In my opinion, the most common misconception about Therapeutic Yoga is that there is one particular pose or sequences of practices for a single therapeutic condition. People often ask me, for example, what pose is good for back pain or Multiple Sclerosis. The answer is, it depends.
No two people are alike. Individuals have different strengths and weaknesses, different degrees of overall health and fitness, and different levels of experience with yoga. Even two people with the exact same condition – say lower back pain – may vary in the severity of pain, how long they have sustained the injury for, and the amount of time they are likely to dedicate to their yoga practice. Many people may also have more than one condition at any given time, and practices I might normally suggest for one problem may be contraindicated for another. Each of these factors will have a major impact on your recommended practices for your therapeutic condition.
“As I travel throughout India and the United States to research yoga therapy, I notice that even masters who write books and articles recommending specific sequences for particular conditions often don’t use these sequences when they work with students. Instead, they evaluate the individual in front of them and decide what is best on a case-by-case basis. What worked for a student one day may not work the next if they’ve just had a fight with their spouse or have come down with a cold. Even a style like Kundalini Yoga (in the style of Yogi Bhajan), which recommends specific sequences (called kriyas) for particular conditions, suggests that teachers use their discretion in deciding when a kriya is appropriate and whether the recommended timings should be modified.”
– Dr. Timothy Mcall
I’ve come to the conclusion (as learned from my teachers) that these sequences should not be used like a cake recipe – where each direction is of the utmost importance to follow if the desired result is to be achieved – instead they should be used as a guideline. Sometimes in my Private Therapeutic Yoga sessions I will choose something that seems like it ought to work, but doesn’t work when the student tries it out. Strained breathing, glazed eyes, or limitations in the body that precludes practicing the sequence at home are all signs that I need to try another approach. Being mindful and attentive, making subtle observations, and adjusting the “recipe” to suit the individual is what therapeutic yoga is all about.
Image: Richard Kwai