Most people come to yoga with something to ‘fix’ – physically, emotionally, spiritually. here is the WanderingYogi guide on when to stick with a good yoga teacher or go to someone with deeper knowledge like a yoga therapist.
‘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 ANZA 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. I could make Santa’s Xmas list look like a post it note with some of the issues I have had over the years.
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 we have 4 different styles of yoga!
Because yoga has such a powerful impact on the mind, body and soul, I often ask myself when am I a yoga teacher and when am I becoming a therapist?
A yogi friend recently discovered in researching her masters thesis, that students expect their yoga teachers to know more asanas and instructions. More than basic anatomy (which is mostly all we get in a 200 hour teacher training). The community student survey indicated yoga teachers are now expected to behave more like physiotherapists. Students expect them to know what to ‘fix’ when something physically is going wrong.
WHEN YOU ASK YOUR YOGA TEACHER FOR ADVICE, MAKE SURE THEY CAN GIVE IT
Given this blurriness of line, it is better to regularly practice with a teacher who does understand the integrative mindset of yoga. Now, this usually (but not always) means someone who has done more than the intro level 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 full of fire in the belly from their training). And they have significant teaching hours under their belt (by some, 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.
AND THE YOGA TEACHER, KNOWING THEY 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 and potential yogi, I have made a short list of what you need to look for the next time you ask a yoga teacher for help post that little tumble you took on your bike.
Yoga is powerful medicine, but it takes its time. Look for someone 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?
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 will want to sit down with you and plan out the recovery, and will know that one day one set might work and another day, might not. And will give you more than the physical…
Yoga is the bringing together of mind, body and soul – therapy for healing needs to include 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.
Check their qualifications. Like other therapies, being qualified takes time. A physiotherapist requires a 3 year study at university level. Most yoga teachers have 200 hours under their belt and a few add ons. Not enough. 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 – reading this, be clear about what motivates you to teach, be honest around your level of training and your ability to apply it. Above all, do not pretend to be able to give more advice than that which you can give yourself.
*An edited version of this article appears in ANZA Singapore Monthly Magazine, September 2016.