To understand the foundations of Yoga Therapy, we can use the model of a structure supported by four pillars:
- Yoga Chikitsa Darshana – The vision of Yoga Therapy
- Yoga Chikitsa Marga – The path or process of Yoga Therapy
- Yoga Chikitsa Sadhana – The tools, techniques and methods of Yoga Therapy
- Kaivalya – The result of Yoga Therapy
Yoga Chikitsa Darshana – The Vision of Yoga Therapy
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali form the basis of the Yoga Therapy vision and the first four sutras are the essence of Integrative Yoga Therapy for health and healing. The translation of these sutras below reflect the Yoga Therapy perspective:
- The teaching of Yoga begins when we become conscious of the unsatisfying and destructive nature of a life out of balance;
- Yoga is a process of harmonizing all that is out of control and confusing in our lives, including fears and desires, so that we can stop walking in circles;
- We may therefore rest in our true nature when we experience the peace and joy that provide us with abundance and a deeper sense of living;
- We will continue our search and our effort without encountering true satisfaction and, in the process, create stress patterns and suffering that lead us to imbalance and illness. The rest of the sutras in the first chapter expand upon this darshana, or general vision.
In the second chapter, there’s a clearer approach on health and illness according to the Model of the Five Kleshas. The Kleshas describe the process of illness that occurs when we’re not in a yogic state. The Kleshas can be understood within the context of Yoga Therapy as the following:
- Avidya – lack of understanding of our true nature. Avidya, or ignorance of the truth of unity, is the source of all forms of illness. Ignorance refers here to a lack of understanding that all of life is interconnected and that each one of us is an integral part of the web of life. Avidya is the inability to perceive the larger dimension in relation to oneself, one’s relationships and the world as a whole.
- Asmita – egoism, a natural consequence of avidya, a way of thinking and acting in which the individual is the center of the world and the world revolves around him/her.
- Raga – Desire, wanting to achieve, obtain, secure, attach.
- Dvesha – Aversion, displeasure, anger, the act of avoiding all that represents a threat. Attachment and aversion are a natural consequence of the individual ego that resides in separation, which on the one hand, results in competition and attachment and on the other, fear and anxiety.
- Abinivesha – Fear of death, underlying existential anxiety. Abinivesha is sometimes defined as “fear of death”. In a larger sense, it’s the existential anxiety that accompanies life without a clear sense of meaning and purpose. Abinivesha is the feeling of falling into a trap, of being on a narrow cliff and falling between life and death, with disaster looming.
The Yoga Sutras offer an integrated analysis of health and disease:
- Heya – the source of disease is samsara, or a life lived as separation.
- Hetu – the cause of samsara is avidya.
- Hanopaya – the solution is self-knowledge through the practice of Yoga.
- Kaivalya – the final cure is self-knowledge.
Yoga Chikitsa Marga – The path of Yoga Therapy
The path of Yoga Therapy is based on Ashtanga Yoga or the 8 Steps of Yoga. Each step is essential to the Yoga Therapy process so that complete healing is achieved. In relation to Yoga Therapy, these steps, or limbs, can be defined as:
- Yamas – The understanding of the importance of ethics, of values and qualified actions in the creation of holistic health.
- Niyamas – Precepts that emphasize the importance of aspiration and fundamental spiritual practice for the health of the body-mind-spirit.
- Asana – Appropriate structure, posture and corporal attitude that promotes health.
- Pranayama – The function of breath and the flow of vital energy (prana) with relation to health.
- Pratyahara – Abstraction of the senses in relation to the external world to make space for internal observation of the states of balance and imbalance and the removal of disease-causing patterns.
- Dharana – The practice of training and directing the mind toward states of health and balance.
- Dhyana – The experience of the whole being resting in its true nature as harmony and balance.
- Samadhi – Integration of the individual with the Whole. State of total health because the Whole is complete by nature; by aligning with this state, there is health on all levels.
Yoga Chikitsa Sadhana – The Practices of Yoga Therapy
Many of the practices of Yoga Therapy are founded on the ancient Hatha Yoga texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Padipika (1300 B.C). These texts are considered a preparation and foundation for Raja Yoga, a reference to the Yoga Sutras, and emphasize the therapeutic benefits of various Yoga practices.
In the introductory sutras, the text reaffirms its intention: “Hatha Yoga is the sanctuary for those who suffer from all types of afflictions.” Hatha Yoga is the foundation for the practices of Yoga Therapy. As the student progresses, meditation comes to play an essential role.
The Yoga Sutras describe the nature, process and techniques of meditation, as well as spiritual experiences that occur during meditation. A central point that’s explored in the Yoga Sutras is that the spiritual experiences aren’t the goal of Yoga, which, in truth, consists of self-knowledge.
Therefore, health and healing are biproducts of the integral process of transformation that occurs through the practice of Yoga. For a technique to have the desired benefit as therapy, it should be firmly anchored in the vision of the path of Yoga Therapy without losing sight of its goal.
Kaivalya – The Result of Yoga Therapy
Vision, path and technique come together to produce the integration of mind and spirit which is the fundamental basis of Yoga Therapy as healing.
Within this vision, specific areas or systems in the body receive special attention, but the health and cure as a whole occur when all the steps of Yoga are integrated in a program for transformation that embraces every aspect of the individual: physical, energetic, psycho-emotional, intuitive and spiritual.