As a subset of yoga, yoga therapy works within the nine-city model. It is founded on the recognition of the nine interpenetrating dimensions of human experience and the manner in which the interaction among the dimensions can affect the state of our health.
The ability to discriminate between each of the nine cities, understand and appropriately adapt yogic methods to address each dimension, and combine those methods together in an integrated holistic way to help an individual suffering from a singular or multiple coexisting health conditions is the art of yoga therapy. This involves tapping, harnessing, and directing the energy, pranashakti, deep within us.
The orientation of yoga therapy is to treat the whole person, seeking to change attitudes and actions that inhibit the natural healing process, and cultivate attitudes and actions that support it. The starting point in this approach is understanding and refining the inner spheres—thoughts, feelings, and behavior—from which place we can improve our relationship with the other spheres and hence the overall quality of our lives.
There are two essential elements in this process: viyoga and samyoga. Viyoga literally means “separation.” In the context of yoga therapy, viyoga refers to the process of separating ourselves from whatever is undesirable in our lives. As an eliminative process, it involves purification of both mind and body. It also involves letting go of unhealthy attachments, giving up self-destructive behavior, and breaking detrimental relationships. This is accomplished by working within the five inner spheres, utilizing specific methods to mitigate distortions of mood, thought, and behavior; balance sympathetic/parasympathetic function; and reduce or eliminate musculoskeletal or neuromuscular stress that may be contributing to ANS dysfunction.
In the context of yoga therapy, samyoga refers to the process of connecting to whatever is positive and productive in our lives.
Samyoga literally means “linking together.” In the context of yoga therapy, samyoga refers to the process of connecting to whatever is positive and productive in our lives. It involves the development of mental qualities such as kindness, courage, patience, compassion, self-restraint, endurance, one-pointedness, and tranquility. It also involves establishing appropriate priorities, practicing virtues, and cultivating positive relationships.
When we tune in to specific health conditions, the fundamental yoga teachings about cultivating vidya and viveka (knowledge and discrimination) help us separate the mix of influences from the nine spheres, which will, in turn, help us understand at an individual level what is going on and what we need to do to achieve our goals. In yoga therapy, this implies understanding the challenges in each sphere and their mutual influence on each other. The general long-term goals of yoga therapy include:
- reducing the symptoms of suffering that can be reduced;
- managing the symptoms that cannot be reduced;
- rooting out causes wherever possible;
- improving life function; and
- shifting attitude and perspective in relationship to our condition.
The practitioner of yoga therapeutic methods, under the guidance of a yoga therapist, works to change what can be changed and to manage what cannot be changed.
The practitioner of yoga therapeutic methods, under the guidance of a yoga therapist, works to change what can be changed and to manage what cannot be changed. And when faced with terminal conditions, the practitioner must embrace that fact and use the energy liberated from that insight to help break identification and realize his or her true nature as atman.
Yoga and yoga therapy offer us the means to develop the physical energy, mental clarity, emotional stability, and determination to respond to those variable conditions in the most appropriate and effective way.
In the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (2.16), he tells us that we can prepare for “that suffering which has not yet come.” Whether that preparation means that we can avoid it altogether, reduce its full impact, or create the conditions in our inner world that will allow us to embrace it depends on each unique situation for each one of us. That the conditions that normally lead to suffering are ahead is not in question. For example, our bodies will age, and though the conditions that surround that aging are variable, they do indeed exist. Yoga and yoga therapy offer us the means to develop the physical energy, mental clarity, emotional stability, and determination to respond to those variable conditions in the most appropriate and effective way.
The road ahead for all of us is open, though we must all face its inevitable end. May yoga and yoga therapy serve each one of us on that journey to one’s Self.