MInd-Body-Spirit

Yoga Therapy Explained

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

When it comes to health and fitness, yoga has already hit the mainstream. Studies confirm that practicing yoga can help keep you fit, toned and pliable. Now, a growing number of physicians are recognizing the benefits of yoga for achieving psychological, physiological and even spiritual healing.

According to Julie Levinson, certified yoga therapist at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, practicing yoga can be especially beneficial for people who are seeking to become more grounded while managing a difficult diagnosis.

FAQ: Yoga Therapy

Yoga is not meant to take the place of traditional medicine. Instead, it’s a complementary practice that can help patients navigate the emotional and physical toll of chronic illness.

Here, Levinson responds to frequently asked questions about this intriguing form of therapy:  

Q: How does yoga therapy work?

A: Yoga incorporates poses (also called asanas), breathing exercises and meditation into one focused session. Research suggests this unique mix of practices can help lower blood pressure, slow down heart rate, decrease the production of the stress hormone cortisol and release feel-good chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin. You can use the postures to achieve a specific objective. For example, poses that involve forward bending are calming while back bends are invigorating.

The therapeutic benefit comes in when a yoga therapist crafts a class designed to create balance through posture, breathing and meditation techniques. Together, those three tools can trigger the relaxation response — the antidote to your body’s stress response — and that’s where the real healing happens.

Q: Which conditions benefit from yoga?

A: Yoga is a great practice for everybody, regardless of age, fitness level or health status. However, a growing body of research suggests yoga therapy is especially beneficial for the following conditions:

Q: What should prospective students understand about yoga as a form of therapy?

A: When people are new to yoga, they’re often focused on the fitness aspects, rather than the mind-body connection. Yoga therapy incorporates, postures, breath work and meditation to address health conditions while guiding individuals to overall greater health and well-being.

Q: What can I expect from yoga therapy?

A: Therapeutic yoga is not the same as a traditional yoga class. For example, at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, we focus on each student’s primary areas of concerns and tailor the class to each individual. All students complete intake forms when they come to their first class, and the yoga therapist reviews the forms with the student before beginning. The classes are small (12 students maximum) to allow for continued personal attention.

Q: Do I need special equipment?

A: Yoga therapists use a variety of tools including bolsters, blankets, blocks and straps to support and tailor the practice to the individual needs. All of these tools are usually provided. Yoga mats are provided.

Q: Who is a good candidate for yoga therapy?  

A: Everyone is a good candidate for yoga therapy, even if you’re not currently battling a health condition. Yoga can help reduce stress, increase energy and improve sleep. It’s a holistic approach to health and healing. What separates yoga therapy from traditional yoga classes is an approach that’s tailored to the individual.

Finding Balance

With today’s 24/7 schedules and increasing demands, the mind and body tend to get separated. Yoga is a way to reunite the two and create calm through a balanced practice of asanas, meditation and breathing. And it’s a practice you can incorporate into your daily life.

While yoga is a gentle practice designed to promote health and well-being, it isn’t fool-proof. You can get injured if you do poses incorrectly. Before you hit the mat, ask your doctor if yoga therapy is appropriate for you — and always pay attention to your body’s signals during practice.

Check out all the options for yoga available through Henry Ford Health System.


Julie Levinson, BFA, ERYT, C-IAYT, is a certified Yoga Therapist at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.