The Spiritual Dimension of Yoga Therapy

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The field of yoga therapy is gaining ground, and its biggest hallmark might be that it addresses body, mind and spirit simultaneously. The idea of working with the body and mind is clear -- but what does it mean to work with the spirit, in a therapeutic, or helpful way, especially during this holiday season when so many feel let down, in pain, or depressed in ways they can't express.

Rooted in the Latin word spiritus, it might seem that breath itself would define spirituality Turns out it’s not that easy, and many prefer to duck the question. The International Association of Yoga Therapists’ definition of yoga therapy does not include the word “spirit,” nor do two thirds of the dozen contemporary definitions listed on its web site.

The integration of mind, body and spirit is the thing that distinguishes yoga from other therapies -- considering the person as a whole being, says Antonio Sausys, a California based yoga and somatic therapist who visits New York regularly. “While the relationship between the mind and the body is well established, the inclusion of the spirit finds some resistance, both on the part of the therapist and the client.”

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It’s no wonder when we don’t really even agree on what the word means. “Each yoga therapist is going to have a concept or an underlying understanding of spirit, and each client will also come with a preconceived notion of what is spirit for them -- or no notion,” Sausys says. These notions might be intertwined with a religious perspective. “Yoga may say we are to pray on the object of Ganesha, but this might conflict with a Christian,.” he says. “How do you make those two jive?” He says it is important that the therapist be sensitive to these perspectives and to address them in the work.

“The body misses what has been lost, the mind struggles to understanding the meaning of the loss, but true knowledge of loss comes from spirit,” he says. “There is a saying that ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’ -- I strongly disagree. Grief is the price we pay for attachment. The spirit knows that attachment is bad news.” He says meditation is a key element in dealing with spirituality and loss, in that it teaches that fundamentally, nothing is permanent. </