Qualities of a Yoga Therapist by Joseph Le Page and Lilian Aboim
Yoga therapy can be compared to a bird whose two wings must move in synchrony. One wing is a thorough understanding of the tools, techniques and methodologies. The other wing is the vision of Yoga therapy as a lifelong journey of healing, both for the therapist and for the care receiver. This second wing is supported by the cultivation of essential qualities, such as careful listening. It is the integration of these qualities, along with an in-depth knowledge of the techniques that allow the Yoga therapist to practice authentically. The following is an elaboration of these qualities.
Selfless Service: sevā
The Yoga therapist receives fair compensation for professional services, but also cultivates an attitude of selfless service; a vision of healing larger than their own personal goals, wants and needs. Through this expanded vision the therapist recognizes their contribution to the healing of other beings as well as to the community and all of humanity.
Grounding: dṛḍha bhūmiḥ
The Yoga therapist cultivates grounding and stability at all levels of being. This begins with the physical body where they develop the strength and stability to assist with poses confidently. Grounding extends to the psycho-emotional level, allowing us to meet challenges presented by care receivers from a place of stability and centering.
The Yoga therapist upholds the inherent capacity of all care receivers for self-healing. This process begins with the therapists themselves as they experience their own healing through Yoga. The therapist can then inspire the care receivers to trust in the power of inner healing.
Conscious Presence: upasthiti
Conscious presence is living in the present moment. The Yoga therapist is aware of the care receiver’s history as well as goals for healing. Yoga therapy, however, only takes place in the present moment, with the therapist fully conscious of all that is happening both within themselves and within the receiver at all levels of being.
Careful Listening: śravaṇaṃ
In effective Yoga therapy, the therapist seldom offers advice or opinions, but listens carefully and sensitively to what their care receivers are communicating in order to respond optimally.
Skillful Speech: vāca kauśalaṃ
Individuals in the process of healing may be sensitive. This is helpful in that they are open to new ways of seeing and being. This requires the Yoga therapist to exercise skillful communication attuned to the receiver’s needs.
Skillful Means: upakaraṇā kauśalaṃ
The Yoga therapist utilizes a wide range of tools and techniques and understands the principles that underlie them. The Yoga therapist has the ability to apply and adapt these for individual needs at all levels of being.
The healing process is unique for each individual. It cannot be rushed and, like the butterfly’s wings, must unfold as part of a process in which all of the stages of healing occur naturally. The therapist must be mindful of allowing this process to unfold, never rushing forward in the name of achieving short-term goals.
The Yoga therapist is familiar with all aspects of Yoga as a healing modality. A Yoga therapist who cultivates their strengths and areas of interest is passionate about their particular area of concentration, whether it is the physical body, the subtle body or the psycho-emotional body, is better able to inspire healing in the receiver.
Committed Personal Practice: sādhanā
A practice designed for the needs of the individual generally provides optimal healing. The most effective way for the therapist to create a personal practice for others is to develop their own consistent individual practice, and to assess carefully how it meets their needs.
Study of Self and Scriptures: svādhyāya
The Yoga therapist facilitates care receivers in widening their perspectives of themselves and life as whole, which is one of the most important dimensions of healing. This process begins when the therapist explores areas of limitation, pain and suffering in their own lives, allowing them to effectively facilitate self-study in others.
When we begin to practice Yoga therapy, there may be a tendency to offer too many tools and techniques in order to provide “the most healing.” For effective Yoga therapy, however, less is usually more, and offering a few tools and techniques fully and authentically is generally most helpful.
The Yoga therapist maintains appropriate boundaries in terms of time and energy. At the same time, he or she offers Yoga generously by showing that knowledge of Yoga is universal and belongs to all of humanity.
Compassion is seeing clearly that everyone, including ourselves is on a journey of healing. For some, suffering is physical, while for others, emotional or spiritual. Rather than perceiving care receivers as ill and therapists as well, the quality of compassion allows us to recognize that we are all on a unique healing journey.
Witness Consciousness: sākṣitvaṃ
In Yoga therapy, a full range of feelings, emotions and sensations may arise in the care receiver. The Yoga therapist witnesses these feelings in the receiver, as well as witnessing reactions to these feelings within themselves.
Equanimity is resting in the calm depths of our inner being regardless of what is happening at the surface level of sensations, thoughts and feelings. Through equanimity we never lose our connection to our deeper being no matter what challenges arise in Yoga therapy.
The essence of integrity in Yoga therapy is providing optimal yoga practices for healing at all levels of being, rather than prescribing specific yoga techniques to cure disease. Integrity is also recognizing when we are able to work with a receiver effectively, and when it is appropriate to refer the person to another care provider.
Multidimensional Awareness: pañca kośa darśana
The Yoga therapist holds a vision of the whole person so that even if they’re focusing on the physical body, they are also seeing, sensing and responding to their receivers at the energetic, psycho-emotional and spiritual levels. This multi-dimensional perspective naturally cultivates greater awareness within the receiver.
The Yoga therapist has a wide range of tools and techniques for assessing the receiver’s needs. Intuition plays an important role in knowing how and when to employ these tools and techniques in the care receiver’s journey.
Yoga therapy is an art and a science, and with each group or individual we meet, we learn and teach something in a completely new way. This openness to Yoga therapy as a field of infinite possibilities allows for tremendous creativity, keeping our teaching fresh.
Yoga therapists nourish themselves by maintaining their own regular practice, and setting time aside for play and exploring life’s mysteries. As we bring balance into our own lives, we naturally support our receivers.
Gratitude is embracing all of life including its challenges as a journey of appreciation and learning. The ability to accept and embrace life as it presents itself contributes to healing at all levels of being.
Inner Freedom: kaivalya
Through integrating the essential qualities of Yoga therapy, we live and work with a sense of inner freedom, reflected as lightness and ease in all of our activities. This sense of inner freedom is the essence of healing.
Surrender is the recognition that there is an all-encompassing intelligence at the heart of creation that guides our life journey. As we align with this source energy, we are naturally guided to healing.
Faith is an unshakable knowing that Yoga is a process of transformation that has healed us at all levels of being. We also have faith that we will be guided to offer optimal techniques for healing to each care receiver we meet.