In this interview, Becca Pulliam talks with Nancy O’Brien, ment Therapeutic Applications of Integral Yoga Teacher Training (a partnership with Integral Yoga in San Francisco and Yogaville Virginia, and  Integral Yoga New York) about updates in the 800-hour Integral Yoga Therapy Certification course. This is one of Integral Yoga’s newest training programs, and it draws on the legacy of our experienced teachers and trainers. Nancy was one of the original faculty members in the Integral Yoga Therapy Certification program.

Becca Pulliam: What is a Yoga therapist?

Nancy O’Brien: A Yoga therapist uses all the practices of Yoga, the eight limbs of Yoga, whether movement, poses or asana, meditation, deep relaxation, the philosophy of ahimsa, non-judgment…the whole gamut. Yoga therapy applies all of Yoga to a person’s journey toward healing or recovery and wholeness.

BP: How did you get interested in Yoga therapy?

NOB: Twenty years ago, I had a medical misadventure that left me in a coma for several weeks and then on a ventilator, laid up for basically two years. At that time, luckily, I was connected with Integral Yoga therapists. That enabled me, in the midst of huge medical challenges with which I still deal today, to connect to my peace. That gave me hope. It gave me strength. There was more supported movement and compassion as opposed to sticking strictly to a Western medical approach. Western medicine definitely helped and continues to help with my recovery, but my being able to incorporate the Yoga therapy that I received—at a time when I was unable to walk or sit—enabled me to access my peace. It empowered me and gave me hope. It has continued to deepen since then and has been my path to healing and recovery. I’m grateful to be able to offer that path to others now through our Yoga Therapy Certification Program.

BP: Are there specific aspects of Integral Yoga that makes this program unique?

NOB: Swami Satchidananda said that all Yoga is therapy. Integral Yoga has presented its teachings as Yoga therapy for years, and now we finally do what one of the founders of the Integral Association of Yoga Therapists encouraged us to do when the certification was in the nascent stage (not that many years ago). We embrace our dharma—the dharma that Swami Satchidananda imparted throughout his life. And now Integral Yoga has united globally and collaborates across locations as a certified school for providing Yoga Therapist certification. It’s an 800-hour program, and we have an incredible embarrassment of riches in terms of faculty and mentors across the globe on whom we can draw. Now much of that is online. That opens the door wider, as people don’t have to be in New York or Yogaville or San Francisco to access the programming required for the 800 hours of training that leads over several years to certification as a Yoga Therapist (YT). I was talking to someone who called me for general information about Yoga, as happens frequently. She had just finished her 500-hour program with Yoga Works and was seeking advice about Yoga therapy. I mentioned Integral Yoga. And she said, “That’s like the Harvard of Yoga teacher training!” I love that we have that well-deserved reputation as one of the leaders in this field, and when you look at the website and the teachers—Dr. Mala Cunningham, Nischala Devi, Cheri Clampett, Arturo Peal, Steffany Moonaz—we have so many experienced and inspiring people teaching in our program.

BP: Why is this a good time to become a Yoga Therapist at Integral Yoga?

NOB: A lot of the people supporting Yoga therapy are researchers, whether at Harvard or studying the physiological responses that show the benefits of various Yoga practices. In Western medicine for the past 20 or 30 years, mindfulness has been coming to the forefront. More and more research is being done. With so many medical people recommending Yoga for de-stressing, pain relief, and cancer, with so many more medical people having their own practices and seeing the benefit and then being able to rely on high-quality research, now is the time to become a Yoga therapist. And when you have a certification, it’s easier for medical clinicians to feel more confident about referring their patients to Yoga. So there’s a much broader call for certified Yoga therapists now. The benefits are becoming clearer, they’re being backed up by excellent research, and they are accessible because there are more Yoga therapists out there.

Yoga therapy is being used in schools, in prisons, in hospitals for specific causes. COVID-19 is one of the places where I think it’s really going to be helpful. For people whom they call long-haulers, people whose symptoms are not disappearing after two weeks, people who are dealing with recovery issues, I think Yoga Therapy is going to be especially helpful.

BP: What is the benefit of certification through Integral Yoga?

NOB: Integral Yoga (and its global headquarters in Yogaville) are taking a very active role in supporting virtual trainings for Yoga therapy. Under the auspices of Laksmi Sutter, Swami Ramananda, and Swami Vidyananda, we’ve just had a workshop for all the teacher trainers and mentors in the Yoga Therapy program, to support them with specific tips and guidance about how to do their trainings by Zoom. They learned what programs to use, how to schedule, how to break up into smaller groups, and the difference between live interactive content and content that people would absorb on their own.

The Stress Management Teacher Training that Swamis Ramananda and Vidyananda recently taught will be available in different formats. We are working on the Yoga for Arthritis that I do, and have taught for years, to move it online. I’m grateful every day to Integral Yoga and Yoga Therapy for my ability to function.