Movement and breath for individual bodies and purpose.
Yoga has proven beneficial in treating a variety of medical conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, breathing problems, asthma, musculoskeletal problems, stress-related illness and mood disorders. Yoga is also helpful in the management of pain, for improving respirator endurance and efficiency of breathing, for muscle strength, and for motor control. It helps prevent musculoskeletal problems and is beneficial for people with arthritis and those recovering from bone fractures.
Ken Pelletier in The Best Alternative Medicine, pg. 246
Students interested in Yoga therapy must be willing to practice on their own and pay out of pocket. With practice, there is a sense of empowerment from active participation in one’s own health. Students who pay out of their own pocket tend to be well-motivated. Once learned, practices are available for a lifetime.
Back care & breathing
In my experience, the most common therapeutic applications are for back care and breathing. Many times students are not interested in Yoga per se, but only in short, tailored exercises to relieve back pain or improve breathing. These are especially helpful applications of breath and movement adapted to individual bodies and purpose. For some, this may be a doorway to the broader practice of Yoga.
Yoga therapy & Viniyoga
For detailed examples of the scope of therapeutic applications in the Viniyoga tradition for common aches and pains, for chronic disease and for emotional health, see Yoga for Wellness by Gary Kraftsow. Bear in mind, however, that this is not a cookbook for indiscriminate application. These are practices for specific individuals in a specific context, often after cultivating a practice and a relationship for some time with a gifted teacher.
Classical Background & Contemporary Context
In the Yoga tradition there is a classical model of five dimensions to the human being. In western terms these roughly correspond to the physical, physiological, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. Yoga literally has tools to work on all of these levels. It is one of the original systems of what we current describe as a wholistic approach to health care. While specific conditions can be addressed in varying degree, the focus is always on the person as a whole.
Classically, Yoga might be integrated with Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medical system. In contemporary Western practice, Yoga may be integrated with allopathic as well as a wide variety of complementary and alternative therapies. For example, a physician might refer to a Yoga therapist for back care, breathing or relaxation exercises3. A Yoga therapist might refer to a physician, acupuncturist, chiropractic or many other specialties for diagnosis or complementary treatment. Yoga and bodywork are obviously good combinations.