Yoga Therapy: Where Science meets the Subtle Body

Modern health science and medical education has long divided the human experience into physical and psychological disciplines. Thanks largely to the mind-body split made popular by French philosopher Descartes in the 15th century, the western understanding of bodies and minds has been built upon the premise that only the mind thinks and feels, and the body is merely a complicated machine. Perhaps it has been of benefit to human development to think in that way, allowing scientists to deeply explore singular topics within health science, and for medical specialists to evolve to the incredible technological life-saving abilities we all rely on in a health crisis.

However, what anyone who has received medical care will understand, is that even with the best of evidence-based modern medicine, there can be a sense of a lack of humanity. Taking on the role of ‘patient’ can feel dehumanising, the backless gowns and procedural efficiencies stripping one of dignity, and leaving people feeling like a number on a conveyor belt. Medicine is big business and in both private and public sectors there is a focus on conserving resources including human hours. That means very little time for nurses and support staff to chat, and allied health professions – some of which are inherently holistic, must also be shaped to fit the system.

Within biomedical training there is little room for development of ‘soft skills’, and an emphasis on striving for technical excellence which pushes trainees and registrars to the brink of burnout and beyond. Those who make it through the long and rigorous years of training, historically at least, were often privileged people from affluent backgrounds. While this has changed in recent decades, the culture of health settings tends to be slow to change, meaning that the dominant culture continues to add to a power imbalance between health care professionals and their patients.

Alongside these extraordinary achievements in medical science, has grown up a multi-billion dollar wellness industry, which presents itself as a wholesome, green, nature-based alternative to the pharmaceutical industry and biomedical professions. Yoga, meditation, and personal development have traditionally fallen into this field of complementary and alternative medicine. However, as the comedian Tim Minchin is famous for quoting ‘What do you call alternative medicine that has been proven? Medicine.’ Research into the benefits of yoga and in particular the emergence of testable, protocolised, mindfulness-based interventions, has rapidly moved yoga from the hippie fringes to the mainstream. Yoga is now a proven form of medicine, with enough evidence to justify its inclusion in medical treatment centres worldwide. Here at Wisdom Yoga Institute we are on the cutting edge of this research, passionate about contributing to high quality yoga interventions.

Many yoga students self -refer to yoga classes to treat chronic mental and physical health conditions. Yoga teachers play an important role in their communities as a source of affordable, accessible preventive health and wellbeing. However, in many cases, their foundational 200 hour training has not equipped them with the skills of critical thinking, nor has it familiarised them with yoga’s increasing role as a complementary healthcare modality which is no longer considered alternative but is truly integrative – safe and effective to use alongside conventional mainstream medicine, and filling some of the gaps in terms of providing a more person-centred, human, compassionate and holistic aspect to health care. Indeed, some yoga teachers continue to hold alternative beliefs, and some will cultivate around themselves intentional communities that are actively anti-science and anti-medicine.

Yoga and science can co-exist harmoniously. There’s a beauty and magic in the esoteric and fascinating philosophies of yoga and its sister science Ayurveda. Appealing in their use of imagery, mantra, music, mythology and offering a pathway for personal evolution and spiritual freedom, the attraction is understandable. But this is simply part of why yoga appeals to those struggling with their mental and physical wellbeing.

Yoga Therapists unite science and spirituality, which offers seekers of health, wellness and growth, an appealing, compassionate, trauma-sensitive, tailored, personal healing modality. Not all Yoga Therapy training courses are equal of course, some lean into the spiritual end of the spectrum, while others target health professionals themselves, relying on scientific evidence, and discarding the more holistic models.

At Wisdom Yoga Institute, our IAYT accredited Yoga Therapy training program is truly integrative, as we use our decades of experience in yoga and meditation communities, along with academic training in our respective disciplines, to unite science with the subtle body.

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