Yoga Therapy: Definition, Perspective and Principles
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Yoga Therapy: Definition, Perspective, and Principles
Richard Miller, Ph.D.

Yoga therapy may be defined as the application of Yogic principles to a particular person with the objective of achieving a particular spiritual, psychological, or physiological goal. The means employed are comprised of intelligently conceived steps that include but are not limited to the components of Ashtânga Yoga, which includes the educational teachings of yama, niyama, âsana, prânâyâma, pratyâhâra, dhâranâ, dhyâna, and samâdhi. Also included are the application of meditation, textual study, spiritual or psychological counseling, chanting, imagery, prayer, and ritual to meet the needs of the individual. Yoga therapy respects individual differences in age, culture, religion, philosophy, occupation, and mental and physical health. The knowledgeable and competent yogin or yoginî applies Yoga Therapy according to the period, the place, and the practitioner’s age, strength, and activities.

The application of Yoga therapy is from one or more of three perspectives:

1. The use of Yoga to gain a sense of power, i.e., to develop muscular power, the power to concentrate, the power to do difficult postures, the ability to work over and extended period of time, etc. This is called the application of shakti-krama.

2. The use of Yoga to heal specific problems, such as eliminating impurities in the organs (doshas) or energy centers (cakras) and channels (nâdîs) of the body. This is chikitsâ-krama.

  • If sickness is present, it needs to be cured (chikitsâ).
  • If sickness is not present, protection is necessary (rakshana).
  • If sickness is not present and one has learned how to protect oneself, training is necessary (shikshana).

3. The use of Yoga to go beyond the physical to understand what is beyond the limited sense of self; to know one’s true self as unchanging Witnessing Presence (Purusha) of all that is changing (prakriti). This is called the application of âdhyâtmika-krama.

 The main principles of this form of Yoga therapy are:

1. Teach what is appropriate to the individual (yukta-shiksana).

2. Differences in different people must be respected (bheda).

3.  Teachings must consider the situation, place, or country from which the student comes (desha).

4.  Each person needs to be taught according to his or her individual constitution, age, disposition, etc.(i.e., obese, lean, young, old, etc.) (deha).

5.  The method of instruction depends on the time of year, the seasons, etc. (kâla).

6.  Depending on the occupation of the student, he or she will need to be taught different things (e.g., a runner would be taught differently than a philosopher) (vritti).

7.  One must understand the capacity of the student, how much endurance he or she has, how much memory, how much time to study or practice (shakti).

8.  The teaching must conform to the direction of the mind (i.e., it must take a person’s interests into account, such as exercise, devotion, God, chanting, etc.) (mârga).