I’ve been to a lot of therapists over the years, for emotional, mental, physical and spiritual issues. I’ve seen shamans, swamis, counselors, psychiatric doctors, massage therapists, ayurvedic consultants and everything in between. I’ve been in group therapy, sweat lodges, full moon rituals and fire ceremonies.
Of all these experiences, the most powerful and profound (or at least the first that came to mind during this pop question) was an experience with my chiropractor. After two years of treatment and hard work on my chronic back condition, I had inexplicably regressed and was right back where I had started: in pain. Mind-numbing, stupid-making pain.
I walked into my chiropractor’s office, sat down on her treatment table and broke into tears. I mean, who cries in front of their chiropractor? She’s not even a woo-woo holistic chiro – she’s pragmatic, scientific and focuses on aligning bones. But she sat down and listened to me. She created a safe, non-judgemental space for me to vent my frustrations and anger, and then she got to work.
She treated my back and gave me things to do at home (stretching and icing, every two hours!). This helped me feel cared for and involved in my healing process.
So what does this have to do with YTTT? It set the tone for the first weekend of the 300 hour program and helped me reflect on what I look for in a therapist, as well as what kind of “therapist” (quotations because I’m still not quite ready to think of myself as a therapist) I want to be. This is what else happened during the weekend:
Just What is Yoga Therapy, Anyway?
“Yoga therapy” is still uncharted territory. It’s somewhere between “regular” yoga and medicine, and doesn’t seem to be fully understood by yoga practitioners or the medical establishment.
Although the field is relatively new, there are people who have been doing this work for a long time. We were given a list of definitions by people some of these people, including TKV Desikachar, Larry Payne, Judith Hanson Lasater, and Richard Miller.
We were also asked to write our own definition of yoga therapy. Here’s mine (which I’m kind of embarrassed to share and one day I’ll regret this): “Yoga therapy is a practical application of yoga focused on physical, emotional and spiritual health. It’s a healing journey adapted to an individual to address dis-ease on every level. Yoga therapy encourages experimentation, listening and experiential learning. By balancing and integrating min, body and spirit, yoga therapy encourages holistic healing in the person and community.”
It sounds like I have it all figured out, doesn’t it! I expect that definition will be refined over the coming months.
Carina’s definition is much more to the point: “Science helps us understand how all systems work. Yoga is the art of keeping them in balance.”
Fundamentals of the Yoga Re:source Approach
Carina bases her training on three principles:
3) balance of opposites (the balance of opposing forces within the structure of the body that allows optimal range of motion)
We’re also encouraged to look at the person as a whole, and to observe, accept and act accordingly. Throughout the weekend, the students on the course were reminded that we will be teaching as much as treating. We were told that we’re not here to fix, but to help heal, serve and instruct.
Most importantly, we were taught to trust our intuition. As general guidelines, we had some do’s and don’ts: do not diagnose, suggest, invent or guess; do refer students to colleagues, research questions that come up, and reflect on how an issue might be a manifestation of other habits and behaviours.
Yoga Resource acknowledges the importance of the student-teacher relationship in therapeutic yoga. As future yoga therapists, we will be encouraged to turn personal lessons into universal tools. The essence of the training is to understand the interplay of all aspects of ourselves and maximize their benefits.
Back to Basics: Anatomy and Alignment
The first weekend was dedicated to reviewing anatomy and alignment. A pre-requisite for the course is a 200-hour YTT, so the ten students in the course already had experience teaching yoga and some knowledge of anatomy.
We focused on the anatomy of respiration, the spine, the pelvis and the shoulder girdle, and touched on the neck and head, connective tissue and muscle chains.
At the heart of the therapeutic approach is the breath. The breath is the movement of life and it’s intrinsically related to the health and function of the whole body. We went into the details of the anatomy of breathing: the muscles that hold the structure and support our spines.
We explored the thoracic and pelvic diaphragms, and how they are connected by the abdominal muscles (and, in turn, through muscle chains, connected to everything else in the body).
The two intensive days were a balance of theory, practice and discussion. We revisited anatomical terms, got to know Carina’s skeleton friend, got down on our mats and observed our fellow students.
The Road Ahead
It was a lot to cover in one weekend, but we were promised that we’d return to these basics over and over, as it’s the foundation of the course. With six more weekends ahead of us, along with case studies and independent studies, there will be a lot of opportunity to revisit the material.
To be honest, that time with my chiropractor wasn’t the only time I’ve cried in front of a healing professional. Many swamis and shamans have witnessed my crying, as well. There have been many times that I’ve been angry with my body and frustrated by my (slowwww) healing process. But I hope that one day, I’ll be able to provide a safe space for somebody else going through a similar situation. I know all too well how it feels.