Yoga Therapy and Healing

As yoga therapy becomes even more mainstream, and the benefits more widely accepted, more people are jumping on the bandwagon and the growth accelerates.

As practicing yoga therapists for many years, we have known how yoga therapy can help anything from sciatica to a failed marriage.   So it’s great to finally be recognized and become part of the mainstream. But one of the problems associated with the popularization of yoga, is the tendency to apply it as a panacea and imply that all you need to do is “know” how yoga will fix this or that and prescribe it.   This has lead to a predominantly  allopathic and left brained paradigm in the delivery method.  

A few years ago at a Yoga Therapy conference I was on a panel to answer questions from attendees curios to know more about what yoga therapy could offer.  Many questions related to applications of yoga therapy in the form of  What posture do you recommend for such and such a condition?”

Someone even asked for postures to cure altitude sickness.  My response was a little smug.   “Take a car ride down the mountain or try a headstand. At least a head stand will get you a few feet closer to sea level.

Fundamentally there is nothing wrong with such questions and I apologize for my smug response. The problem is the mind-set from which such questions arise.  A mindset that as professionals we feed and that is based on a paradigm of healing that says “do this procedure or apply this technique to get this result”. To me this approach sells yoga therapy short.  Yoga therapy is an holistic science. One that honors the complexity of being human and the unique makeup of each one of us in every aspect – body, mind, and spirit. To clarify this take a look at the following comparison between two different paradigms of healing that I have attempted to identify.

Two Models of Healing


  1. Based on diagnosis and treatment
  2. Based on cause and affect
  3. Outcome is known from study of previous cases and application of scientific method
  4. Alleviation of pain or disappearance of symptoms = successful intervention
  5. Power is primarily with the therapist
  6. Client follows directions to affect cure
  7. Dependence on therapist is possible and even likely
  8. What is important is decided by therapist
  9. Therapist is invested in successful outcome
  10. Answers are more valued than questions
  11. Ambiguity and chaos are limited in the healing process


  1. Based on co-created exploration
  2. Based on unique manifestation of energy of the individual
  3. Outcome is unknown
  4. Awareness of underlying dissonance in body, mind, and spirit can lead to life transforming change on same dimensions
  5. Power is primarily with the client
  6. Client makes choices from options presenting from new self generated awareness
  7. Empowerment of client is likely
  8. What is important is decided by client
  9. Therapist leaves client to determine relative success without attachment.
  10. Questions can be more valuable than answers
  11. Ambiguity and chaos are valued and inherent in the healing process.

Copyright Michael Lee, 2015

Whilst I may sometimes choose to operate out of the first model (and there are certainly situations where it works best). I believe the real power of yoga therapy is found in the second model.  My thirty years of working with this process through Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy bears this out. It’s when the second model is applied that deep healing and transformation occur. It is in this arena that the client will often uncover some aspect of their life that is out of balance with their spirit. Out of this awareness they will often make empowered (as opposed to prescribed) changes that will make a genuine difference in their lives from that moment on.

There is also a huge difference in the skill set required by the yoga therapy practitioner to operate in the holistic paradigm. In the prescriptive model the practitioner essentially needs to be a skilled technician. In the holistic model the practitioner needs to be trained in the acute application of awareness and presence – and “not doing’ becomes as important as ‘doing.’ Creating an appropriate relationship with the client is essential to the healing process. The practitioner is as much an educator as she is a clinician. Each and every session assumes the feeling of a unique voyage of discovery into an unknown world. I recall the tears of joy on the face of one 70 year old client who realized that his sciatica was no more than his unwillingness to let go of control and laugh at his inability to hold on to his grown children any longer. He would never have discovered this had I been simply “treating” his condition. He got there because we took a journey together into the depth of his essence of being and allowed him to take the lead while I held a safe container for him and he allowed his embodied experience to inform his life.

For use permission please contact Michael at