Interview on Yoga Therapy | with Dr. Kausthub Desikachar

Dr. Kausthub Desikachar was recently interviewed by Pranamanasayoga on the theme of Yoga Therapy. The full transcript of the interview can be found here in Spanish language. 

Link to Spanish interview -

The English version of the interview is presented below

1) How would you define Yoga Therapy according to the teachings of your grandfather Krishnamacharya and father TKV Desikachar? In what aspect does it differ compared to other approaches?

Yoga Therapy is a self-empowering process, where the care-seeker, with the help of the yoga therapist, implements a personalized and evolving yoga practice*, that not only addresses the illness with a multi- dimensional approach**, but also aims to alleviate his/her suffering in a progressive, non-invasive and complementary manner. Depending on the nature of the illness, Yoga Therapy can be preventative, curative, or may serve a means to manage illness or facilitate healing in the person at all levels.

  • In the classical tradition of Professor Sri T Krishnamacharya, represented through Krishnamacharya Healing & Yoga Foundation, Yoga Therapy is practiced with the following unique orientation:        
  • As a self-empowering process, where the Care Seeker is responsible for his/her healing process.
  • In an individualized, one-to-one setting
  • As multi-dimensional in its approach, often utilizing many tools of Yoga
  • As an individual centric process
  • As a context sensitive method, respecting the age, occupation, ability and
  • other parameters of the individual                            
  • As an evolving process, not an instant solution
  • As a personal and spiritual development path, and a process to develop one’s own unique strengths            
  • As a collaborative and complementary system of self-health care.

2) In Europe, Yoga is well known but customized Yoga Therapy is still considered a ‘new’ concept.  What kind of role does Yoga Therapy have in modern India?

Traditionally in India Yoga Therapy was only taught in a one-to-one manner, customized to each and every student.  However in modern times even in India, Yoga teachers are blindly following the modern approach of  one size fits all even in the field of Yoga Therapy. This approach is very dangerous because it does not take into consideration the unique differences of the care seekers on multiple levels.  Yoga therapy must only be applied individually respecting the individual capacities and needs and offering tailor made solutions to each context.

3) According to you, what would be the most important characteristic for a Yoga Therapist to develop?

In my experience and view, a few characteristics are very critical for being an efficient and responsible Yoga Therapist.

The first is excellent observation skills through which the care seekers symptoms both at gross and subtle levels can be perceived.  My own mentor TKV Desikachar was of the view that proper observation was indeed half the solution.

The second important quality is patience and the capacity to hold and sustain a care seeker in their healing journey.

Good and comprehensive training is the third critical ingredient to be an efficient care provider. The training must include both theoretical and practical knowledge of the entire range of yoga tools.  

It is also my personal belief that being a spiritual discipline, a spiritual orientation is also important quality that can help the care provider in their role as a yoga therapist. And I would count this is as perhaps the most important among all.

4) Could you define the different steps during a typical Yoga Therapy session?

Initially, prior to the first yoga therapy session, the care seeker engages in a pre-consultation, which involves them becoming fully aware of the yoga therapy process, and what is required from their side. It also includes them filling out a care seeker record, where not only their personal demographic information is collected but also their health related parameters and expectations.

Then with informed consent, the care seeker begins the journey with the yoga therapist through the first session, which is called as consultation.  In this meeting the care provider, here the Yoga therapist, observes and interview the student, to fully understand their health status and capacities. This process involves observation, oral interview as well as pulse diagnosis and other related forms of observation.  

Towards the end of this session, which generally lasts anywhere between 30-90 minutes, an assessment of what kind of tools may be beneficial for the student and which direction to take is arrived at and the first Yoga Therapy practice is taught.  The first practice may be taught on the same day itself or at another date depending on mutual convenience of the care seeker and the care provider.

This practice can encompass multiple tools of yoga and is designed as a holistic  synergetic yoga therapy practice.  This practice must be followed by the care seeker on a regular basis as advised by the yoga therapist.  

Follow up sessions are planned at frequent intervals where the care provider observes the quality of the students practice discusses its effect on the health status and offers refinements in the practice and evolves subsequent practices which is practiced by the care seeker.  These follow up sessions can be every week or every 2-4 weeks. In some rare cases even more often like twice a week.

This process continues until there is improvement of the health condition or when the care provider feels that yoga therapy can no more help the student.

Normally all these are documented in a systematic and organized manner.

5) To the Yoga Therapist, how important is the knowledge of Ayurveda while performing an energetic and physical reading of the care-seeker? Do you often recommend dietary and lifestyle changes according to Ayurveda?

