Anatomy of a Yoga Therapy Session

By Lisa Grauaug

What is yoga therapy?

People may seek the assistance of a Yoga Therapist for a range of issues or concerns related to their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

In some cases, a client may be experiencing a physical discomfort such as back-pain or an issue with mobility. In other cases, people might work with a Yoga Therapist to get help with poor sleep, poor digestion, to improve their breathing or to address emotional challenges or imbalance.   

How does it work?

The first phase in the yoga therapy process involves assessment, observation and history taking.

This initial step is extremely important and it requires a skilled and competent Yoga Therapist.

One of the best ways to explain the work of a Yoga Therapist is to look at an example…

A Case Study

The following case study is from the recent Yoga Anatomy and Musculoskeletal Systems module from our registered Yoga Therapy Training Course. 

The client presented asking for assistance to relieve neck and back pain.

Phase 1: Assessment & History Taking

Image 1: The client was asked to stand with a relaxed posture.

As a learning aid, we placed dots as reference points on some focal points on the client’s body to help students observe alignment.  

Overall this client has a strong constitution. Upon history taking we learned that the client spent much of his working day looking up as a housepainter.

What do you observe?

We can see from the dots that the client has a head forward posture – notice the vertical mis-alignment of the line from ear to shoulder. PLUS notice the tendency to gaze upwards.

Image 2: Over extension of the neck and was further exposed when lying down.

Further to the misalignment observed in a variety of static postures, when we undertook a range of movement assessment, we observed restricted arm movement, particularly during overhead arm extension.

As part of this assessment it was additionally observed practices to facilitate breath would also add great value.


Understanding the Client’s Lifestyle Needs

As well as taking a comprehensive case history from the client and completing an assessment including physical observation and range of movement checks, the Yoga Therapist will also seek to understand the client’s needs for their practice in terms of time, lifestyle and other factors.

Phase 2: Designing a Tailored Yoga Practice

This client expressed he was time poor and on his feet a lot. He was keen for a short practice.

Taking all of this into account, the role of the Yoga Therapist was to:

  1. Educate and bring awareness to the client about his posture.
  2. Design a yoga-based practice incorporating exercises that:
    1. Help the client experience a more upright and aligned position. These mainly focused on standing tall in axial extension and neutral spine positions.  
    2. Help to release neck and neighbouring muscles that are pulling the head into an extended position.
    3. Include passive movements to release shoulder muscles (pectoralis major) g passive lying twists (jathara parivritti).

If practiced consistently, these techniques will help the client to find relief from neck and back pain and improve both posture and range of movement.

Phase 3: Checking In and Refining

The final task of the Yoga Therapist is to arrange further sessions with the client to check in on their progress, address any concerns or questions, and make any adjustments or refinements needed for the client to gain the most benefit from their new practice.

The number of sessions needed will depend on the complexity and persistence of the issues presented.

Written by Lisa Grauaug B AppSc (Nursing), B Psych, M Psych, Adv Dip Yoga Teaching, Ayurveda Lifestyle Certificate, Perinatal Mental Health Course (USyd), Registered Psychologist, Registered Yoga Teacher, Registered Yoga Therapist (YA & IAYT), Yoga Australia Member. 

Ready to start a career as a Yoga Therapist? 

Enrolments are open for our introductory course, Yoga Therapy Foundations. Alternatively, we have our upcoming Yoga Physiology & Vital Systems for Health short course for those interested in understanding how yoga can be personalised to specific health conditions. 

Or maybe you’re ready to make the move into a career of Yoga Therapy, through our Post-graduate Yoga Therapy Training Course.

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