Choices, Biases, and Terms
The Challenge of Providing Practices
When I first became a yoga teacher, I had difficulty answering students who would ask me what pose would help X condition. As a physical therapist, I could not answer their question because I would need to do a detailed assessment and work with them over time to understand their needs in the context of their life circumstances. Likewise, as someone interested in yoga therapy as a whole-person intervention, I would want to employ the full yogic framework to support them in a process of transformative change and improved well-being. A reductionist approach would only short-change what yoga could offer while providing, at best, short-term relief of their complaint.
This book does not offer prescriptive sequences or suggested poses “for” specific conditions. Rather, it lays out guidelines for yoga therapy based on a biopsychosocial-spiritual approach to supporting health and well-being. The applications chapters are divided into practices that may be beneficial to a variety of conditions and client populations as they support body-mind regulation, interoception and discriminative wisdom, and resilience. The poses and practices included are a "greatest hits” of sorts, representing those I use most often and have found most helpful for a wide range of clients. I do offer suggestions on why and how the practices might be used, but readers must be aware of the complexity of applying any one of them to any one uniquely nuanced, intricately developed human. Training as a yoga therapist ideally involves many hundreds or thousands of hours of direct study of unique beings and their patterns of stress and ease.
Many books complement this discussion and its application to clinical populations. Some of those 1 recommend and use often include Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain; Yoga Therapy for Arthritis; Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being; Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing; and Yoga for Emotional Balance.0
Yoga therapy has helped me develop a language and methodology to work with the subjective nature of pain, suffering, and well-being. “Subjective nature” here refers to the idea that the objective presence of difficulty, disease, illness, or pain does not always correlate with individuals’ reports of stress, pain, or suffering. Yoga’s framework includes a process of inquiry into how we interpret and relate and react to what is happening within the body, mind, and environment. In this terminology "body” includes all the structures and systems of the physical and energetic body; “mind” includes thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and habitual responses; and “environment” includes the individual’s context, including life situations and circumstances. The term body-mind-environment or BME is used throughout the book to differentiate these “outer” experiences” from one’s essential nature, which yoga aims to help us realize.
In writing this book, Laurie and I had many discussions about the use of gendered pronouns and the possible perpetuation of exclusionary language of all kinds. Although the source texts almost exclusively use male characters and masculine pronouns when describing knowledge-seekers, we chose to use they instead of he/she or he or she and to purposefully include more female pronouns where the individual form is appropriate.
Another choice we made was how we would use Sanskrit terms. We elected to use common phonetic spellings without diacritics. Much more could be said about this choice, too, but in the end we decided that it not only makes the material more accessible, but also supports our intention to facilitate the integration of yoga therapy into healthcare and research contexts.
This is an exciting time for integrative health and the evolution of yoga therapy as an accessible and widespread healthcare practice. Each time I have the opportunity to welcome another cohort of MUIH yoga therapy students, find out about what graduates are doing, or meet other yoga therapy professionals throughout the world I am inspired and encouraged by the possibilities to help others through this work. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this profession and to offer this book. I hope it proves helpful in bringing yoga therapy to many communities for healing.
- 1. Sullivan, M. B., Erb, M., Schmalzl, L., Moonaz, S., Noggle Taylor, J., & Porges, S. W. (2018). Yoga therapy and polyvagal theory: The convergence of traditional wisdom and contemporary neuroscience for self-regulation and resilience. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12(67); Sullivan, M. B., Moonaz, S., Weber, K., Taylor, J. N., & Schmalzl, L. (2018). Toward an explanatory framework for yoga therapy informed by philosophical and ethical perspectives. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 24, 38-47.
- 2. Mallinson, J., & Singleton, M. (2017). Roots of yoga. London: Penguin.
- 3. The Upanishads (Vol. 2), translated by Eknath Easwaran, founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, copyright 1987, 2007; reprinted by permission of Nilgiri Press, P. O. Box 256, Tomales, CA 94971, www.bmcm.org.
- 4. Easwaran, The Upanishads, p. 19.
- 5. Mallinson & Singleton, Roots of yoga.
- 6. Moonaz, S., & Byron, E. (2018). Yoga therapy for arthritis: A whole-person approach to movement and lifestyle. London: Singing Dragon; Bell, B., & Zolotow, N. (2017). Yoga for healthy aging: A guide to lifelong well-being. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications; McCall, T. (2007). Yoga as medicine: The yogic prescription for health &■ healing: A yoga journal book. New York: Bantam; Pearson, N., Prosko, S., & Sullivan, M. (2019). Yoga and science in pain care: Treating the person in pain. London: Singing Dragon; Forbes, B. (2011). Yoga for emotional balance: Simple practices to help relieve anxiety and depression. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.