Yoga Therapy & Yoga Cikitsa
Yoga Therapy in Historical Context
Yoga Therapy is Yoga Cikitsa
Yoga as therapy (Yoga Cikitsa) is not a new concept, nor is it the only facet of yoga. However, one can say that all yoga—if well taught and practiced mindfully!—is therapeutic yoga in that it strives to create balance. That balance can be physiological, as in good digestion and a pain-free body; mental, such as viewing others with equanimity or learning to reduce stress by changing negative thinking patterns; and, until modern times, an introspection and self-examination in order to cultivate awareness and a higher understanding of ones true 'Self.' This is in direct contrast to current yoga practices and modern-day perceptions, namely action-reaction, seeing non-doing as laziness, and lauding those who in an effort to 'achieve' push to the front without regard for their own wellbeing or the wellbeing of others.
Unlike the physical, active forms of classroom yoga most of us are familiar with, yoga at its source was a contemplative practice focused on stilling the over-active mind. Breathing techniques were used as a way to guide and control the wayward mind. No poses (asana) were developed other than learning to sit comfortably for long periods of time. In contrast, the current emphasis in yoga, worldwide, is primarily on action rather than non-action, 'doing' rather than 'being,' physicality rather than introspection and reflection.
Watch the breath mindfully.
Choose the sequence wisely.
Still the mind attentively.
Else, do not do yoga.
This mentality of 'doing' yoga has led to the rather unfortunate misconception that only those who are young, fit, and flexible can partake in yoga. Given the dynamic and acrobatic yoga classes popularized by the media and commercial studios, it is no wonder that this perception prevails. This is both sad and ironic, as the first written treatise on yoga, the Hatha Yoga-Pradipika (circa 14th century CE/AD) says quite plainly in the context of achieving benefit or health from yoga:
Whether young, old, sick or lean... Success comes to those who are engaged in the practice, for by merely reading books on yoga, one can never succeed. Success [in yoga] cannot be attained by adopting a particular form of dress. Practice alone is the means to success [in yoga].
Yoga Therapy Then & Now
In a sense it is impossible to practice yoga in an entirely undiluted form, in large part due to the effective crushing of Indian traditions during the British colonization of India. In the 1920s, at the bidding of the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnamacharya undertook to revive Hatha yoga as a means to create solidarity among young men of India directly following India's break from English rule. He taught women and men differently based upon the therapeutic benefit of yoga poses, and always stressed caution in executing poses, the appropriateness of poses depending on age, mental and physical state, and the overall importance of guiding and observing the breath at all times while practicing yoga. All branches of present-day yoga are influenced by Krishnamacharya and his longtime students who became teachers: Among these are A.G. Mohan and Indra Mohan who are known for their in-depth teaching(s).
Yoga is not an object to be reclaimed,
it is knowledge to be preserved and practiced.
__A. G. Mohan
In just the past few decades, the shift to a purely physical, competitive, and often forced yoga practice has grown exponentially. Alongside this trend is another, that of using yoga as a therapy and in essence returning to the original intention of Hatha yoga: self-practice, be it the physical self or inner self. Given that the practice of yoga is for All—young, old, well, unwell, strong, frail—why do we limit yoga to a mass group-practice wherein the individual disappears and only the barest physical form is practiced or taught? Not only can it be unsafe in such a context, especially for those who are weak or less able, but it does not cultivate the mind or draw awareness inwardly, to the effect of the yoga practice on one's mind or body. The growing use of yoga as Yoga Therapy, a one-to-one therapeutic yoga session with a yoga therapist, is much nearer the ancient concept of Yoga Cikitsa. Cikitsa is described as all actions which destroy diseases or are remedial measures (ref. Bhava Prakasha).
In this spirit, we specialize in yoga therapy for neurological conditions and neuromuscular disorders, yoga therapy for rehabilitation and disability, chronic pain management, and yoga therapy for cancer recovery, providing therapy based in the therapeutic tradition of Hatha yoga with an emphasis on breath, awareness, and long-term self-care.