Working in the field of yoga therapy one often finds oneself trying to bridge two worlds and explain to people in each of them the special way in which yoga can be applied therapeutically. On the one hand yoga practitioners and the public will say ‘Isn’t all yoga therapeutic?’ On the other, those taking a western medical or pathology-focused approach will want a yoga ‘prescription’ for different ailments. Helen Macpherson reviews the newly published Counselling Principles and Practices for Yoga Therapists by Dr Latha Satish of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.
Dr Latha’s book goes a long way to help clarify some of the key principles of yoga therapy and the importance of the individualised approach in yoga cikitsa, or healing. She highlights the key role of the therapist and the quality of the ongoing relationship between care seeker and therapist in this process. With an extensive background in psychology, Dr Latha is uniquely placed to show how the individualised approach and interpersonal skills of the psychotherapist or counsellor are also extremely relevant to the yoga therapist too. For yoga therapists the mind is also central, even when addressing physical or physiological problems, since yoga therapy can be seen as mind-body transformation. In addition, yoga therapists have their own range of tools and techniques as well as a strong philosophical foundation to bring coherence to the application of these.
The book begins by setting out what is meant by counselling in the context of yoga therapy, and goes on to clearly establish the many precedences from classical yoga literature for this type of approach, where an individual, through confusion or doubt, needs the support of another to guide or counsel them so that they are enabled to find their own way towards a solution.
Then the theoretical background to the therapy approach is outlined with reference to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s. This is complemented with specific teachings of Sri TKV Desikachar and examples of Case Studies from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM), the world-renowned centre for yoga therapy which he established.
Dr Latha emphasises time and again the importance of the therapist him- or herself as a vital ingredient of the therapy process. This means that the personal practice, lifestyle and behaviour of the therapist are absolutely key components. She also mentions several times the risk of burn-out or carer fatigue involved in this role and how a supportive mentor or colleague, as well as self-awareness and self-care through yoga, are essential.
The book goes on to outline the necessary specific skills and competencies related to the interaction between care seeker and therapist, and provides many helpful examples. Finally, and importantly, the professional and ethical principles are given, which must be present when working with vulnerable care seekers.
Throughout the book the reader will find interesting self-reflective exercises and useful illustrative notes which make the book a practical, as well as theoretical, resource.
I feel this book will be essential reading matter for any trainee yoga therapists and an ongoing resource for those who are qualified practitioners. It is available from the KYM online bookstore.