Therapeutic Yoga is an evolving term in 2022, not quite defined, but with some fairly consistent traits. Everyone seems to agree it’s a gentler form of yoga focused to address imbalances or lack of function in a holistic fashion .
‘Yoga Therapy’ is a bit different and more specific. Although it definitely falls within the above definition, it has a governing body (IAYT.org) with an emphasis on a psychological component, and a 1-to-1 therapeutic relationship model. Both incredibly valuable in the right situations, but limiting in scope. All yoga is therapeutic by its very nature, and a perennial aspect of it has always been the observing and quieting of the mind. It's a large and welcoming tent of goodness. What we connect with is the idea that both Yoga Therapy and Therapeutic Yoga look beyond the boundaries of traditional yoga to amplify therapeutic value.
More central to the therapeutic yoga offered at A Balanced Body is the development and use of props. In A Balanced Body classes we are using the props as massage tools to facilitate tissue changes and release. Props have been used in yoga for centuries. From the first tiger skin mats (only from tigers that died non-violently) to the yogapatta (Sanskrit for 'strap'), the yogic tradition has always been open to a little extra help from material objects. Ask anyone who’s been to an Iyengar class, where props are frequently used to promote alignment and stability.
Three of the most popular props in Iyengar yoga are the block, the strap and the bolster, and they can all feature heavily in a therapeutic yoga class. What really separates our therapeutic yoga is the use of two other props from two other disciplines. The spiky myofascial release ball (aka massage ball), and the mini-stability ball used in Pilates. These tools are so important we actually have multiple adaptations; half-massage balls and half-inflated squishy stability balls that allow for gentler release and more supportive destabilization (supportive destabilization sounds crazy, I know, but it’s actually really important and we’ll get into it below)
A combination of yoga, massage and pilates, our therapeutic yoga teaches you to use poses, exercises and props to release, stabilize, and only then, strengthen. There’s a blindspot in a lot of rehabilitative efforts where we identify a function that needs strengthening and we leap to it, only to hit setback after setback. Sometimes there are steps missed before that, releasing the muscles and fascia that have been protecting that function, and then working to engage the function properly. It’s important that we target the stabilizing musculature around the joints to build a foundation of support. Only then is strengthening going to really bring change.
Myofascial release balls and mini-stability balls are the two most effective props in therapeutic yoga, but only with the help of traditional props that support and stabilize the body in a way that simple movements create traction and release. That release, the letting go of muscles and fascia that have been tying themselves in knots protecting dysfunction, is destabilizing. With this approach we are destabilizing to bring in true stability. If it’s done in a supportive manner, you have your best chance of building back up, preventing gripping or tightening muscles and getting a chance to create and imprint some new functionality.
In short, along with the stretching and strengthening offered in traditional yoga, therapeutic yoga also offers the traction and release, and supportive destabilization to re-stabilize. This clears the way for proper functionality. Both use props for support and alignment, but therapeutic props can also have more active intentions, like the traction and destabilization found in massage and pilates.
What’s also really important about therapeutic yoga at A Balanced Body is that it’s not dependent on the unfortunately expensive 1-to1 therapeutic model. We can give you the tools to heal your self, and once you have them, you can practice therapeutic yoga at home. Learn to release the areas that cause you discomfort and pain, as needed, or begin the journey to strength and stability.
Find out more about our online classes, props, video library and wellness clinic at: https://www.abalancedbody.ca/therapeutic-yoga
By Jessica Knox Registered Massage Therapist, Certified Yoga and Pilates Instructor
This blog is collaborative collection of information provided by several of our therapists. We hope you find some useful information and tips.