Essential Yoga Therapy—Integrating Western Neuroscience and Functional Anatomy with the Traditional Practices of Yoga and Ayurveda

Adapted from an article that first appeared in Yoga Therapy Today, a publication of the International Association of Yoga Therapists ( 

With the aging population, yoga teachers are often called on to work with people with a wide range of physical challenges or health condition. In this environment, for many yoga teachers, a natural next step to develop their skills is to take a yoga therapy training.

Yet, finding the appropriate training to support one’s transformation from yoga teacher to yoga therapist can be a daunting task. Just within the United States, we are fortunate to have many choices to select from; merely by reading the ads in Yoga Therapy Today, the trade journal issued by the International Association of Yoga Therapy, it can seem overwhelming to find the right fit for your needs.

In this report, we will review the Essential Yoga Therapy (EYT) training program to help offer insights into the content of this particular program and set a benchmark for comparing other yoga therapy training programs. The EYT training is led by Robin Rothenberg, a nationally recognized yoga therapist currently teaching at two major hospitals and a rehab clinic in Washington State. Rothenberg has been training yoga teachers for over 10 years, creating a unique synthesis of her 25 years of study in both the Iyengar and Viniyoga traditions.

Rothenberg was also involved in the landmark study, “Comparing Yoga, Exercise, and a Self-Care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized, Controlled Trial” funded by the National Institutes of Health-funded. The positive results on the effect of yoga on back pain led to further research, and Rothenberg trained and mentored teachers for a second, larger scale trial utilizing the same protocol she had co-created in 2000. She has since authored The Essential Low Back Program: Relieve Pain & Restore Health, a 5-CD/Book set based on this protocol. She is also involved in another NIH-study to reduce hot-flashes for women in menopause and one targeting arthritis and insomnia in seniors.

The Essential Yoga Therapy spectrum of training consists of four modules, each lasting for 10 days.

Module 1: Yoga Therapy for Musculoskeletal Conditions;

Module 2: Yoga Therapy for Emotional Health;

Module 3: Yoga Therapy for Physiological Conditions; and

Module 4: Clinical Practice Immersion.

The training spans two years, with residencies scheduled in six month intervals.

Rothenberg’s vision of the Essential Yoga Therapy training has been to intricately weave the contemporary understanding of neuro-science and functional anatomy in a way that substantiates the traditional practices of yoga and Ayurveda. She has accomplished this with the professional support of her excellent faculty. Dr. Lynn Hughes, a D.O. and Board Certified Psychiatrist, has detailed out the Polyvagal Theory which explains how therapeutic yoga practices, like pranayama, chanting and gentle asana support healthy parasympathetic nervous system function, enabling us to transform negative thought processes and states of disease. Lynn helps us integrate the teaching of texts like “Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson, PH.D, which supports the major teachings from the Yoga Sutras, while diagramming how the brain actually can be re-wired through mind-body practices. Learning the science behind the practices, grounds us as students and gives us confidence to communicate ‘how yoga actually works’ to professional colleagues as well as to our clients.

EYT’s emphasis on the study of anatomy through the connective tissue and the world of fascia has been a new and eye-opening experience. Using “Anatomy Trains” by Thomas Meyers as our primer, our anatomy teachers, Jill Massengill, D.C. and Anita Boser, a Hellerworker, lay out the lines of connectivity, helping us understand how dysfunction in one area can directly correlate to pain and imbalance in a seemingly distant part of the body. Like yoga itself, this model allows students to experience the body as holographic, connecting for instance, the restriction of the diaphragm in breathing, with tightness in the psoas, weakness in the pelvic floor muscles potentially leading to pain in the lower back. It has provided us a sound basis for developing adaptations to support better neuro-muscular movement patterns in our clients.

Lulu Peele, AVI trained yoga therapist and Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor brings the teachings of Ayurveda to life, deepening our appreciation of chitta – the mind, and how our different personality constructs need to be tended to individually. The Ayurvedic component of the training has made us aware of the complexity of the doshas, through our own self-study and by analyzing case studies. With Lulu’s delightful encouragement we’re developing the basic skills to help clients (and ourselves) modify diet and life-style to support healing.

While Rothenberg is responsible for transmitting the theory and application of yoga therapy, she has created a unique platform for all the instructors to best integrate traditional yoga teachings with current scientific knowledge. Emphasizing yoga’s extensive effect on the nervous system empowers us to understand how through careful application of practice we can impact everything from immunology, emotional tone, to the body’s response to pain. These highly important points are woven seamlessly throughout the lectures and practices.

Prerequisites for the program are an RYT- 500 registration or equivalent, plus a minimum of two years teaching experience; a fundamental understanding of anatomy and physiology is also required. For applicants with no formal training in Viniyoga, a Bridge Program is required to establish the theory, skills, and methodological understanding necessary to enter the EYT Yoga Therapist Training.

Nan Palmer, RYT-500, American Viniyoga Institute, Owner/Instructor of AbidingYoga, LLC, in Crystal Lake, IL and

Amy M. Jarvis, RYT-500, Owner/Instructor Falling Leaves Yoga, Snoqualmie, WA


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