If you’re looking for something to promote your wellbeing and self-care on a deeper level then Yoga Therapy is something you should seriously consider.

What is it?
Yoga therapy is not like your usual Monday night vinyasa flow class. Yoga therapy takes familiar yoga but applies it in a therapeutic and personalised context with the aim of eliminating, reducing or managing any sign of illness as well as increasing self-awareness. It is important to flag, however, that despite the name ‘yoga therapy’, the role of the yoga therapist does not and should not cross over into talk and psychotherapy. This boundary must be made clear to clients from the very first session (although this is different of course for those yoga therapists who are also qualified psychotherapists and other mental health professionals and are employed as such).

Where did it come from?
Yoga’s versatility is well-known throughout the mind-body kingdoms; many different strains have grown and developed over thousands of years. Yet it may surprise you to know that yoga therapy only came into being fairly recently. In the late 1800s, Swami Vivekananda introduced the concept when he travelled from India to the US for the Parliament of Religions. However, it was only in the 1980s after the publication of a study about the effects of lifestyle intervention on heart disease by Dr Dean Ornish that yoga therapy burst onto the mainstream. The study was the first of its kind to highlight the medical benefits of using therapeutic yoga, meditation and diet changes to reverse heart disease and set the scene for yoga therapy to take-off around the world.

Why should I try it?
Over the years yoga therapy has gained increasing traction in medicine with global healthcare systems now acknowledging its true value as a complementary tool. We’re also starting to see yoga studios catching on; yoga therapy classes to help more ‘general’ problems like stress, anxiety and body image issues are on the rise. And this is because yoga therapy is truly effective! So here are our top five reasons why you should ride this next yoga wave and give it a try…

It’s backed by science – so no chance of b.s.
From stress, depression, IBS, eating disorders, addictions, Parkinson’s, PTSD, auto-immune conditions and HIV, to Alzheimer’s, insomnia and cancer and more physical issues like back pain, osteoporosis, obesity and arthritis, there’s a whole host of scientific research now done showing that yoga therapy is an effective healing tool for all sorts of health issues. And modern medicine’s support of yoga therapy has been so great that public health insurance is also embracing it; in the US, Dr Dean Ornish’s yogic based intervention to reverse heart disease is now covered by public health insurance.  Likewise, the NHS is acknowledging the benefits – for patients and staff alike – and now recommends yoga therapy as a ‘Complementary and Alternative’ strategy for optimal health. Of course, we aren’t saying that yoga therapy offers a cure and replacement for medical treatment – hell no. Only that it has been proven by science to be an extremely powerful and natural complement to medical intervention and in certain instances used as an alternative (stress, anxiety, depression can fall into this category).

Anyone and everyone can benefit
It’s not just for ‘sick’ people. The potential benefits of Yoga Therapy for anyone are huge since its purpose is to promote self-care and encourage overall wellbeing on a highly personalised basis. Don’t get us wrong, the practice of general Yoga – the kind you’ll get when you go to the average yoga class off the street (think power yoga, vinyasa flows and even restorative yoga) – is brilliant. But its generalised style is often a one-size-fits-all approach. Yoga therapy, on the other hand, uses specific practices based on their known, scientifically researched and proven benefits to help alleviate, improve or effectively manage mental, emotional and physical issues. Everyone has experienced or will experience some sort of stress, anxiety or low mood or depression in their lives and can, therefore, benefit from Yoga Therapy. It’s also an effective way to become more aware of internal thought processes and reactions so that you can in time learn to change these for more positive outcomes.

It’s personalised to you
A typical private yoga therapy session will be highly personalised. Expect a thorough enquiry into your medical history, your physical, mental, energetic and spiritual needs, as well as an analysis of your posture, gait, mobility, strength, fitness and breath. This enables your yoga therapist to design a programme that will benefit you most and therefore you should see some real results. Physical poses, breathing and meditation and relaxation practices, as well as homework, will all be modified and considered for your maximum benefit. For example, if you are struggling with a tamasic (low energy) depression then energizing breath practice such as Kapalabhati matched with a dynamic flow practice, may be what you need most. For patients with PTSD (who are often prone to vivid flashbacks or losing their sense of self) establishing a foundation of safety in the body and mind through grounding breath and postures (think chair pose and breathing up and down through the ground) will be crucial before working towards more empowering practises that access emotions and focus on how they are feeling in the body and mind.

It’s value for money + natural
There’s been systematic evidence shown that yoga therapy is a significant and relatively cost-effective intervention for many issues. On a wider scale, the kind of stress and physical side-effects (think kyphotic hunched-over posture, restricted chesty breathing and sedentary nature) that we all experience in modern life working at a desk-job serve to generate high levels of anxiety. Dealing with these issues via medication and/or psychotherapy too is expensive – both for the NHS and as a consumer. Yoga therapy is a highly affordable strategy that gets to the source of the issue and can be used as a preventative as well as a treatment measure. This is sweet relief when often the medical solution that focuses on medication to treat the symptoms; once you’re off them you may go back to how you were feeling before. You can expect to pay anything from £35 for 90 minutes to £100 for 90 minutes for a one-to-one session with a yoga therapist, depending on where you live, the experience of the yoga therapist etc.

You can try out Yoga Therapy very easily at a studio near you right now. We’ve done the hard work for you and rounded up the best Yoga Therapy based classes and workshops to try in the city:

  • The Life Centre
    • Runs a low-cost Yoga Therapy Clinic at their Islington branch and they claim it is one of the only clinics in the UK to offer yoga as therapy, while at the same time providing supervised clinical experience to trainee yoga therapists.
    • Individual yoga therapy sessions are 90 minutes long and take place every Thursday afternoon.
    • Prices range from 90-minute session: £35, to 2 appointment pass (valid for 3 months from purchase): £60
  • Yoga Therapy London (www.yogatherapyworks.co.uk/)
    • Offers private one-to-one classes in Westferry by appointment as a one-off or pack of 5 classes
    • Prices range from 75-90 minute session: £80 and pack of five is £340
  • Yoga Therapy Works (www.yogatherapylondon.com)
    • Offers private one-to-one classes in Canary Wharf and Stratford by appointment

Prices range from 60-minute session: £80

words by Sophie Heywood, Founder of https://doubleshotcollective.com – the insider guide and itinerary planner for Europe’s wellness scene – @double.shot.collective