Spirituality in Yoga Therapy: Bridging Body and Soul

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The journey of yoga therapy in North America has witnessed a fascinating evolution—from its early days marked by physical practices to the profound, transformative experiences that delve deep into the spiritual essence of yoga. This shift is not just anecdotal but is increasingly recognized in the realm of healthcare research. This paper, Including Spirituality into a Fuller Picture of Research on Whole Person Health, published, 2023, by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) underscores the importance of understanding spirituality as a vital aspect of healthcare research and clinical practice.

Historically, spirituality was closely tied to religious practices and dedicated service within faith traditions. However, recent research from various NIH and VA publications distinguishes spirituality from religiosity, highlighting its broad and complex nature influenced by diverse cultural, religious, and academic backgrounds. In the last few decades, spirituality has been recognized as a distinct construct, increasingly incorporated into holistic healthcare approaches.

My personal entry into yoga therapy, detailed in my inaugural book, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy – Bridge from Body to Soul, published in 1997, was profoundly shaped by the insights of Emmanuel, channeled by the late Pat Rodegast. Emmanuel’s words, delivered directly to me, struck a deep chord: “We live in a time when many people are awakening… starting to realize ways of living from a much deeper, spiritual place.”  This message clarified my role in this emerging field—to help individuals cross the bridge from body to soul, supporting their awakening through the transformative power of yoga.

My body of work, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, has always emphasized the potential of yoga to empower individuals to navigate their life paths from an inner perspective, using yoga as a catalyst for personal transformation. This approach aligns with contemporary understandings of spirituality in healthcare, which advocate for a more inclusive and less rigid interpretation, focusing on inner experiences and personal growth rather than strict conformity.

The resurgence of spirituality within yoga therapy in a more secular and open-ended manner marks a significant development. It reconnects us to the ancient yogic purpose of transformation, defined simply as living in harmony with the world and returning to our true nature—a state of natural goodness.

Recently, members of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) have engaged discussions, that I  have been actively involved in, around integrating spirituality into yoga therapy. These conversations are crucial as they help frame yoga not just as a physical or mental practice, but as a holistic approach that bridges body and soul, fostering a deeper connection with ourselves and the broader universe.

This evolving dialogue reflects a collective quest for deeper meaning, purpose, and connection in our lives. In today’s world, filled with existential anxieties, the deep, embodied practices of yoga and meditation offer a sanctuary within, nurturing healing and resilience amidst life’s uncertainties.

As we continue to explore these dimensions, I and the IAYT invite all who are interested in deepening their understanding and experience of yoga therapy to join us. Whether through personal practice, attending seminars, or participating in discussions like the upcoming panel, on May 15th, organized by IAYT, that I am honored to moderate with esteemed panelists Ken Breniman, LCSW, C-IAYT, Lisa Uebelacker, PhD, Shailla V. Vaidya, MD, C-IAYT, and Joanne Wohlmuth, MA, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT.  Click here to register (free).

I look forward to the continued unfolding of this spiritual dimension in yoga therapy and the enriching discussions at IAYT, and invite you to share in the comments below:

What role does spirituality play in your own yoga practice or therapeutic journey?
(Share in the comments section below.)

Note: I can’t help but plug our signature 8 week course: Bridge from Body to Soul: Applying the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Method for Yoga and Mental Health Professionals next offered in September, 2024. I’m very proud of this course and hope you will join us. Significant early registration discount is offered before May 15th!

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