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Is yoga therapy the secret to a healed body and mind?

The body is a sacred thing. Protecting it never comes easy—the worst can hit you at any point in your life, and least when you expect it. An unfortunate thing I had to learn the hard way late last year, when I woke up with a horrid, throbbing sensation in my lower back. It proceeded to last for days and weeks on end, but according to the doctors, it was muscle fatigue triggered by long desk hours and bad form on a spin bike. So I was put on a regime of painkillers and physiotherapy, the latter aimed at strengthening my lower back muscles.

But it was the wake up call I clearly needed. Maintenance and prevention became something I had to keep in mind for future me; if my lower back could be afflicted with such agony all of a sudden, what of the rest of my body? I knew an alternative form of holistic exercise was something I needed to consider, one that would be gentle in its rhythm yet focused on improving (and training) all aspects of the self. Perhaps a serendipitous find, but it was then that I chanced upon the curious scene of yoga therapy—and its benefits in ensuring holistic healing and strengthening. 

Beyond the usual parameters of what one would expect from a yoga class, a yoga therapy session, I discover, is inherently personal. ​​Pardeep Fogat, founder of Jal Yoga, paints the larger picture of how a typical first session would go: “Expect an initial discussion about your health history, goals, and any specific concerns. I would also usually talk to my client to find out and understand what they are hoping to achieve through yoga therapy, and if they are experiencing anything that is physically or emotionally uncomfortable. The instructor may guide you through gentle movements, breathing exercises, and possibly meditation to assess your current state and tailor future sessions to your needs.”

My own first session with a yoga therapist, Abhijeet of Jal Yoga, was telling of how much I neglected my own body and mind. Apart from my ailing back, a slew of other issues were also brought to his attention; my weak knees; lopsided spine; and lack of sleep due to chronically long hours all openly discussed. Yet the unsettling anxiety I seemed to carry with me was something he noted midway through—from how shifty I got every time I had to try out a different pose my body just didn’t seem agreeable to. “Try to look up, don’t keep looking down. You’re not only straining your neck, but you’re also dampening your confidence,” Abhijeet advises.

“Yoga therapy stands out as a personalised approach, meticulously crafted to meet the specific needs of each individual. A deeper focus on emotional health is what sets yoga therapy apart from regular yoga, offering a more tailored and comprehensive approach to overall well-being,” offers Fogat.

Of course, it can also be beneficial for someone with stressed muscles or related injuries, due to its targeted approach. Acccording to Fogat, a yoga therapist would assess the injury and follow up by creating a customised sequence that focuses on gentle movements like stretching as well as strengthening exercises. I gleaned as much from my own session; all throughout, Abhijeet paid careful attention to the extent of my pain, adapting the movements accordingly.

Since my back was a big pain point at the time, he focused on giving me exercises that could bend to my limits as I twisted, turned and used my whole body. All aimed at giving me the stretch I needed to practise control over my weak muscles. There were also aided stretches—where he would hold me and guide my movement, whilst remaining mindful of my comfort levels. “This tailored approach helps address specific muscle imbalances or weaknesses, aiding in the rehabilitation process and promoting overall well-being. While generally beneficial, normal yoga classes may not offer the same level of individualised attention to address the unique needs of someone with a stress muscle injury,” Fogat adds. 

Yet yoga therapy is not to be mixed up with physiotherapy. “Whilst physiotherapy focuses on using physical techniques—such as exercise and manual therapy—to help individuals improve their mobility, flexibility, and overall function, yoga therapy provides a sense of care and support. It is a complementary treatment plan that can enhance the progress of those already undergoing physiotherapy.” It makes sense, considering its roots in yoga itself. Simply being present and aware of how my body was reacting to the different stretches was a key first step, and Abhijeet also wasted no time in ensuring that I felt safe at all times. Every time I had to manoeuvre into a potentially vulnerable position, he would first ask if I was comfortable with it. Throughout the session, his gentle prodding about my daily routine also encouraged me to slowly open up to him, therein also helping him understand the sort of program I would need in the long run. “Regular check-ins and communication help refine the approach, ensuring continued adaptability to the individual’s evolving needs throughout the therapeutic process,” says Fogat. 

In a world that doesn’t stop for anyone, yoga is the chosen form of exercise for many who wish to carve out time to breathe. Yet not every yoga instructor is going to remain attuned to your personal needs, and can immediately glean your source of troubles. To that end, perhaps a yoga therapy session is something well worth your time of day—where physical healing can occur simultaneously alongside an emotional slow down, the latter needed more often than you would think. Personally, I had never been an avid yogi. But if I can emerge less jittery and physically refreshed from just one session with a yoga therapist, the verdict seems as plain as day. It’s well worth knowing that my back definitely thanked me for the better of it.

Find out more about Jal Yoga’s yoga therapy sessions here.

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