YOGA AS THERAPY

Most people come to yoga with something to ‘fix’ – physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Two simple ideas and four hints to remember when you ask your yoga teacher about those prolapsed discs.

‘Everyone who comes to yoga comes with issues in the tissues,” wise yogini, turned corporate mindfulness consultant, said to me over a tofu salad the other week.  My chopsticks stopped mid air, and I pondered.

Most of the Wanderingyogis have ‘issues’ – slight scoliosis, plantar fascitis, anxiety, sleeplessness, sometimes just plain run down.  I have seen yoga students practice to recover from cancer, a broken marriage, a job loss.  Myself, I could make Santa’s Xmas list look like a post it note with some of the issues over the years that yoga has ‘fixed’.

Those who come and stay with yoga, intuitively know that over time with the right poses, patience from us and our teacher, our issues do fix. Many of our regular yogis extol the benefits from their yoga classes, and it is not like only one brand of yoga does this. We have four different styles in the WanderingYogi practice schedule.

cropped-Group-practice-transition-to-uttasana.jpg Working through our issues in 108 Sun Salutations – ANZA WanderingYogis

Because yoga has such a powerful impact on the mind, body and soul, I often ask myself – when am I extending my role as yoga teacher to one of therapist?

A yogi friend recently discovered, in researching her masters thesis, that students expect their yoga teachers to know more than the poses and how to get in and out of them.  Her data suggested yoga teachers are expected to behave more like physiotherapists.   We are expected to know how to fix that plantar fasciitis, that sore lower back. With yoga.

WHEN YOU ASK YOUR YOGA TEACHER FOR ADVICE, MAKE SURE THEY CAN GIVE IT

Regularly practice with a teacher who understands the integrative nature of yoga. Yoga is asanas, it is also mindfulness, connecting ourselves to the many layers of us. Generally, this means  (but not always) someone who has done more than a 200 hour teacher training (Yoga Alliance research suggested that for every current teacher, there are 2 in training, so there’s plenty of enthusiastic new teachers around).  Make sure your guru has significant teaching hours under their belt (I recommend at least 500 hours). This should not stop you from helping out your friend, who is a newly minted yoga teacher by coming to her classes.  But please do not ask them for advice on your issues – yet.

woman runner hold her sports injured knee Sore knees – a common issue a yoga teacher is asked how to ‘fix’

YOGA TEACHER, KNOWING YOU CAN GIVE ADVICE, MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHEN TO GIVE AND WHAT TO GIVE. 

There will come a day in every yoga teacher’s life when you, the student, sidle up to me and in a quiet voice say,  ‘Just had a knee operation, I need to do some ‘stretching’ to help fix it – what would you recommend?’

Now you, the student, go from doing a yoga class cos it makes you feel good, to wanting yoga to heal. A subtle but important distinction. And as a yoga teacher, you go from teaching yoga practices and methods to focussing on the individual person’s needs. Yoga becomes a targeted therapeutic tool.

To help you, dear reader, below is a short list of what to look for – and this list is for the yogi and the teacher,   the next time you ask for help post that little tumble you took on your bike.

  1. Yoga is powerful medicine, but it takes its time. Look for a yogi who has personal experience of its incremental and healing effects, I call it drinking my own cool-ade. Ask them about their approach to yoga as therapy.  Do they understand the distinction being wanting to feel good, and wanting to heal?  Can they describe this to you in ways you will understand?
  2. If you ask, what poses should I do for a knee injury? The teacher should not be able to immediately prescribe a set of poses, unless they already know you well (turning up to their class for the last year, without a personal conversation of some depth does NOT apply).  If they do give you a set of poses and not much else, that is the yoga teacher talking. A yoga therapist, for example, will want to spend a bit more time with you and will also give you more than the physical plan.
  3. Yoga is the bringing together of mind, body and soul – therapy for healing through yoga includes all this.   For example, you may be recovering from chemotherapy, come to a yoga class and feel some benefit (probably a lot). In yoga therapy, you are likely to receive a set of targeted poses (not many, certainly not an hour’s worth), and breathwork, some meditation and visualisations, to help your immune system recover from its beating.
  4. Check their qualifications. Like other therapies, being qualified takes time. A physiotherapist requires a 3 year study at university level.  The yoga ‘standard’ being set globally is 800 hours with the IAYT – International Association of Yoga Therapists.

We come to yoga to fix ourselves. After some practice, the student suddenly becomes clear about why he is really here. He needs to remain honest with his intentions, keep checking in on them, know they will evolve. As a yoga teacher – or therapist – we need to be clear about what motivates us to teach, be honest around our expertise and ability.

Yummy Saturday hatha

And there is nothing like a good savasana to reset and rebalance a busy body…

*An edited version of this article appears in ANZA Singapore Monthly Magazine, September 2016.
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Some of the ANZA WanderingYogi crew – Namaste!

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