An Unexpected Journey: My Path to Yoga Therapy

My yoga journey began six months after the birth of my son. I was on maternity leave and feeling overwhelmed by new mom responsibilities, so I started looking for help in one of my favorite places, a brick-and-mortar bookstore. I scoured the self-help sections, picked up a yoga book by the late Richard Hittleman, took it home and started to practice on my own in true introvert fashion until a friend encouraged me to try a group class. I did and was hooked. 

One of my first yoga teachers was instrumental in putting me on the path to my passion. As the executive director for a non-profit organization, I had to squeeze in yoga classes when I could. After one class, this teacher asked me if I’d ever thought about becoming a yoga teacher. I said, I’d thought about it but that’s as far as it went. She said something along the lines of ‘If you’ve thought about it, you should pursue it.’ At first, I didn’t because in my mind yoga teachers were skinny brown men standing on their heads and doing poses that tied them up in knots looking like pretzels, and skinny white women in spandex-friendly bodies doing poses that tied them up in knots looking like pretzels. 

Then I discovered Yoga Therapy and my main teacher, Joseph Le Page, a pioneer in the development of yoga therapy training programs. I liked the philosophy so I signed up, took the training, and came to understand that yoga was for everybody and every type of body; a way to manage stress, see life clearly, and find ways to live with a measure of clarity, contentment, resilience and optimal health. 

In the trainings, I was introduced to the Kosha model, (the five layers of self-awareness), the many ways to vary yoga postures to fit the needs of all students and the importance of giving all students an eight-limbed yoga experience in any class, or private session. On the way to my 1,000-hour training certificate, I earned a master’s degree in yoga therapy and mind/body health from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Then I was invited to teach yoga therapy methodology classes. I became a mentor and managed the mentorship program.

In addition, l was still attending all of Joseph’s lectures because even though the topics were similar, the presentations were always fresh. A few years later he asked me to teach his philosophy material in one of the trainings. This was unexpected and more than a little terrifying as I am not a Sanskrit scholar with a deep knowledge of traditional philosophy. I asked him why he thought I could do it. He said, because I had attended all of his lectures during the past trainings, he could not think of a better person.

No way could I say no to that. So, I began teaching yoga philosophy and psychology. The next change came when I was asked to represent Yoga Therapy on the Educational Standards Committee. That process took some time but the results were the development of the Educational Standards, competencies, and the scope of practice that yoga therapy practitioners are expected to know and be able to integrate into their work in order to become certified yoga therapists. The scope of practice is:

Yoga therapy is the professional application of the principles and practices of yoga to promote health and well-being within a therapeutic relationship that includes personalized assessment, goal setting, lifestyle management, and yoga practices for individuals or small groups.

Since then I’ve taught methodology, the Kosha model, therapeutic yoga for children, The Chakras as a Lens for health and Healing and most recently diversity, equity, inclusion through my L.E.A.R.N. method (Listen/Learn, Explore/Educate, Acknowledge/Accept,  Research/Respect and Nourish/Network).

In addition to private sessions and therapeutic yoga classes (mostly for seniors), I created and implemented a curriculum for introducing yoga and self-awareness to children in after school and summer camp programs. This curriculum has served over 7,000 children since 1999. In 2013, I established the Garnett-Gibbs Family Donor Advised fund to continue supporting the Wake Up and Relax Yoga Program at Camp Courant, the oldest free day camp in America.

Currently, I’ve begun my ‘free-tirement’ phase but still teach classes and occasional workshops. The rest of my time is spent writing. So far, I’ve written three books, Enlighten Up! Finding Clarity, Contentment and Resilience in a Complicated World, Soul Food: Life-Affirming Stories Served with Side Dishes and Just Desserts and Ogi Bogi The Elephant Yogi: Stories About Yoga for Children. I’m currently working on a non-fiction book that will offer ways to embody core qualities like strength, authenticity, skill, serenity, and joy through the application of the Koshas, Kleshas, and the 8-limbs of yoga. 

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Beth Gibbs, MA, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a yoga therapist certified through Integrative Yoga Therapy (IYT) and is a guest faculty member of the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy.

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