IAYB goes back to school: pranayama & chakras (YTTT)

How breathing works! Inhalation & exhalation.

How breathing works! Inhalation & exhalation.

The re:source yoga yoga therapy teacher training (YTTT) is structured according to the koshas (the five sheaths of being): we’ve moved from the gross aspects (anatomy, musculature) to the more subtle aspects. Since this module was the fifth section, that would place us at the Anandamayakosha (bliss body) – so studying pranayama and the chakra system made perfect sense.

This weekend was also a welcome relief after the four preceding modules, which were dense with theory and technicalities. Instead, our teacher and guide, Carina Raisman, lead us through practices, reflections and self-care exercises. We revisited previous modules (especially the anatomy of respiration, which we covered in the first weekend), journaled and stepped out of our comfort zone.

The Chakras

They don’t really need much of an introduction. But we did review the seven chakras and their properties, looking at how they can be applied in a therapeutic context. For an excellent overview of the chakra system, see Alison Hinks‘ amazing infographic below (via YogaDork) – this is pretty much what we covered. Download a handy PDF here.


The Breath

For yoga therapists, the breath can be a diagnostic tool. We learned how to assess a client’s comfort by observing the breath. We also looked at the relationship between the inhale and the exhale, remembering that the therapeutic aspect lies in the quality of the exhale. As we learned in our physiology study, the inhalation stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and increases heart rate, while the exhalation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), decreasing the heart rate.

We practiced and refined some familiar pranayama techniques: abdominal breathing, thoracic/intercostals breathing, full yogic breath, ujayi, kalabhati, nadi shodana.

The breath supports us physically, physiologically and energetically. This review was an opportunity to integrate what we’ve learned so far:

  • Anatomically – the breath governs the mechanics of the diaphragm, pelvic floor, abdominals, ribs, thus supporting the spine, pelvis, organs and shoulders
  • Physiologically – breathing supplies sustenance for the beating of the heart, fuels the systemic circulation, which helps move all the other fluids of the body, including lymph and cerebrospinal fluids

We also experimented with sound healing, chanting, singing and noise making with Rafaelle MacKay Smith, a singer and massage therapist who was a guest instructor for the afternoon.

So… what does this have to do with yoga therapy?

the-breathAt first, it was hard to see what these esoteric practices have to do with the rather clinical practice of therapeutic yoga. They’re subtle, and may be difficult to apply in a therapeutic context with a client who has back pain, insomnia or a knee injury. Does this mean that I’ll be able to directly address a client’s out-of-balance chakras? Maybe… but more importantly, I’ve learned how to pay attention to more than the physical body and read less obvious clues to health and wholeness.

The theme of the weekend was listening We practiced listening to the breath, listening to each other, and listening to ourselves. I also saw the reflective work and nurturing practices as acts of self-care – something that often gets overlooked by practitioners from all disciplines.

It was also a powerful revelation into the role of the therapist: the client just needs to be heard – they don’t need judgement or be told what to do. The therapist’s inner stance is open and neutral, and if takes a little chakra balancing or self-reflection to be better practitioners, that’s all that matters.

This post is the fifth in a series as I participate in the 300-hour Yoga Therapeutics Certification course at Yoga Resource. Read the firstsecondthird and fourth installments.

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compressing time & space with yoga

  1. Wonderful post. Thank you so much. Fits in well for inspiration, as in my YTT we are also studying Chakras!!
    You are lucky to have Carina as your teacher. What a wonderful & knowledgeable person she is!

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