Yoga Therapy: The Land Unknown

Yoga therapy helps us achieve optimal wellness by bridging the distance between ourselves and the body. It relies a lot on the connection between the practitioner and the client. Here’s my vision of this new modality.

When I say I’m a yoga therapist, I often get the same answer: “yoga-what”?

So, what’s yoga therapy? Well, it’s different from “just” yoga because yoga therapy’s sole purpose is to help a person find their way to reach better health–whether physical, emotional or mental–regardless of their fitness level, body type and mobility. Its works in one-on-one private sessions or in (very) small group classes only.

Let’s have a look at the field. We’re just around 3,800 yoga therapists certified by The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). And that’s in the whole world. So, each of us faces a huge challenge—we’re breaking grounds and making the field. You’re probably wondering what’s IAYT. It’s a non-profit founded in the late 80’s in the Western U.S. by a handful of yogis and doctors. In recent years, the IAYT released training standards for yoga teachers who want to teach yoga therapy and for yoga studios that want to offer a yoga therapy training program. The organization is also working on establishing yoga as a respected and recognized therapy, just like counseling, massage therapy, etc, at the federal level. Yes, we’ve got a long way to go. So, in the meantime, we’re helping our clients heal.

Who can benefit from yoga therapy? About anyone who’s interested in diving deeper in their healing journey: people who want to be present to what is really going on with them, people who are going through anxiety or grief, people who are in post-surgery recovery, cancer patients and survivors, the list goes on.

I’ve started crafting my own yoga therapy practice 16 years ago, long before I became certified. My yoga therapy “protocol” involves a style of yoga I learned from my teacher, Aline Frati, who taught in Paris for 40 years. “We can’t modify anything without the body being deeply relaxed first,” she said. In any given session, I guide my clients into slow movements and deep breathing that’s meant to help them do mainly two things—to relax deeply and to “listen” to their body. When I say “listen to their body”, I mean to feel the body tensions, to become aware of the message(s) these tensions have for us.

Aline Frati, my teacher for 14 years in Paris.

I strongly believe that verbal exchange is 100% part of any healing. So, during each session, I also hold space for my clients to name what’s going on with them and what their body tensions are saying, what part of their past these tensions are bringing forward. The verbal exchange is just as important as the yoga practice because one of the most powerful things we can do for our well-being is to share with others experiences that are meaningful to us. For that part, I work under the supervision of Laurent Malterre, a Paris-based licensed psychologist, author and teacher of clinical psychology.

Holding space. Language. Yoga. That’s what’s yoga therapy is about to me.

Laurent Malterre, licensed psychologist, in his Paris office. He’s co-hosted retreats in the Bordeaux region with two other French therapists who trained at the Esalen Institute (CA) in the 80’s.

Why Do You Need to Feel Close to Your Fascia?

Fascia, the connective tissue that connects every muscle and organ holds our life experiences. When we connect to it, we live a healthier life.

Have you ever felt deeply connected with your body? Have you ever experienced how much that helps you see what is going on with you?

One way to feel connected to your body is to explore your fascia.

So, what is fascia? It’s an umbrella term for the dense connective tissue that surrounds and connects every single muscle and organ throughout the body. Fascia is vital. It’s also called the “information highway” because it moves chemical and electromagnetic substances very quickly in the body. As a matter of fact, it’s through fascia that we experience our life, our being.

However, the importance of fascia was long overlooked. Fortunately, both regular and complementary medicine have done some research on fascia in the last decades. So, we now know that it is an important tissue for health.

Let’s go back in time. In the 80’s, Prof. Danis Bois, a French physical therapist and osteopath, created a soft tissue manual therapy that he called fasciatherapy. Bois started gently stimulating and relaxing fascia throughout the body. Soon after that, he realized that this therapy brought suppressed emotions and memories to the surface. So, he decided to go back to university to study psychology (among other things) so he could learn to guide his clients in their emotional work.

Listening to the “infinitely imperceptible”

Fasciatherapy helps in many circumstances. It improves the sense of self and allows us to be more present to our own experience of life. It helps us take care of ourselves and our needs.

Interestingly, Bois brings to our attention that fasciatherapy’s purpose is not about reaching a modified state of consciousness like breathwork (which is meant to help you release emotions). It’s about listening to the “infinitely imperceptible”.

Did you know that yoga, too, can help you (re)establish a relationship with fascia? The key is to find a teacher who is present and who will guide you in a slow practice where breath is the key. This style of yoga practice helps fascia to move and release. It also provides a space for you to connect with your inner sensations and tensions. There is something truly magical in experiencing this physical sensitiveness. Yet, if we want to heal we also need the verbal exchange. In other words, we need to translate these sensations and tensions into language, to name the feelings that hide behind the body sensations. Because a mind body practice is about feeling the body and breaking the silence.

Centre d’Etude et de Recherche Appliquée en Psychopédagogie Perceptive
Fasciapraktijk Amsterdam
– Article “L’éveil sensoriel” published in Inexploré, spring 2021. Inexploré is a French quarterly magazine at the crossroad of science, spirituality and psychology.