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A Holistic Approach to Yoga Therapy

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By Julia Quinn, Twisted Root Yoga

“Yoga therapy” is a phrase that’s popping up more and more in yoga studios and medical clinics across the country. Surfacing questions are: “What is yoga therapy and where can someone find it? Is it covered by insurance? Who is a qualified yoga therapist? How is a yoga therapist different from a yoga instructor at a studio teaching to the public?” 

Yoga therapy is different from a typical yoga class in that it is set up to provide one-on-one instruction in a therapeutic setting. When a yoga practitioner shows up to a group class, she is participating with a number of individuals, all with differing therapeutic needs. The group yoga classes are beneficial to a high percentage of students; however, as more people understand the benefits of yoga, the more popular yoga classes become. The increase in class size puts more stress on the individual with special circumstances and more load on the instructor. 

Yoga instructors face a number of challenging population types and not all yoga certification programs are created equal. Most yoga teacher trainings do not have time to thoroughly train an instructor on how to handle the diversity of her clientele’s circumstances. For example, a yoga student managing her autoimmune disorder/chronic illness will have different therapeutic needs compared to a yoga student practicing for orthopedic rehabilitation.

Twisted Root Yoga’s therapy sessions are designed to tailor specific techniques used in yoga to alleviate symptoms associated with chronic illness, pain, injury, pregnancy, mental health imbalance and/or neurological and physical rehabilitation. If a student is suffering from an autoimmune disease that produces inflammation in certain areas of her body, i.e. effecting the valves of her heart, a group class practicing inversions (the head is below the level of the heart), is not appropriate for her and is potentially dangerous. It is important for a yoga student with special circumstances to understand how yoga can help and, equally important, how yoga can exacerbate her condition. Before an individual starts a yoga curriculum, talking to a health care provider is imperative in order to understand the contraindications for certain health conditions and the physical and/or mental symptoms that one may experience. 

Unfortunately, a client seeking yoga therapy is left with finding a credible provider on her own. It is important to ask the right questions when choosing a yoga therapist, especially questions around the yoga therapist’s experience with the condition a client is looking to manage. Understanding the scope of a yoga therapist’s training and also discussing her treatment approach will help an individual determine if the therapist is a good fit. Just because a yoga therapist has an advanced teaching certificate (500 hours with Yoga Alliance) does not mean she is properly trained in applying therapeutic yoga. There are advanced yoga therapy schools with excellent curricula on how to provide safe and effective therapy sessions. However, these schools design a curriculum and teach according to their own approach. With the freedom to write each curriculum without any standard of care, training programs can create innovative yoga therapy models based on their brand or name. On the contrary, without a standard of care, it is difficult to determine which program is a credible source and which program is a worthwhile investment. 

Daniel D. Seitz published an article in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy (2010) talking about these issues. He states, “In an emerging profession, before schools gain authorization to grant degrees, they generally issue a certificate or diploma signifying completion of the training. This may lead schools to state that they are certifying practitioners. However, certification within a profession is meant to be a uniform, objective credential, not one that varies from training program to training program.” The International Association of Yoga Therapy is currently working on a standard of care. The hope is to come up with a formal evaluation that all training programs recognize in order to increase the credibility of these programs and the credibility of the yoga therapy profession. 

For practitioners at Sandpoint’s Twisted Root Yoga, we believe it is imperative for yoga therapists to have advanced training in anatomy, physiology, and the biological processes of the human body at the university level. A yoga therapist might be a medical health care provider who is a certified yoga instructor; a yoga instructor who has worked with or mentored under physicians/P.A.s/nurse practitioners/psychotherapists; or a yoga instructor who has completed programs involving medical research, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. Experience and education in understanding the application of pharmaceuticals, utilizing natural remedies/Aryuvedic principles and working in clinical settings with a diverse patient population is essential to understanding how to apply the system of yoga therapy. 

Yoga therapy is not yet covered under medical insurance. However, if an individual is working with a yoga therapist who is also a physical therapist or an occupational therapist, your yoga therapist has the ability to determine what yoga practices are recognized and covered by insurance companies. Requesting physical therapy with a yoga therapist who is a licensed physical therapist requires an order from a health care provider and in turn, a plan of care submitted to the health care provider and the insurance company from the physical therapist. 

More and more evidence-based medicine is coming out on the benefits of yoga therapy. The more yoga is investigated on a scientific level pertaining to the therapeutic advantages for different patient populations, the more likely insurance companies may cover yoga therapy in the future. In recognition of the importance of evidenced-based medicine in yoga therapy, Twisted Root Yoga is launching community based yoga therapy research programs to help continue advancements in yoga therapy. 

For more information on yoga therapy, please visit online iayt.org, or contact Twisted Root Yoga, located at 323 Pine Street, Sandpoint, Idaho. Please visit twistedrootyoga.com or call 208-963-9642 to schedule your free 30-minute consultation with Julia Quinn and/or Daniel Quinn, P.T. For group yoga class information, please contact The Integrative Athlete by calling, 208-946-4855 or visit theintegrativeathlete.com for current schedules and facility specialties.

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Sandpoint Wellness Counci Sandpoint Wellness Counci The Sandpoint Wellness Council is an association of independent, complementary wellness practitioners located in Sandpoint dedicated to holistic health care. Pictured are: Owen Marcus, Penny Waters, Robin and Layman Mize, Ilani Kopiecki, Krystle Shapiro and Mario Roxas

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