Erkende Yogatherapeut

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what yoga therapy actually can do is via real stories. The people and stories described below were clients who came to me in the past years with different types of problems. The names are changed for privacy reasons. 

Els had a mysterious cough, which started every time she was stressed, and at times got so bad it completely exhausted her. She had all the check ups done, and nothing to be found, her lungs were healthy. In yoga therapy we always start with an all-round physical and breathing assessment.  When I asked her to do some simple twists and inversions, the cough started, which gave me the cue that breathing against resistance was difficult for her – meaning that her diaphragm might be weak. So we focused on exercises to strengthen the diaphragm, together with relaxation to reduce the stress, and the cough was greatly reduced within a few weeks. 

Nicky was seeking relief from auto-immune disease – an unfortunate molecular mimicry after the COVID vaccine has lead to her body attacking her small own nerve fibres, leading to intense pain in the skin and some of her muscles. We noticed that any compression in the body part where the disease was active (i.e. in inflammation) was leading to pain, but stretching helped. By giving space to the nerve fibres in the affected parts, the pain started to subside. She also realized she needed movement, and finding the way to move safely, she could finally start to get better. Yoga therapy and group classes became her primary coping strategy. Though an auto-immune disease doesn’t go away entirely, it can go into remission, and Nicky is now entirely free of pain. 

When we did the intake with Barbara, it seemed that all her physical issues were somehow focused on the left side of her body: tension in the left shoulder, burning under the chest on the left side, tinnitus in the left ear. She wasn’t actually aware of this, but it caught my attention that she was always showing her left side. In the physical assessment we quickly saw that she had a contraction in her left side, all the way from the hip to the shoulder. When we started to work on decompressing her left side, the tinnitus went away within a few weeks. With all honesty, I was surprised about this myself (a ringing in the ear can be caused by so many things and is very hard to get rid of) – but I was so happy that our approach helped her. It all starts with awareness: once you know about a problem, you can do something about it. When we do an all-round physical assessment in yoga, we notice things, connections, which are so obviously there, but which we wouldn’t notice without paying attention. 

Karl had a similar problem, a strong compression in his left side, his whole upper body leaning towards the left when standing or sitting. He was suffering from diverticulitis, a bulging pouch in the bowel infected by bacteria. Not surprisingly, the issue was in the left side of his abdomen. Structural imbalances always cause compressions somewhere and these compressions need to be taken seriously – organs don’t generally appreciate being compressed for a long time. First I recommended to wait with yoga until the pain subsided thanks to the antibiotics, then we started to work on stretching and releasing the left side of his trunk. This is a pattern I often notice: inflammations generally set in to areas which are compressed. So being aware of the compression, and releasing it by working asymmetrically (longer stretches on the affected side), can start to slowly initiate change towards better health and less pain.  

Ilse had gone through a particularly difficult time with breast cancer. She had been operated, which left quite a lot of physical damage behind it. During the physical assessment we noticed that she got cramps in her back really often – initially it wasn’t clear why, but after a while, through doing the assessment exercises systematically, the pattern started to be clear: any compression under the shoulderblades ended up in a cramp. It was generally triggered by arm lifts or twists of the torso, both of which cause these muscles to contract. So we got to work, with focus on very gently strengthening and lengthening these back muscles. After about 2-3 sessions the cramps started to ease, and after 5-6 sessions even her shoulder pain went away which she’d been suffering from for 2 years. She was surprised and very happy for this positive evolution. We’ve been now working together for months, and she can start to do even advanced yoga poses, as her body is becoming stronger and more supple. She is still receiving hormone therapy which makes her body stiffer and weaker, so regular practice to keep building strength and flexibility is very important for her. 

Yet Yoga therapy is not just physical, structural work – it also works essentially with the mind. In Ilse’s case, she found gentleness towards herself transformative. In yoga therapy we move away from the “no pain no gain” principle, and drop expectations – they don’t help, they just push the ego forward and cause injury. When we are empowered to find our own inner balance between “holding and letting go”, the “sweet challenge” which is not too much and not too little, our bodies start to unfold and develop in positive ways, and the improvement comes way faster than working purely functionally. 

Stef came to me for relaxation after landing in a burnout. Although he was hyperkinetic (his body always in motion), when he did physical exercises (asanas) coordinated with his breath, he slowed down impressively, and could tap into his inner calm. When I suggested to Stef at the end of a session to thank himself for the time he’d just given himself (gratitude practices are naturally integrated into yoga lessons), he unexpectedly started to cry. It turned out he was always very hard and judgmental on himself, and thanking himself was a whole new experience. So we started integrating mildness for himself as an integral part of the practice. How we do yoga poses can be a reflection of our attitude towards ourselves: Do we tend to push ourselves beyond our limits? Do we want to do it all perfectly? Do we have a specific goal – such as reaching our toes, or being able to do a difficult pose? Do we speed up our exhale just to be able to move to “action” more quickly? Yoga offers a safe way to practice new attitudes. It took time for Stef to practice with acceptance and kindness towards his body, and let judgments go. And then slowly he could start to integrate this into his daily life.  

I could keep going for hours and hours with fascinating client stories (I find them fascinating anyway), but I’ll also try to keep this within the limit people may still be willing to read. I hope it gives an idea about the types of insights and connections which you can uncover in the context of yoga therapy, and how integrating these insights into the practice can lead to transformation.