Isn’t All Yoga Therapeutic, Part II

Ok.

So Maybe Yoga Therapy Isn’t Everything

For example, it’s not yoga. And when Gary Kraftstow took us on a journey from the roots to the fruits of yoga therapy during his keynote address on Thursday evening he described a yoga therapist as someone who has “a specialised knowledge base and skill set differentiating them from a yoga teacher.” Our yoga therapy training must teach us the skills that allow us to understand a client’s limitations. It should support our ability to build a practice with the client and for the client that takes into account their needs and their goals. A yoga therapist will, according to Kraftstow, “inspire their client to practice, thus empowering them to become an active participant in their own health-care.” The work we do with clients and the partnership we develop with them should support their ability to connect to “a deeper meaning and purpose in life.”

This is a huge responsibility. Yoga therapy is not simply “physical therapy plus yoga”

(an aside Kraftstow made that garnered a healthy round of applause). As yoga therapists, we should feel inspired to continue our education and to remain humble – to resist the urge to, as Kraftstow quietly demanded, “assume we know what we don’t know.”

The Case for Clear Knowing

We’re wise to follow Kraftstow’s advice. As yoga therapists we should continue our education, break our reliance on unverified beliefs and our habit of treating clients with similar issues with the same protocol. Yoga therapy is, after all, more than a series of asana.

But Carrie Demers, board-certified in internal medicine and who now blends modern medicine with holistic and traditional therapies, reminded us in her plenary session on Friday morning to listen deeply and to “know what we know.” She spoke to the devaluing of human intuition and asked us to “open up to the intuitive mind.” She asked us to “Listen deeply, with your eyes, ears and heart.” To do this, she said, is to hold space and to reflect the story back to the client. This gives room for our clients to reframe the story and to begin a new chapter.

Practice What We Preach

In their talks both Kraftstow and Demers told us that we can not offer to clients that which we do not practice. Without a strong practice of our own the work we do with clients lacks authenticity. In particular, the changes to our brain’s architecture that meditation promises connects us to the roots of yoga therapy that Kraftstow spoke of and, says Demers, it “keeps us compassionate and opens the door to our intuitive mind.”

What Have I Learned?

I still have one more day of talks and classes at SYTAR 18. My mind and heart are full and I wonder how much room is left in my brain for new knowledge…although I suppose there is always room in our hearts and minds and brains for more.

These three days have shown me that I am not alone on this journey. Yoga Therapy encompasses so much and can be given in so many ways: VA Hospitals, pain clinics, private clients, wellness centres, Dean Ornish programs, cardiac care units…even the Department of Defense (yes, I met someone who has a DOD contract to offer Yoga Therapy).

This can only mean that the roots Gary Kraftstow spoke of are very deep and numbered. The promised fruits are varied and beautiful. We nourish them through our personal practice, our continued education and our open hearts.

 


Isn’t All Yoga Therapeutic?

down dog 2I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question. My answer is ‘yes’ – all yoga is, of course, therapeutic. And so, one might wonder, what is yoga therapy and how is it different from our day-to-day practice?

The answer is complex. It’s on my mind, however, because I’m spending a few days in Reston, Virginia at the Symposium for Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR). This annual gathering of yoga therapists from around the world is an opportunity to meet Facebook friends in the flesh (I’ll be looking for the roomie I had during the last SYTAR I attended at Asilomar). More than that, of course, SYTAR is our chance to gather as a community and to be inspired, encouraged and educated.

It wasn’t too long ago when it seems like all it took to be a yoga therapist was a business card. Over the course of many years and most likely more than a little heated debate, however, in 2015 the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) announced a rigorous certification process. I know the process is rigorous because I survived and since 2016 have had the honor of having the C-IAYT credential behind my name.

But that still doesn’t answer our question. Just what is yoga therapy?

It depends on who you ask.

I know yoga therapists who are also licensed MFTs who use yoga therapy to support the work they do with patients in session.

I know yoga therapists who excel at sports. They’ve created a clinical protocol and work with individuals with sport-related injuries.

There are yoga therapists who focus on individuals with cancer and yoga therapists who focus on depression.

The application of yoga therapy can take place in a group or one to one. It can be practiced in a studio, a medical setting or in a client’s home. Yoga therapy will almost always be informed by the therapist’s own yoga journey – whether our practice is Iyengar, Viniyoga, Yin or Restorative.

Is attempting to define yoga therapy a fool’s errand?

Yoga therapists certified through IAYT must have received their yoga therapy training from an IAYT-certified school, of which there are few (although numbers are increasing). The education provided by these schools must follow strict curriculum guidelines set forth by the IAYT – these guidelines are available on the IAYT website.

Our education teaches us to use our strengths.

And that’s why, if you asked ten yoga therapists to define yoga therapy you’d get ten different answers. As yoga therapists and as students of yoga we work from our strengths. We trust the knowledge we’ve gained through our education and our experience to develop the correct protocol whether we work with individuals or with groups, whether we are clinicians or work transpersonally. We trust our instincts to know our boundaries, our limits and our skill set. We trust ourselves enough to know when to advise a client to see a doctor, or accept counselling, or to seek a different yoga therapist who might be better able to provide care.

What is yoga therapy?

It’s everything.


Movement as Meditation: A Therapeutic Approach

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There was a time in my teaching journey when my classes consisted predominately of demonstration, repetition and analysis. I was a strong advocate of perfect alignment. It was what my teachers taught me and to this day I encourage individuals new to yoga to spend time studying lineages that encourage strong alignment. Practicing safe alignment early on a yoga path is like practicing piano scales. Once you know them you are free.

As my practice (and my body) changed so did my teaching. My hard, straight edges have softened. My teaching has a flow and an emphasis on breathing with that flow. I still offer alignment cues but the days of strong hands-on adjustments have disappeared. I’ve shifted my awareness from the external form of an asana to the internal. I no longer consider how I look, I consider how I feel.

Beginning on Tuesday, May 5th I am offering a new class at Samyama Yoga Center. We’ll meet each Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 to 12:45. I’m calling it Movement and Meditation. Our intention will be to examine how our asana practice, in conjunction with our awareness of breath, can draw us toward a flow state as described by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. After a short opening meditation we’ll transition toward sequences that move through active and passive shapes and encourage a sense of peaceful presence. We will also consider the clinical applications of this practice and how it might bring relief to chronic physical pain, anxiety, sleeplessness and mild mood disorders.

I hope you’ll join me.

Samyama Yoga Center
Tuesday and Thursdays from 11:30 to 12:45 beginning May 5, 2015