In recent years, complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) have become more popular in the United States. These practices utilize unconventional techniques to “complement” the healing process of more traditional treatment options, such as psychotherapy and prescribed medication. Some common forms of CAM include mindfulness meditation, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and yoga therapy.
With countless yoga studios, certified teachers, and niche yoga classes popping up all the time, yoga has become a widely accepted activity. As the popularity of yoga continues to grow, so does its use as a holistic technique to balance the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga therapy is now being used to treat a variety of mental health disorders, including panic disorder.
What Is Yoga Therapy?Yoga is a term that originates from the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. Yoga translates into “yoke” or “unite,” as the practice is thought to join the body, mind, and spirit. To assist in bringing balance to physical, emotional, and mental aspects of the self, yoga utilizes cleansing breath work, meditations, movements, and relaxation techniques.
Although yoga therapy has been defined in a variety of ways, it generally involves the use of these different yoga techniques to promote health and healing. Yoga therapy sessions are typically done one-on-one with the client and yoga therapist. The therapist will use the yoga process as a way to assist the client in preventing illness, managing an existing condition, and enhancing personal well-being.
Before starting yoga therapy sessions, the yoga therapist may collect information on many aspects of the client's overall wellness, such as medical conditions, family history, current relationships, stress levels, and prescribed medications or other treatment involvement.
During the yoga therapy sessions, the client will be guided into relaxation and yoga postures, known as asanas. While in asana practice, the practitioner will encourage the client to explore how they are feeling on an emotional, physical, and cognitive level. The yoga therapist will not offer advice for any personal issues, but will remain supportive while the client reaches higher levels of self-awareness.
Yoga therapy is based on the concept that the body and mind are interconnected and continually influencing each other. Due to yoga's influence on body and mind, yoga therapy has been applied to treat a wide variety of medical and mental health conditions, including arthritis, chronic fatigue, mood and anxiety disorders, and much more.
How Can Yoga Therapy Help with Panic and Anxiety?Yoga therapy can help in decreasing the physical discomfort associated with panic and anxiety, such as muscle tightness and tension. Yoga asanas assist in increasing strength and flexibility, while helping the body let go of built up stiffness and stress. Yoga therapy is able to help with eliciting the relaxation response, making one feel calmer and more peaceful.
Breath work is another component that helps relieve anxiety. Anxiety often leads to short, rapid breaths that only go through the chest cavity. Yoga therapy teaches one how to breath slowly and fully, helping to manage feelings of nervousness. The idea is that it is hard to feel anxious when one’s body is relaxed.
Yoga therapy can also help a person with panic disorder become more in touch with cognitions that are leading to the physical symptoms of panic and anxiety. By learning how to get in touch with the self on a physical level and slowing down enough to recognize internal thoughts and emotions, a person can learn how to manage their fears. Yoga therapists also use positive affirmations to assist the client in changing their negative perceptions and improving self-esteem. Additionally, meditation can be used to help let go of racing and negative thoughts and that are associated with panic attacks and anxiety.
Getting Started in Yoga TherapyA database of trained yoga therapists can be found at the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) website. The IAYT provides general guidelines for training and accreditation standards. However, the field of yoga therapy has remained unregulated. Currently, yoga therapists are not required to be licensed or certified to practice this technique.
As IAYT continues to work towards standardization of yoga therapy, it may be best to find a yoga therapist through recommendations. Local yoga studios may have trained yoga therapists along with students who can provide reviews of their services.
A yoga therapist will not be able to diagnosis your mental health condition. If you are experiencing the symptoms of panic disorder, including panic attacks, it is important you first seek out the assistance of your doctor or qualified professional. Your doctor or therapist will be able to help you decide on treatment options and discuss the possibility of adding yoga therapy to your treatment plan.
McCall, T. (2007). Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing. New York: Bantam Dell.
NurrieStearns, M. & NurrieStearns, R. (2010). Yoga for Anxiety: Meditations and Practices for Calming the Body and Mind. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). Contemporary Definitions of Yoga Therapy. Accessed on November 17, 2012.