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ELEMENTS OF YOGA CHIKITSA, Yoga as a therapy. An article by Ciara Cullen and Christophe Mouze.

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In this article we will look briefly at yoga as therapy, specifically how this can happen in the West. A lot of people in the West seek out yoga because they hope it might prove to be a means of healing an ailment or an injury. These ailments can range from stiff or painful backs to more serious conditions like asthma or depression. Indeed, the world in which we live, the day to day postures we assume, the stress which many are under, and barely able to cope with, has created a large segment of the population in the West who are in need of yoga therapy.

Yoga is a remedial tradition, maintaining that our physical condition, emotional states and attitudes, dietary and behavioural patterns, lifestyle choices and personal relationships, and the environment in which we live and work are all intimately linked to our wellbeing and state of health. We have developed conditioned patterns (samskaras) which influence our thought patterns, our perceptions, our behaviour, and our bodies. But because we live amid constant flux, we are always faced with the opportunities of changing these patterns. In yoga therapy, therefore, we are first and foremost seeking to change attitudes and actions that inhibit the natural healing process. Moreover, healing takes place not only on the physical level, but also on the vital, mental, emotional and spiritual level. Yoga means ‘union’, referring to the relationship or balance that should exist between the body, the mind and the spirit. The orientation of yoga therapy is to restore balance between these three elements.

Numerous examples or high profile success stories can be cited in terms of yoga therapy. Among the most well known is that of BKS Iyengar who came to world attention as a yoga guru as a result of ‘treating’ the world renowned violonist Yehudi Menuhin, after the latter came to him with tendonitis of one hand which was threatening his musical career. With the help of Iyengar, Menuhin was able to cure himself through his yoga practice, and became a leading proponent of yoga in the West.

Any examples of yoga therapy that could be cited involve a teacher, a student and a practice, for yoga therapy depends upon the relationship between a teacher and a student. The yoga tradition has practices that will address any condition, at any level of the human system, yet theses practices must be adapted to the individual, and modified constantly as the individual progresses. This is the role of the teacher.

In the West, ‘therapy’ is becoming an ever-increasing boom industry, with types of therapy ranging from Reiki and various from of energy healing to massage and other types of body work. The eclectic mix of what is on offer can only be a good thing, but the down side is that much of what passes as alternative therapy is neither grounded in culture nor practice nor tradition. We are so conditioned by our conventional allopathic medical culture, where cures are sought through treating the symptom, that sometimes even alternative methods of healing therapies are being turned into an industry, where the ‘clients’ believe they can buy a cure (albeit a natural or seemingly ‘holistic’ one) off the shelf.

The practice of yoga has strong therapeutic value. But the path of yoga, which must be followed in order to reap these benefits, can sometimes be a challenging one at first, for it is something which simply cannot be handed over to a patient, ready-made. All chances of healing will end there if the student does not do the prescribed practice. Yoga, and yoga therapy is all about doing. Without consistent practice, there can be no yoga therapy. Attending a yoga class once a week will not lead to the transformation of the body, the mind or the spirit. It is the individual practice, the doing of yoga on a daily basis which will provide the basis for yoga therapy. This is the beauty of yoga therapy, it hands back to the patient, which we would rather call a student, responsibility for their own health and well being. For, as Pattabhi Jois is famous for saying: "Do your practice, and all is coming".

Ciara Cullen and Christophe Mouze