What You Need to Know about Yoga Therapy

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If you have ever suffered from a back problem, you aren't alone. More than 80 percent of Americans seek professional help for back pain at some point in their lives, and back pain is second only to the common cold for illness-related absences from work. Back-health experts recommend that people learn how to prevent pain and self-treat in situations where they can safely do so.

Everything old is new again: The evolution of Yoga as therapy

The therapeutic use of Yoga dates back over thousands of years as a component of ayurveda. Ayurveda (ayusmeaning "life" and veda meaning "related to knowledge or science") is an Indian system of medicine with ancient roots that is becoming well known in the West as well. It has a strong focus on disease prevention and takes a whole-person approach. Yoga therapy came into its own in India in the early part of the 20th century. Sri T. Krishnamacacharya, teacher to T.K.V. Desikachar, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Pattabhi Jois, used his own blend of Yoga and ayurveda. The Kaivalyadhama Yoga Hospitalin Lonovola (www.kdham. com) and the Yoga Institute of Santacruz, Mumbai (www.theyogainstitute. org), both started almost a century ago and still operate today.

Yoga therapy has continued to develop in the United States, sometimes combined with ayurveda but increasingly utilized as a complement to Western-style integrative medicine. Early pioneers in the field include Dean Ornish, MD; Nischala Devi; Judith Lasater, PT; Gary Kraftsow, MA; your humble coauthors Georg Feuerstein, PhD and Larry Payne, PhD; Michael Lee; Richard Miller, PhD; and Makunda Stiles. Founded in 1989 by Richard Miller and me (Larry), the International Association of Yoga Therapists (www.iayt.org) supports research and education in Yoga and serves as a professional organization for upward of 2,600 Yoga therapists and teachers worldwide.

Yoga therapy helps people in the chronic or rehabilitation stage of their pain (after the acute stage has passed) and is generally an adjunct to medical and/ or chiropractic care. Acute pain is the body's distress signal and shouldn't be ignored. What may feel like a musculoskeletal pain may in fact be a serious medical problem involving an organ, or a pinched nerve requiring spinal adjustment. People with acute pain should seek help from a medical, chiropractic, or osteopathic physician or physical therapist.

In addition to its most common use with back problems, Yoga therapy is helpful with knee and hip problems, arthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also benefit those who suffer from a host of other conditions: heart disease, hypertension, insomnia, painful menstrual periods and hot flashes, depression, anxiety, headaches, diabetes, digestive problems, chronic pain, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and more. Though not a cure, Yoga therapy can help improve the quality of life for people living with serious chronic and progressive conditions.

If you think you may be a candidate for Yoga therapy, the next step is to find a qualified Yoga therapist who can meet your needs. The following sections help you with that search and also clue you in as to what you can expect from Yoga therapy.

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