Ayurveda and Yoga share a common understanding of the human body and health . Hence the knowledge of Ayurveda can be extremely helpful to the yoga therapists.  Additionally yoga recommends dietary and lifestyle modifications as an important healing tool and this is yet another reason why knowledge of Ayurveda can be an asset.  Ayurveda also offers great teachings on how to properly observe and make assessments of the health condition. For this reason as well traditional education of yoga therapy involved the inclusion of the Ayurvedic learning.

6) Do you regularly read a care-seeker’s pulse? Could you give some examples of situations in which pulse readings should be performed? Is it difficult to learn?

Without a doubt in almost all of the yoga therapy classes, I read the care seekers pulse to fully understand their health status especially at subtle levels.

For example the pulse reading is very useful in determining which kind of illness may be more dominant when a care seeker is suffering from more than one illness.  This kind of prioritization is very important because not  all of the person’s illness can be addressed at the same time. So a yoga therapy process on based careful prioritization is important.  

In another example, sometimes the pulse is also important in helping us know whether the right side of the body or the left is more affected.  Such insights can be very useful to determine optimal yoga therapy solutions.

Learning how to read a pulse is definitely not easy to learn, but at the same time it is not too difficult as long as one is patient as a good teacher and has lot of practice.

7) After analyzing the care-seeker’s needs and objectives, what kind of resources does the Yoga therapist offer to his/her care-seeker?    

After analyzing the care seeker’s needs and objectives a holistic practice that can be made up of many different tools of yoga is designed.  This practice can include postures (āsana), breath regular (prāṇāyāma), mediation (dhyānam), dietary recommendations (āhāra niyama), lifestyle suggestions (vihāra niyama), chanting (mantra), visualizations / affirmations (bhāvanā), special energetic seals (mudrā), symbolic gestures (nyaasa) and guided self-inquiry (svādhyāya).

A good therapist will know how to bring together the critical tools of yoga therapy and formulate a simple and efficient practice. Not all of these are always needed. But the care provider must have a comprehensive knowledge of all, so that whichever is needed can be effectively and optimally chosen.

8) Do you develop a Yoga sequence for your student during the first session or do you create a sequence for her/him during the time-span between the first and second session?

An earlier question (#4) already addressed this question.

9) Should the care-seeker practice on a daily basis or is a couple of times per week enough for customized sequence to work? Afterwards, how often do you supervise his/her practice?

Normally almost all yoga therapy practices must be done on a daily basis.  However the frequency and regularity of practice is determined on a case by case basis through a discussion between the care seeker and care provider, considering the nature of their illness, the capacity that they have, the limitations of time and other related factors.

10) How do you prepare a YT sequence? Do you have fixed sequences for certain ailments / diseases or do you always create a new sequence for each care-seeker? What is the common duration of a sequence? 30 mins, an hour?

After a careful observation of the care seeker’s health status and capacities and considering their life style parameters a holistic and unique individualized yoga therapy practice is created for each care seeker.  

There are no prescribed sequences for certain diseases or ailments. Such a standardization of approach is not only inconsistent with the principles of yoga therapy but also dangerous to the care seeker.  Hence it is imperative that all yoga therapists must have the knowledge and experience to formulate unique and tailor-made solutions for each care seeker.

Depending on the nature of the illness and the capacity of the care seeker, the yoga therapy practice offered to the care seeker may range anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour long duration.

11) In Europe the cultural and work environment often leaves little time for most people to maintain a regular Yoga practice. We often come across care-seekers who at the beginning seem willing to commit to a regular practice but somehow ‘do not find the time’. Do you have a similar experience in India?

The modern era becomes more and more stressful, the constraint of time has become universal phenomena and it is also the case even in India that people find it challenging to dedicate time for regular yoga practice.  This is a universal reality today.

12) What aspects are needed in a Yoga Therapy process to make healing possible?

The most important aspect that make healing possible is a strong and sustaining relationship between care seeker and care provider.  When the care seeker and care provider are able to engage in a safe and trusting long term relationship, many layers of healing become possible. This is the most critical ingredient in my opinion.

The KHYF is very happy to announce a new batch of the KHYF Yoga Therapy Training in India, commencing in 2017.  Dr. Kausthub Desikachar will be the main faculty for this training program. Applications are now open, and we invite all those who are willing to challenge themselves in their own journey of spirituality and healing, as well as be strong containers of healing for others, to embark on this very special one-of-a-kind training. 

This unique training program will mainly present the valuable teachings of Yoga Therapy from Yoga’s own understanding of the human system, and how the Yogins evolved the extremely subtle and profoundly sophisticated tools of Yoga Therapy. 
For more information on the program and to be a part of it, kindly download the full prospectus here -