Most Yoga Alliance registered teachers have completed 200 hours teacher training. Many 200 hour courses can be compelted in a few weeks (or even days) and most do not require extensive experience of yoga before enrolling.


Yoga Therapists, on the other hand, must have a minimum of 1000hrs training and at least 4 years experience. Why so much training? Because yoga therapy is both very broad and very deep in it's scope. Learning to apply the philosophy, psychology and practices of yoga to health issues as diverse as cancer, Alzheimers, asthma, musculo-skeletal pain and mental health issues, takes time.


Every yoga therapy practice is highly personalised to the individual student and there is no single way to deal with to any given condition.  You can’t simply Google ‘yoga for back pain’ and find an asana sequence that will solve everybody’s spinal problems. If it was that easy, everybody would be able to fix their own backpain using a single protocol.


The truth is, the reasons for the onset and development of any given health condition differ in each individual. From genetics through to the cultural beliefs, people respond to different techniques in different ways.  Two people with the same condition may need radically different approaches and insisting on treating two people the same way for the same condition runs the risk of causing further injury.


Yoga therapists draw on a vast body of wisdom when they assess students, including extensive knowledge of Ayurveda, classical yoga, anatomy, western medicine and psychology. Many yoga therapists are also qualified in other disciplines such as medicine, psychotherapy and physiotherapy. Others combine training in massage, naturopathy and other modalities in their practice.


There are a number of things that yoga therapists don’t do. One is to diagnose students. Another is to simply modify a yoga practice to make it easier for people with health problems to do them. This is one of the big differences between the approach of many Level 1 yoga teachers and an experienced yoga therapist. There’s no need to modify a practice if it is designed for the person in front of you.


Practicing Warrior 1 with the hands on the hips instead of in the air might avoid further injuring somebody with a sore shoulder, but will it help them heal?


A yoga therapist would likely conclude that Warrior 1 isn’t a helpful practice for a student with shoulder pain (although, in a modified form, it might be safe for them to do it). Instead, they would choose techniques that would have maximum benefit for the student’s shoulder. And those techniques might not look anything like the practice that would best help the student on the other side of the room who also has shoulder pain.


Practicing Warrior 1 with hands on hips is not wrong. It is a modification that can prevent discomfort and further injury for a student with shoulder pain. But modifying the pose so it doesn't harm a student is not the same as understanding how to develop a practice to support that student to heal their pain.


Yoga Alliance recognizes that the content of 200hr yoga teacher trainings does not cover the depth of knowledge required to safely help students manage health conditions. This is why they decided that teachers who hold Yoga Alliance certification, with no specialist yoga therapy training, cannot describe themselves as 'yoga therapists'. 


It’s a decision that may be unpopular with yoga teachers using the term ‘yoga therapy’ without formal training, but the wider yoga community welcomes an approach that encourages higher professional standards that protects both the teachers and students.


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