Yoga Therapy 101: What It Is, How It Works, and What to Expect

March 10, 2021
Preventive Care

Yoga Therapy uses the tools of yoga to progress you towards optimal health. Certified Yoga Therapist Gabriella Barnstone answers your FAQ's.

At HealthQuarters, we offer yoga therapy through Yoga Physical, a practice that’s led by renowned, certified yoga therapist Gabriella Barnstone. As the name would suggest, yoga therapy uses the tools of yoga—physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation—to help patients treat or recover from specific conditions. Whether you’re new to yoga as a discipline or to yoga therapy as a healthcare option, here’s what you should know.


What is yoga therapy?

As defined by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, yoga therapy is: 


“The professional application of the principles and practices of yoga to promote health and well-being within a therapeutic relationship that includes personalized assessment, goal-setting, lifestyle management, and yoga practices for individuals or small groups.”


Just to be clear, a yoga therapist is not a doctor. However, because the medical community now understands that yoga therapy can function in partnership with clinical care, your yoga therapist can work in conjunction with your doctor to provide you with a well-rounded approach to your healthcare. 


It’s worth noting that instead of a one-time treatment, yoga therapy gives you tools to build a lifelong practice of self-care. It is distinct in the world of yoga not because of the poses or pace, but instead because you’re working one-on-one with a teacher with advanced training to address your unique needs. The tools acquired in your therapeutic practice develop and expand over time, empowering you to better understand your body and ultimately make better decisions for your health and wellbeing.


What are the benefits of yoga therapy?

There are multiple, wide-ranging benefits of yoga therapy. Regular sessions allow for more optimal functional movement, can help resolve various types of muscle imbalances, and can also address the stress response to help regulate the nervous system.


Studies also show that yoga itself can actually reverse changes in brain structure that can result from chronic pain.


Who should see a yoga therapist?

Yoga therapy is for everyone. This is one of the major benefits: all of our sessions are 1-1, just like seeing your doctor or physical therapist. When working with an experienced yoga therapist you can modify the practice to fit your needs, accommodating any injuries or pre-existing conditions, and work toward personalized goals. 


What is the experience of a session like? How long will it take?

When you arrive and check in at HealthQuarters, you will be welcomed by one of our Care Guides.Your Care Guide will lead you downstairs to your Yoga Physical session.


Your yoga therapist will first address how you’re currently feeling–including what types of aches, pains, or other sensations you might be experiencing. Once identifying areas to address, your yoga therapist will place those needs in the context of any previous conditions, and create a tailored approach to best manage and improve your state of being. That approach can change from session-to-session, and could focus on everything from balance  to breathing practices and restorative poses.


A yoga therapy session can sometimes be physically challenging since your therapist may choose to work on strengthening and coordination skills. Even when it’s tough, the aim and energy will be to make the experience a fun one, and the sessions always end with an opportunity to rest in stillness for a few minutes. Though you may have been working hard, you will still exit feeling rested and clear-headed.


Yoga Physical offers 30-minute, 45-minute, and 1-hour sessions. Hour-long sessions are ideal, as this leaves time for information sharing at the beginning, targeted yoga therapy, and a recuperative rest and meditation at the end. The shorter sessions, by contrast, can be useful if you already have a diagnosis, or have limited time and are interested in working on something specific.


What should I do before and after a session?

Because yoga therapy involves physical activity, try to avoid eating right before a session. After a session, try to take what you learned on the mat and incorporate it into the rest of the day. So, if stance and gait were addressed, notice how you are standing and walking throughout your day. If you worked on regulating breathing practices to ease anxiety, think about a way to use one of those practices during your work day.


Depending on how often you are coming in for a session, there may be “homework” as well in the form of carefully designed practices that you can do on your own.


Any risks to know?

According to the NIH: 


“Yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity for healthy people when performed properly, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. However, as with other forms of physical activity, injuries can occur. The most common injuries are sprains and strains. Serious injuries are rare. The risk of injury associated with yoga is lower than that for higher impact physical activities.”


Working one on one with an experienced yoga therapist greatly minimizes the risk.


Any information you should bring to your practitioner?

Yoga provides the opportunity for awareness. Come to the practice ready to explore your awareness of how your body feels, how your breath feels, and how your brain feels. 


You should also bring any recent X-rays, MRIs, and/or relevant reports from your doctor.


And if you're interested in trying Yoga Therapy for yourself, click here to make an appointment with Gabriella.

Empowering you with a better understanding of your body.

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