As Yoga becomes Therapy

As one who has practiced yoga as a spiritual path to awakening/awareness for some 40 years, I find the path that yoga is taking in the west interesting, and strange at the same time. 

Looking at magazines that are oriented toward yoga therapy, I started thinking how I didn’t sign up to teach yoga and be a “therapist”, more like a sharer of energetic tools for transformation that use the physical as a vehicle for transformation.  My main delight and purpose in teaching all these years is to help others discover the joy and freedom from the inner patterns that create outward misalignments in the body, not to focus on the body so much that the essence is forgotten.

As Mark Whitwell, long-time yogi–stated so beautifully, we already are yoga, are in essence wise, pure, at one with spirit.  I see my work as helping people release whatever is hindering them so they can know themselves as that– the therapy of rediscovering Oneself.

Yogi Bhajan, master of Kundalini Yoga, must have intuited this trend toward yoga as therapy all those decades ago when he told us “Yoga is not prescriptive.”  I understood that to mean that yoga works on the whole being…it is holistic, because we are holistic.  We can’t separate out a part of ourselves and say “This cold I have, or this backache I have is the problem, so I’ll just focus on yoga for that.”  Because the cold or the backache is related to stress, and stress is related to how we think, and how we think is related to what we are feeling and doing internally.  Maybe the best thing I do for my cold or back is sit quietly and drop anxiety.  Maybe the best thing I do for my mind is go play outside among the trees, or pet my dog or cat.

So everything done consciously and intuitively becomes therapy!  Yes, I understand that it is logical that if I have back discomfort, I can work on it through yoga.  I can breathe into the area and send relaxation.  I can avoid poses that stress it further.  And ultimately, I am my own therapist in each moment.  Another piece of wisdom from Yogi Bhajan comes to mind:  Doctors diagnose, and Nature cures.”

After decades of teaching yoga, I know it helps in all kind of prescriptive ways.  I wonder though about the integrity of touting yoga as therapy.  It feels a bit that we are selling yoga short.  It is holistic, which by nature means that it works with the body, mind and spirit of the individual as one whole.  I am a yoga teacher, I understand the holistic benefit of yoga.  I look to the way the whole person is creating his or her own being.  I am not a physical therapist, an anatomist, a personal trainer, or any other number of occupations who focus almost solely on the physical structure of a body.  I understand the body is the entry point for focus on yoga.  And this makes sense because working with the body gives tangible results and is  most easily accepted by the masses.  But if the yoga goes no farther than the body, it is not truly yoga, whose progression is….body…breath…mind awareness….spirit connection!

I’m thinking this is a good discussion point.  Welcome your ideas!

About the Author:

Shakta is an AMS certified Montessori teacher, and the author of five well-known Yoga books, CDs and DVDs. Her latest book, The Yoga Way to Radiance: How to Follow Your Inner Guidance and Nurture Children to do the Same, is scheduled for release in summer of 2016, (Llewellyn Worldwide)   Visit Shakta's Writing and Poetry Site


  1. Marla Pelletier May 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    The danger here is putting Yoga into a Western “box” that can be understood. As mysterious as God is, Yoga is, I believe.

    There was a point a few years ago that I felt like I had to make a decision…do I choose to go the anatomist route and study the science of the body or not. In the “not” I discovered that Yoga has something truly unique about it, and it is just that, Shakta. It IS the inspiration to move through transformation smoothly…which can be body, mind and spirit, even if we only see it in the body, or only in the mind. I felt if I am going to be a physical therapist, then that’s what I am going to do, but if I am going to be a Yogini, then I must embody it all. With that said…enough computer time, time to relax!! 🙂

  2. Mira Binzen May 10, 2012 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    Om Dear Shakta Kaur,

    Such a big and interesting topic! I agree with you on all fronts. Yoga is inherently therapeutic. What ever imbalances we experience may be brought back into balance through the comprehensive system of yoga, which includes meditation and lifestyle choices. In the West therapy is a technique, whereas in the East it is a perspective.

    We have just introduced a new training called “Therapeutic Yoga for Children” and not “Yoga Therapy” to reflect this notion that all yoga is therapeutic. There is such a need for guidance and support for families to develop a “yogic lifestyle.” Medications aren’t working, stress is at an all time high, diagnoses for nervous system-based imbalances are off the charts. Part of our training will include an invitation to explore the paradigm shift from diagnosing and treating to welcoming and revealing. A lot of it is semantics and the work we all have to do in wrapping our Western minds around Eastern wisdom.

    I also am not trained in anatomy or any other physical sciences but in psychology, which to me is more aligned with Yoga. I wince a bit when I see Yoga used prescriptively – a piece of the practiced used to “treat” a part of the body. It’s like taking out the vitamin from the broccoli and putting it into a pill. Just eat the broccoli! It comes from being oriented toward the scientific method of inquiry for so many years. Lots of undoing to do!

  3. Carol Stevenson (@bikramyocaz) May 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    Thank you.

  4. Marla Pelletier June 7, 2012 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    Had a recent discussion with a friend who shared with me this quotation: Spirituality is the therapy of the ego. I thought immediately of this posting!!

  5. radiantchildyoga June 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    I so appreciate all the comments that this posting inspired! Wow….growing consciousness….I love it!

Leave A Comment