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Yoga Therapy, Yoga Chikitsa

16 Oct 2016   Shanti Gowans

There has been a lot of excitement recently about the effectiveness of yoga therapy. For over 40 years, we have witnessed amazing results through Shanti Yoga.

In the early days, we did not know why or how the Shanti Yoga approach worked so well for so many people. It has become clear now through both research and recent developments in neuroscience, that both the body and the mind are involved in the healing process and that the body can also play a role in the healing process, if and when engaged appropriately. Thus, we can now explain the 'how' and 'why' more effectively. Many yoga practitioners unconsciously bring a quality of striving to our Yoga practice, which can play itself out as forceful self-coercion, frequently resulting in injury. Through the practice of Shanti Yoga, the practitioner gets a chance to learn how to befriend the body by gently warming, hydrating and softening body tissue in preparation for safely increasing range-of-motion. There is also room for the way in which individual differences in anatomical structure and constitution require each posture and practice to be adapted to the person. In this way Yoga practice becomes a practical tool, relevant to the unique life situation and personal objectives of the student. As their needs change, their Yoga practice will be in a state of continual evolution. 

The more we are involved in this work, the more we understand that if we can create conditions for the patient's nervous system to regulate itself (by balancing what are known in Ayurveda as doshas, the three main operating energetics in the body), everything else will follow organically. 

The mind is stored in various parts of the body and when people are unable to access this, they are unable to make connections between movement, touch, feelings, or desires, and neither do they have the vocabulary to describe their body's reactions, which are coccooned in pain and rigidity. This, together with patterns of fear, keeps a patient stuck in the past, which may not be useful to them any more. The 'walls' around them become more and more rigid. Nothing will be able to penetrate through their top layer, if they are terrified of admitting and exploring the truths their bodies have been holding. They are thus not ready to release their past.

However, on the yoga mat, when people are more relaxed, and are able to feel forgiveness and friendship towards themselves, a greater momentum towards becoming unstuck becomes available. More than just a conventional, predominantly cognitive therapeutic environment, the physical, verbal, emotional and meditative loving responses from yoga that meet the needs of body, mind and spirit help people to break the cycles of repetitive and harmful patterns that they could be both physically and mentally stuck in. This calls for a different kind of process to the one they may have previously been engaged in, with the intention of 'treating', 'cureing', 'regulating', 'diagnosing', or 'fixing' themselves.With this work, having the intention to serve the patient by creating suitable conditions for their healing, the practitioner/teacher becomes the facilitator of a process, rather than merely applying a treatment. This demands a high degree of faith in the wisdom of the body. By cultivating a quality of perception that is “without an ideal” the patient learns to accurately gauge their physical, mental and emotional state as well as the practices that may bring them back into balance. As the patient learns to perceive and trust the subtle sensation of the body, they can adapt their practice moment-by-moment in a way that is firm and disciplined yet infinitely caring, compassionate and nourishing of self.

In a sense the practitioner 'gives over to a higher intelligence',  the mind-body wisdom, with each and every student, client or patient. It takes courage to do this, as well as personal practice, thorough training and a lot of applied practice. The process (and the training) are also informed by a somewhat different paradigm to both education and healing, as compared with the more traditional approach, which is a diagnostic/treatment model.

Definition of Yoga Therapy

Yoga therapy, yoga chikitsa, is a process of empowering individuals to progress towards improving their health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga.

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”  B.K.S. Iyengar

Understanding Yoga

Yoga is a scientific system of self-investigation, self-transformation, and self-realisation that originated in India.The teachings of Yoga are grounded in classical texts, known as the Veda, as well as a rich oral tradition.This tradition recognises that a human being’s essential nature is an unchanging awareness that exists in relationship with and identifes with the changing phenomena of the empirical world.

The Yoga tradition views human beings as a multidimensional system that includes all aspects of a body, its breath, mind, intellect and emotions, and their mutual interaction within this system.

Yoga is founded on the basic principle that intelligent practice can positively influence the direction of change within these human dimensions, which are distinct from an individual’s unchanging nature or spirit.

The practices of yoga traditionally include, but are not limited to, asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathwork), nidra (relaxation), concentration, meditation, mantra, chanting, mudra, rituals, and a disciplined lifestyle. Yoga is transformational, as it harmonises the body, mind and spirit. Yoga is therapeutic when it is systematic and holistic.

Yoga therapy is the appropriate application of these yoga teachings and practices, in a therapeutic context in order to support a consistent yoga practice that will increase self-awareness and engage the client/student’s energy in the direction of their desired goals.

Yoga Therapy Goals
The goals of yoga therapy include
- eliminating, reducing, or managing symptoms that cause pain and suffering
- improving function
- helping to prevent the occurrence or recurrence of underlying causes of illness; and
- moving towards improved health and wellbeing.
Yoga therapy also helps clients/students change their relationship and identification with their condition.
Current research shows that practicing yoga benefits a wide range of conditions and illnesses including, but not limited to, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, cancer, lower back pain, anxiety and depression. Research has shown that yoga reduces stress, lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, improves sleep, elevates a person's mood, alleviates pain, improves strength and flexibility, and improves the overall quality of a person's life. 

Shanti Yoga Therapy Clinic

Shanti Yoga is holistic and includes practices for the body, mind and spirit. The scope of Shanti yoga therapy practice includes:

  • A total health assessment
  • Pranayama (breathing practices)
  • Asanas (yoga stretches and poses)
  • Yoga Nidra (conscious relaxation) and guided imagery
  • Concentration and visualisation
  • Meditation
  • Mudra (yogic body, hand and eye gestures)
  • Mantra and yogic affirmations
  • Chanting/music
  • Dietary and Lifestyle guidance (diet, exercise, laughter, music, nature)
  • Self reflection (setting goals, intentions, finding purpose and meaning)
  • Seva (selfless service)
  • Sangha (a supportive yogic community
  • Ayurvedic herbal medicines 
  • Detox and Panchakarma
  • Massage and allied Ayurvedic treatments

What to Expect

Before your session you will be asked to complete a Total Health Assessment form.

The practitioner will then review your health information and suggest simple strategies that you will be able to implement the moment you go home. These can include help with your posture, pain, stress (depression, anxiety and sleep), nutrition and lifestyle. The practitioner you will make a plan and set some goals together with you.  

Additional assessments are recommended, during which your experience with the practice will be reviewed. Modifications and additions will be suggested as appropriate.  

You could be given a set of of practices designed to best meet your goals. Short daily practices have been shown to be more effective for fostering new healthy habits than longer periods a few times a week . You and your therapist will determine the  amount of time you can comfortably commit to, usually a minimum of 15 minutes once or twice a day.  

We recommend a minimum of 3 sessions to successfully create a practice that will help you achieve your goals.


Consultation with a practitioner can range from $99 to $175. 
The initial consultation is 90 mins. 
Pre-pay Initial 3 sessions (3.5 hours) $350.
Subsequent 3 x 1 hour sessions save 10%.
5 x 1 hour sessions sessions save 15%
Student clinics with Ayurvedic interns are free for the initial health assessment.



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About Shantiji

Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.

Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography

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