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Review of "Yoga Therapy"

By Ellen G. Horovitz and Staffan Elgelid (Editors)
Routledge, 2015
Review by Beth Cholette, Ph.D. on Aug 18th 2015
Yoga Therapy

I am clinical psychologist who values a holistic approach to treatment.  As a yoga practitioner a well, I strive to incorporate yogic concepts into my own therapeutic approach, and so this book seemed a perfect fit for me.  As I read through the volume, however, I found myself wondering about who exactly the intended audience was; more on that in a bit.

Editor Ellen G. Horovitz concludes her Introduction by noting that the intention of Yoga Therapy: Theory and Practice is to "open a dialogue" (p.4) about yoga therapy by sharing the expertise from some top practitioners in the field.  To start, her co-editor, Staffan Elgelid (along with co-author Erin Byron) presents a chapter on defining yoga therapy via a compilation of various definitions.  Other chapters in Section I describe how yoga came to the west, review the increasing acceptance of yoga therapy in the west, and discuss the potential for incorporating yoga therapy into human institutions. 

Section II addresses specific Models of Practice.  Here is where the contributors begin to get into more specifics about the "how" of yoga therapy.  Several of the offerings are science-based, beginning with the initial accounting of how yoga impacts the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) described in "Yoga and Neuronal Pathways."  Renowned restorative yogi Judith Hanson Lasatar builds on this by reviewing exactly what occurs when the PNS is activated and emphasizing the importance of achieving this level of relaxation as it can be accomplished through yoga.  Similarly, therapist Sheri Kreher discusses the areas of the brain that are triggered by anger, explaining yoga's role in replacing painful emotional reactions with a relaxation response.  Other chapters talk more generally about how yoga can support the body in responding to stress, including providing an "emotional detox" (Benjamin Lorr), assisting special populations such as healers (Joanne Wu), and providing a possible alternative to the more traditional medical model (Staffan Elgelid).

The remaining essays read mostly like case studies.  I was most intrigued by Chapter 12, "An Ayurvedic Lifestyle and Diet."  This chapter detailed a study which assessed subjects who volunteered to take part in a two-month ayurvedic-based "cleanse."  Unfortunately, although 212 subjects volunteered, only 52 completed both the pre- and post-cleanse measures.  The authors themselves admit that the results from this small, rather homogeneous group are likely not overly generalizable.  The last few contributions to the collection did suggest interesting applications of yoga therapy, including yoga asana and art therapy incorporated into family therapy, yoga breathwork and postures with mental health clients, yoga as an adjunct to mental health therapy, and finally, the "Music of Yoga/Yoga of Music" as described by internationally known yogi FranVois Raout.

Ironically, although I am both a mental health practitioner and a yoga practitioner, I believe that my actual "takeaway" from this book was rather small.  That is not to say it wasn't a worthwhile read, for it was, yet it merely confirmed most of what I already knew to be true--i.e., that yoga, in its many forms (including postures, breathing, and other, even music) is extremely beneficial to overall health and mental health.  What this volume did not do was to provide me with specific practical applications for incorporating yoga therapy into my own work, at least not beyond the things that I already do.  But perhaps that is a topic that the editors may wish to consider for a follow-up volume, Yoga Therapy: Practical Applications.


© 2015 Beth Cholette


 Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.