The Art of Yoga Therapy
by Dr. Kausthub Desikachar
‘Asastra sastracikitsa’ is how the legendary Yogi T Krishnamacharya defined the process of Yoga Therapy. Literally translated this means that Yoga Therapy is akin to surgery without surgical instruments. The grand master Krishnamacharya was a pioneer of not just creating a renaissance in the field of Yoga practice, but also has been one of the foremost authorities on reviving the ancient art of Yoga Therapy for the benefit of mankind.
Towards this goal the master took many steps not only to put this field into practice, but also to popularise it during a a challenge time in the history of traditional Indian sciences. His sustained dedication paid off and today Yoga Therapy is gaining immense acceptance in the modern era and is often resorted to by many as a valuable complimentary system of healthcare.
Krishnamacharya revived a lost text of Yoga such as Yoga Rahasya which focuses a lot on Yoga as a therapeutic approach. He gave countless speeches at conferences and also through the radio to promote this ancient art of healing. He also wrote numerous articles and even some unpublished books on this theme so that the public may be aware of the same. An example of his yet unpublished work is a collection of articles titled ‘Yogabhyasa Deharogya’. Literally translating as ‘Yoga practice and health of the body,’ these articles explore the topic of Yoga Therapy in a systematic and detailed manner.
In the tradition of T Krishnamacharya, Yoga Therapy can be defined as a self-empowering process, where the care-seeker, with the help of the yoga therapist, implements a personalised and evolving yoga practice*, that not only addresses the illness in a multi- dimensional manner, but also aims to alleviate his/her suffering in a progressive, non-invasive and complimentary manner. Depending on the nature of the illness, Yoga Therapy can not only be preventative or curative, but also serves as means to manage the illness, or facilitate healing in the person at all levels.
A summary of the most important salient features of Yoga Therapy in the holistic tradition of Krishnamacharya are presented below.
(i) Yoga Therapy is a self-empowering process
Yoga Therapy empowers the individual to take responsibility for his/her own healing process. The care seeker is fully active in the process and with the direction of the Yoga Therapist aim to understand his/her condition, the causes for such a condition and must engage in a disciplined practice of the recommended tools to improve his/her own health. The role of the Care Provider is limited to providing direction and being a supportive container, while the Care Seeker empowers oneself to overcome the illness. This is in contrast to many of the other healing methods where the Care Seeker is often helplessly passive. Yoga Therapy hence is a very positive healing methodology where the individual has the primary responsibility of healing oneself.
(ii) Yoga Therapy is non-invasive
Yoga Therapy uses only the body’s own resources such as body, breath, mind, emotions, voice etc. rather than external interventions such as surgery or pills. In this manner Yoga Therapy is safe and a feasible possibility for everyone as no external interventions need to be paid for. When also implemented correctly it does not provide any side effects as only the body’s internal resources are being used. Being non-invasive it also becomes a very safe system to be used as a complimentary system of health care along with other healing modalities.
(iii) Yoga Therapy is multi-dimensional in its approach
Rather than viewing the body as a collection of individual parts, Yoga Therapy views our human system as a holistic entity of many interconnected aspects. Primarily it views our human system as being constituted of five primary aspects - physical, energetic, intellectual, behavioural and emotional; which are closely related with and influence one another. Hence it also provides tools that are addressing these different aspects of our being. Some examples of the wide range of tools used in Yoga Therapy include (but is not limited to) postures (asana), breath regulation (prayanamya), meditation (dhyanam), dietary recommendation (ahara niyama), lifestyle suggestions (vihara niyama), chanting (mantra), visualizations / affirmations (bhavana), gestures (mudra), and guided self inquiry (svadhyaya).
In this manner it is very clear that the approach of Yoga Therapy is multi-dimensional.
(iv) Yoga Therapy is personalized & individual centric
Rather than put all individuals into a box or a set of boxes, Yoga Therapy actually respects and appreciates the uniqueness of each individual. It views each person as a unique individual and approaches healing in a one-to-one manner. It considers various parameters such as age, health condition, occupational status, place of living, individual consitution, personal needs, individual capacities and a host of other parameters. It also respects that even if two people have similar illnesses, their experience of it and suffering from it may differ. It respects these differences as well as valid realities and centers the healing process around the individual experience. In these ways Yoga Therapy does not support the concept of one-size-fits-all approach, but rather it facilitates the evolution of a process that is unique to each individual.
(v) Yoga Therapy is context sensitive
Yoga Therapy is highly context sensitive. This means that its approach to individual care differs from one context to another. This is primarily because the experience of each individual varies from context to context. For example the experience of a person suffering from asthma who is living in a polluted environment, is certainly different from another suffering from it in a very clean environment. It is also important to understand that it can differ if he moves from an environment that is polluted to an environment that is clean. Similarly, the experience of a depressed patient who has family support will differ from that of a person who has no family support. Yoga Therapy respects this aspect that with changing circumstances the disease and its experience will also change. Hence its process of healing is also context sensitive and addresses care seekers while fully understanding the context.
(vi) Yoga Therapy is an evolving process, not an instant solution
One of the most importnat aspect of Yoga Therapy is that its an evolving process and not an instant solution. Since Yoga Therapy is a non-invasive approach and using only the body’s own resources, it definitely takes a bit longer time than external interventions. While this can be seen as a disadvantage by some, it actually is an advantage in that it offers a long term self sustaining solution. Because each of us keep changing over time, our context and parameters are always varying. Yoga Therapy celebrates this dynamic nature of life and hence it allows its practice to evolve with the individual over a period of time.