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Medical Therapeutic Yoga

Special to the Journal  by Eleanor Liebson, OT


The physical and psychological benefits of practicing yoga have been widely known in the United States for more than 50 years. As a result, many Americans have taken up the practice of yoga to improve their health and wellbeing and to help them manage stress.


Yoga is considered to be therapeutic for most healthy people; however, it can be difficult and potentially harmful for people with certain conditions. Medical therapeutic yoga is often a good option for those who desire to take up yoga but who are coping with a wide variety of health-related problems that can make the practice of traditional yoga unsafe.


How is medical therapeutic yoga different from regular yoga?

Medical therapeutic yoga brings together the best of Western rehabilitation principles while maintaining cohesion with traditional yoga philosophy. A medical yoga therapist is someone who is both a licensed health-care professional and a certified yoga therapist. The health-care training ensures an in-depth understanding of anatomy and physiology, which is crucial to safely helping people with existing health-related issues. This body of knowledge is enriched with professional yoga therapy studies. My training is with Professional Yoga Therapy Studies, a rigorous and intensive program that combines aspects of physical therapy, athletic training and exercise science, nutrition, psychology, manual therapy, integrative medicine, and Pilates with yoga and Ayurveda, which is a sister science of yoga originating in India. My practice as an occupational therapist has been significantly enhanced by my yoga therapy training.


Who should consider medical therapeutic yoga?

If you have special issues that prevent you from moving freely, such arthritis, neck and back problems, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, or MS, medical therapeutic yoga can help you begin to move again. Medical yoga therapists use blankets, bolsters, straps, blocks, wedges and other props in their classes to make it easier for people with certain restrictions to relax into the various yoga positions. These classes are very adaptive to the individual needs of class participants. If you cannot get onto the floor, your yoga therapist can show you adaptations for doing yoga while sitting on a chair.


What are the benefits of medical therapeutic yoga?

One of the primary goals of yoga is to help people focus on their breathing, which can help to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate, and enhance peace of mind. People often report sleeping better after practicing yoga that day. Their mood is better, depression and anxiety decreases, and they are able to cope more positively with daily irritations. Yoga has benefits for people with heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), high blood pressure, and diabetes. People with arthritis and other musculoskeletal issues gain increased flexibility and find some relief from pain. Honestly, there are so many proven benefits to the practice of yoga it is difficult to list them all in one brief article.


Can you begin practicing yoga at any age?

Yes, yoga can improve the quality of your life at any age. If your goal is to feel better, you can feel better and find a greater sense of contentment through the practice of yoga. Right now there is an open therapeutic yoga class offered at Rasa Spa, located in the Island Health Center in downtown Ithaca. You can book a one-on-one yoga therapy session or you can join this class. To learn more or to enroll in a medical therapeutic yoga class, call (607) 273-1740 or e-mail


Eleanor Liebson, OTR/L, E-RYT, PYT is an occupational therapist and medical yoga therapist on staff at Cayuga Medical Center, Rasa Spa, and Island Health and Fitness. She specializes in health and wellness and is a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

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