Integrated Yoga Therapy

Over the summer I spent a month in Kripalu (Massachusetts, USA) to start my Integrated Yoga Therapy (IYT) training. It was amazing, inspiring, energising and nourishing and I have learnt so much that my head is overflowing. It has planted many seeds where I want to learn, practice and help people at every opportunity. Over the next months I will record practices and note down things I have learnt about the subtle body (the energy), the physical body, the koshas, affirmations and mudras, visualisation and yoga nidra. I hope I can do the KIYT justice as it was the most wonderful experience!

The beautiful scenery at Kripalu, Massachusetts, USA


Yoga therapy through the lens of the koshas

A large part of integrated yoga therapy is using the Koshas (the 5 'sheaths' or layers of our being) to approach health and wellbeing; 

  1. Annamaya Kosha - physical

  2. Pranamaya Kosha - energy

  3. Manomaya Kosha - emotional

  4. Vijnanamaya Kosha - wisdom

  5. Anandamaya Kosha - bliss

In order to find out how to reveal our innermost Being, the sages explored the various sheaths of existence, starting from body and progressing through mind and intelligence, and ultimately to the soul. The yogic journey guides us from our periphery, the body, to the center of our being, the soul. The aim is to integrate the various layers so that the inner divinity shines out as through clear glass.
— B.K.S. Iyengar – Light on Life

We are most familiar with the outer sheath, the physical body as it is the most tangible. In today's western world though a lot of us are disconnected from our physical bodies (driven from the mind) and I discovered first-hand how illness made me resent my body for failing me and pushing it even harder to 'behave'. During the course I learnt so much about the human body, the interconnectedness and how utterly brilliant it is.

The energy body is perhaps a little more difficult to sense as it is subtle. It consists of the breath and energy in the form of prana, chakras, nadhis and vayus. Prana is energy that flows through your body, as I said, it's hard to measure, but we can notice when we feel energetic or lethargic and if we tune in we can identify places of energy in the body. Yoga philosophy says that the energy flows through the many nadhis (energy channels) in our body and that there are 7 chakras which correspond to massive nerve centres in the body. Each of the seven main chakras contains bundles of nerves and major organs as well as our psychological, emotional, and spiritual states of being. Energy can flow in various directions (vayus) through the body.

The emotional body is where the habitual unconscious patterns of thought and emotion are. It's where the Ego resides, the collection of thoughts, habits, character traits wired in the brain. However, it is important to remember that you are not your thoughts! Our thoughts are influenced by the 3 gunas or qualities: Rajas ( darkness, destructive, death ), Tamas( energy, passion, birth ) and Sattva (goodness, purity, light ).

The next kosha is the wisdom body, which is the place of the higher mind, witness and discernment and liberating intuition. It is the ability to become the witness of yourself, to be able to observe your emotions and thoughts and to realise when the egoic mind is getting in the way.

Finally the bliss body. The deepest layer and the connection to our natural self, which is complete, whole and blissful.


Awareness exercises

I've been reading the most insightful book focussing emotional balance, and there are many simple exercises which can help us create awareness of our breath, body and mind. With this awareness we can practice to calm our nervous system and balance our emotions. They are very simple exercises, so be aware for your (egoic)mind to tell you that surely these exercises won't be beneficial as they are too simple. They DO work, however these small, yet effective exercises need to be practised regularly and it will take discipline (tapas) and self-study (svadhyaya). Stick with it please, as I cannot begin to tell you how much benefit it will bring you if you can cultivate breath and body awareness - your mind will become spacious and calm.

Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Help Relieve Anxiety and Depression - Bo Forbes

Breath Awareness: This is a short breath awareness exercise where we start to use our breath as a tool to balance our emotions. First we observe and try to assess the quality of the breath. Note: it is important to breath in and out through the nose, to create emotional balance.

Body Awareness: an exercise to create awareness of places of tension and relaxation in your body. This small and subtle exercise might feel like it is not making big changes, but practiced often it will have a big impact on your mood and your ability to be in tune with your body.

 

Mudra, affirmation and guided visualisation

We also learnt about the power of combining mudras (hand gestures) with affirmations for the purpose of planting seeds for our intentions for better health. Affirmations are important because our thoughts and attitudes play a large role in our state of health; studies have shown that the use of positive affirmations support the healing process. We can then follow this with deep relaxation during a guided visualisation. Deep relaxation is an essential part of the healing process. Through deep relaxation exercises, practiced regularly, all the systems of the body, including the cardiovascular system return to their optimal levels.

I'm planning to describe various gestures and affirmations together with a recording of a deep relaxation and will place them on this page. My suggestion, try everything with an open mind, as in order to learn, you have to keep an open mind. Practice things a few times and then follow your intuition to determine what you need!

Please note, that all of the practices, images and recordings are based on the teachings of Joseph Le Page (founder of IYT and author of the book Mudras for Healing and Transformation)

 

Ushas Mudra (gesture of the dawn)

Cultivating a positive attitude and release tension

Ushas means "dawn" and this mudra supports us in welcoming each day enthusiastically. As we embrace each day more openly with fewer expectations of how things should be, stress and tension are released naturally.

 

  1. Interlace your fingers loosely and rest the hands on the lap, with the palms upward

  2. The tips of the thumbs may lightly touch each other

  3. Relax the shoulders back and down, with the elbows held slightly away from the body and the spine naturally alligned

 

Apana Vayu Mudra (gesture of the healthy heart)

Cultivating a healthy heart and intuition

Apana Vayu means 'purifying current'. This gesture supports optimal health for your heart and circulatory system and it reduces stress, instilling calm and confidence and cultivating intuition.

  1. Bend the index fingers down to touch the base of the thumbs

  2. Touch the tips of the thumbs to the tips of the middle and ring fingers

  3. Extend the little fingers straight out

  4. Rest the back of the hands on the thighs or knees

  5. Relax the shoulders back and down, with the spine naturally aligned

 

Dvimukham Mudra (gesture of deep relaxation)

Cultivating deep relaxation, reducing anxiety and high blood plessure and helping with insomnia

Dvimukham means "two faces" and refers to the two sets of fingers connecting in this gesture. Symbolically, it refers to our limited personality and our limitless true being. In order to relax deeply and completely, we need to release our concerns and worries at the level of the personality.

  1. Hold the hands with the palms facing upwards below the navel

  2. Touch the tips of the ring and little fingers to the same fingers of the opposite hand

  3. Rest the hands below the navel, with the forearms resting against the abdomen or on the lap

  4. Relax the shoulders back and down, with the spine naturally aligned