A Place to Land . . .

At least every once in awhile, every long-time yoga student will stall on registering for a “regular weekly class.” And the newcomer or dabbler in yoga probably hesitates even more.

I know. I struggle with this, too.

There’s the putting aside time every week. Getting to the class with all the busy-ness in life, sometimes children or spouse or some other person’s care to consider. The money involved. The resistance to some of what is being offered by the teacher. Perhaps feeling inferior to other students. The opportunity cost: what we could be doing instead. And the popularity of yoga has meant that there has been a proliferation of opportunities from which to choose: so many that we may be paralyzed by the sheer immensity of choice.

The choice of which yoga class to attend is affected by a multitude of factors. We know that convenient location and time are paramount, but serious students may let themselves be significantly inconvenienced to spend time doing what is important to them. For some, the workout quotient is an important factor, while for others it is the relief of pain, the release of tension, the learning or mastering new material, the charisma of the teacher, the spirituality of the place, or the fit with the clientele, or some combination of these.

Some time ago I ceased to attend weekly yoga classes. Part of the decision was due to the shift in the way the more senior teachers with whom I wanted to spend my time were offering their talents:  intensive workshops on a less frequent, periodic basis. Another reason was I thought that, surely, with decades of experience under my belt, I didn’t need to be spoon fed the material any longer.

I started to choose occasional events from a multitude of local and international trainings and retreats. That has been a good experience and has broadened my view in a number of ways. For instance, I can see how some styles of yoga suit some personalities and issues better than others, and I have been able to adopt tools and paradigms I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered.

Increasingly, though, I found teachers and people immersed in their special interests, some of which are discordant with my own situation.

I also discovered that I needed a grounding, integrative place for all of that somewhat random experience to come together. That’s were a regular class of some sort really has a role to play.

So, while I don’t attend a weekly class, I do attend periodic weekends with my primary teacher and I have tried to attend the regular weekly classes of another mentor when the timing works for me. For me, the cost isn’t really a factor (although some may think it should be – it adds up!). I choose these teachers’ options because I feel safe and at home with, and yet gently challenged by, them in the places where they practice and with the people who are attracted to what they are offering. And I am allowed to work on my own practice, too.

But the time away, the opportunity cost, and occasional resistance to being in a community are the growing edges against which I still flounder a little. A growing edge is uncomfortable but required for my evolution as a human. And so it is . . .

If you’re willing to butt up against your growing edge, take a look at the classes I am offering here.

Supta Padangusthasana

Hawaii suptapadanusthasana

Supta Padangusthasana

 

is Sanskrit for (loosely translated) “supine finger-to-toe pose”.  Here I am practicing it without props, but often we practice it with a strap that acts as an arm extender so we can keep the elbow alongside the body. Allowing the upper arm to ground facilitates a broad and relaxed upper body.

Supta Padangusthasana is wonderful for releasing hamstrings and encouraging full hip flexion range of motion while teaching the practitioner to stabilize the pelvis and lower back and keep the chest broad, all at the same time. For these reasons it is therapeutic for the back. Many people find that it promotes restful sleep.

Sometimes Supta Padangusthasana is used as a lower back “stretch,” but there are better ways to accomplish lumbar release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what can Yoga Therapy do for me, anyway?

A trained yoga therapist collaborates with clients by seeing through the lens, and using the tools, of yoga to generate, stimulate, and maintain in them the best possible state of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.

 

So, enlisting the services of a yoga therapist is markedly different from participating in a roughly-streamed (eg., beginner, experienced, gentle, yin, restorative, astanga) class with a multitude of others in which you make your body-mind conform to a series of twelve to thirty poses with perhaps an occasional adaptation, a guided relaxation at the end, and incidental therapeutic benefits.

In fact, working with a yoga therapist even is different from going to a “Yoga for Backs” or “Yoga for Depression” class or workshop, if the yoga professional hasn’t assessed you independently in a wholistic, yoga-based fashion and made your practice in some way specific to you and your needs and goals.

So usually, yoga therapy is a one-on-one or one-on-two scenario in which the therapist works with you, in the best interests of your whole self, in the context of your life, to work toward your optimal well-being, using the tools and view point of yoga.

Some therapists do offer group classes in which they complete an individual assessment and ongoing treatment plan for each participant.

And all therapists started off as yoga instructors, so they are entirely able to teach standard, non-therapeutic classes if they desire, as well as offer therapy.

Generally a person can teach yoga after a 200-, 300-, or 500-hour training in subjects like teaching methodology, yoga philosophy, competently performing and demonstrating yoga poses and breathing practices.

By comparison, therapists certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (denoted by C-IAYT) have both the yoga teacher training and additional and quite specialized training.  Generally they have at least 800 hours, and more often, in excess of 1000 hours of training and experience in all kinds of additional areas such as anatomy, physiology, pathology, yoga therapy applications, therapeutic relationship, assessment, treatment plans and medical terminology. Yoga therapists are expected to work collaboratively with and / or alongside, not instead of or in isolation from, medical professionals.

These are basic requirements. Yoga therapists often go on to specialize in certain areas, such as working with people who suffer from mood disorders, central nervous system disabilities, or back problems.

So, for example, a yoga therapist may specialize in working with people who have musculo-skeletal issues such as knee or back pain or health problems like cancer or headaches or depression.  But the therapist doesn’t treat the issue or disease; they treat the person, and they do it from a yoga lens, not a physiotherapist’s or psychologist’s point of view.

Larry Payne, a co-founder of the IAYT, writes,

“One way to think of yoga therapy is as a replacement therapy, that is, replacing old bad habits with better new ones. As such, yoga therapy encompasses not only the body and the movements we do on the yoga mat, but how we live and treat others and ourselves off the mat, which is ultimately what matters for a healthy and whole life.”
In a way, yoga therapy is like life-skills training or working with a life coach, with a yoga slant. Gary Kraftsow, in a 2016 Yoga International article puts it this way:  “Rather than focusing on yoga methods and practices, yoga therapists fundamentally focus on their clients’ needs. Their job is to understand why their clients have come to see them and determine what they can do to support them.”On a related but slightly different note, you may want to know that the tools of yoga go beyond yoga poses or deep breathing.

While certain, targeted, carefully-tailored sets of postures, movement and breath practices may be part of the work adopted by the yoga therapy client, the therapeutic toolbox also includes practices like meditation in a variety of forms and for a variety of reasons (eg. to become more aware or more focused or creative), intention setting, using sound and imagery, structuring daily routines around energetic reserves, identifying problematic beliefs and adopting new ones.

Although much more could be written about this, you may want to think of a yoga therapist as a specially trained and experienced confidante, guide and coach who sees through the eyes of yoga and helps you to apply yoga tools to promote the well-being of your whole self.

Some additional reading if you’re interested:

Case Study Example of Yoga Therapy – Marlysa Sullivan of University of Maryland
2016 Yoga International article Gary Kraftsow (excellent, in my opinion)
IAYT definition of yoga therapy
2013 Huffington Post article Larry Payne
IAYT’s main site

I am honored to be among those who the IAYT has certified as a duly qualified yoga therapist, and I am very passionate about working with people using yoga to be more effective and at ease.