My introduction to yoga was in the gymnasium of a community center in a small town in Connecticut. I was fifteen and coaxed into the 6-week class series for its stretching and strengthening benefits. As a Type-A student and competitive athlete, it served as a release from pent-up tensions – both physical and mental – as well as semi-quirky mid-week activity to do with my family.
Another (nearly) fifteen years has passed since then, and my heart is warmed when I dip into the memories: trying not to burst out laughing while twisting into strange postures next to my parents struggling to do the same; the attempts to focus on my breath while constantly peeking at the clock and wondering when final relaxation would finally come. Yoga was very much a physical practice that offered me a good stretch and a little peace.
Why yoga for healing? Because it is all-encompassing. It gets to the roots. Yoga is a technology classically geared toward realization of self, complete liberation from the bondage of ignorance. Yoga has the ability to transform not only the strength and elasticity of our muscles, but the freedom of energy flow, the patterns of the mind, and our experience of reality itself. And when it comes to healing specific ailments, the yogic system offers us a clear – albeit complex – blueprint of where to build foundations, where to break down walls, and what to explore when it comes to shining light in the dark, forgotten spaces of our being.
The first of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras reads: Atha yoga anushasanam: “Now, the teachings of yoga” or, as realized master Sadhguru translates, “And now yoga.” Sadhguru goes on to describe further what is meant by this strange half-sentence that starts the entire collection of sutras:
If you have seen money, power, wealth and pleasure, you have tasted everything in your life and you have realized that nothing is going to fulfill you ultimately and work in the real sense, if you have gotten that point, then it is time for yoga… the pain of ignorance is tearing you apart. Now, yoga.
Now there is a way to know.1
As a yoga therapist, I also appreciate a healing perspective on this sutra. So often, clients come to us who have spent years pursuing different paths to healing, some of which have helped, some of which have not. In states of frustration, desperation, or deep longing to dive more deeply into the healing process, many find their way to yoga.
So: why yoga for healing? The following three points sum up what I have found to be the most concise way of explaining the depth and breadth of the yogic healing science.
Yoga gets to the roots.
Yogic teachings on pancha kosha, or the five bodies, point towards the ability of yogic healing to permeate all aspects of the being: physical, energetic, emotional, mental, and causal. If there is imbalance or dis-ease in one of these bodies/layers, it frequently manifests in a less subtle body: for example, suppressed anger (rooted in the emotional layer of the being) may manifest as chronic digestive issues (in the physical layer of the being).
In a yogic approach to healing, therefore, one can work with a practice that relieves the digestive symptoms but also addresses the root cause by working to gently release suppressed anger and offer techniques to manage emotions.
Yoga enables the self-healing mechanisms of the body.
The body is highly intelligent, and when we work with the mind-body connection through yogic techniques (like asana, pranayama, and meditation), the bodily systems come back into balance. Yoga works toward a state of homeostasis, or stable equilibrium of physiological processes. What does that do, exactly? The more stable, balanced, and resilient our physiological processes are, the more the body is able to put energy towards healing.
By decreasing stress, dissolving physiological imbalances, freeing energetic blockages and cultivating a practice of awareness in the present moment, yoga builds a nourishing and stable environment within the body. And it’s not just during a practice that the shifts take place! When one practices yoga over a series of weeks, months, and years, a body-mind state conducive to healing is embedded in the being even while off the mat. And the results are often exponential. Yoga facilitates the action step: “I am an active participant in my own healing.”
This is the clincher. It always has been for my personal practice, and it is something that I emphasize when working with clients. When one wakes up day after day and makes a decision to do a yoga practice – whether it’s a series of asanas or a meditation, lasts 2 hours or 10 minutes – a shift in the embodied mind occurs that says, “I am prioritizing my healing, my happiness, and my life.” I have found yoga unique in this way: one is learning and incorporating techniques, as opposed to simply receiving a healing treatment.
This is not to debunk other healing modalities. It is to say that the action step of doing one’s own practice to facilitate one’s own healing establishes discipline, self-confidence, and self-worth (which, over time, assist in even deeper healing).
Written by Alexa Owen Alexa is a therapeutic yoga consultant, writer, dancer, and yogini. Her passion for finding harmony and healing through yoga has taken her on many inner and outer adventures; she has found her professional niche in assisting others with their own healing journeys through embodiment practices and yoga therapy.