Yoga Therapy—What It Is & How to Get Started

By Dana Jean Costantino

Yoga and Therapy are two practices for the mind and body that are ever more important these days. We all seem to be so much more in-tune with the desire to get grounded, stay grounded and be well in mind, body, soul and spirit. As it turns out, there is in fact Yoga Therapy. While I have a Yoga Certification and have gone to Therapy, I had never experienced Yoga Therapy and was eager to not only learn more about it and what it entails and how it can help to heal, but where we can access Yoga Therapy here in NYC as well as what we can expect to gain from going and how to, if interested, become a Yoga Therapist.

In order to get a better understanding, I connected with Lorena Tapiero; She is enrolled in Loyola Marymount University’s Yoga Therapy Rx program (4-year pathway) and is currently working towards her clinical hours to receive her C-IAYT credentials. Below is a question and answer meant to help you get acquainted with Yoga Therapy. I hope that you find this information as purposeful as I did. I wish you all a mindful and meaningful month of May ahead.

What is Yoga Therapy?

The goal with Yoga Therapy is to empower people to progress toward a state of optimal health–emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually through the application of yogic practices & principles. Yoga Therapists are uniquely trained to work as part of an integrative setting and provide specific yogic modalities tailored to the health needs of the individual. As stated by Felicia Tomasko, Practicum Coordinator at the Center for Religion and Spirituality at LMU & Editor-in-Chief of LA Yoga Magazine, “Some of the tools and techniques used by Yoga Therapists include but are not limited to the following: meditation and mindfulness techniques and practices, asana/posture as well as stretching, functional movement, relaxation techniques, stress reduction tools, sleep hygiene, breath awareness practices, journaling and self-inquiry, and daily routine suggestions. Yoga Therapy features the utilization of a comprehensive assessment done by the Yoga Therapist. Some of the areas assessed include but are not limited to the following: posture, functional movement parameters, range of motion, breath, biopsychosocial components of well-being, daily routine, and meditation experience and opportunities for more training.”

What are some prerequisites you need in order to enroll in a Yoga Therapy program?

I-AYT (International Association of Yoga Therapists) accredits Yoga Therapist training programs and certifies Yoga Therapists internationally. As per I-AYT guidelines, a certified yoga therapist has undertaken specialized training beyond that of a Yoga Teacher, in accordance with I-AYT educational competencies for the training of Yoga Therapist or has met IAYT’s requirements for certification under alternate pathways. The prerequisites for entering any I-AYT accredited program is at least 200hrs of Yoga, teacher training, at least one year of teacher training experience and a regular personal practice.

How does Yoga Therapy differ from traditional Yoga?

A hallmark that differentiates Yoga Therapy from Yoga teaching is the presence of an individual intake and assessment. Yoga Therapists use the assessment process to identify any risk factors or contraindications to ensure the safety and appropriateness of the yoga therapy intervention and develop an appropriate therapeutic and tailored plan.

Here in NYC, where can you gain access to Yoga Therapists?

The field of Yoga Therapy is a burgeoning career, and the time couldn’t be more apropos to take control of one’s self-care and well-being. IAYT was founded in 1989 by Larry Payne, PhD, and clinical psychologist Richard Miller. Larry went on to establish Loyola Marymount’s Yoga Therapy Rx program within LMU’s Center for Religion and Spirituality, currently in its 17th year with 1,000 graduates. Richard Miller developed the i-Rest Yoga Nidra protocol which is practiced worldwide across VA hospitals, active-duty soldiers, the homeless population, the incarcerated and people experiencing issues such as sleep disorder, PTSD, chemical dependency, chronic pain and related disorders. Based on current studies with iRest in the military, the Defense Centers of Excellence has approved iRest as a Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Currently, Yoga Therapy is not covered by insurance (it’s a work in progress), but wellness centers such as Health Quarters in NoHo offer Yoga Therapy as a wellness service, and in the coming years, they will open locations in the Upper West Side and Brooklyn. Some hospitals within NYC that offer integrative wellness services for patients are NYU Langone, VA Hospital, New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and The Dean Ornish Program, which is reimbursed by Medicare nationwide, is the only integrative lifestyle program scientifically proven to reverse heart disease. Currently, the closest Ornish Reversal program to NYC is New Jersey or Pennsylvania.

How long is a normal course of Yoga Therapy treatment or is it ongoing?

It depends on the individual; the idea is to meet the person where they are. One session is better than none, but to experience the true benefits of Yoga Therapy, one-two sessions a month for at least six sessions is ideal.

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