MISTY 2011: carina raisman & yoga with a mission

In anticipation of the first Montreal International Symposium on Therapeutic Yoga (MISTY 2011) on October 29 & 30, I’ll be presenting a series of conversations with symposium faculty. I recently met up with Carina Raisman in a Montreal cafe to hear about the driving force behind her approach to therapeutic yoga.

Carina Raisman is a yoga teacher with a mission. Her teaching practice is mission-driven, and she is working towards a bigger dream of integrating yoga into the health care system. The Montreal-based yoga teacher and former dancer’s upcoming appearance at MISTY 2011 is only one step in the direction towards her greater vision for therapeutic yoga.

With a lifelong interest in health and a strong curiousity about how the body works, Carina had aspired to be a doctor since the age of five (prior to that, she wanted to be a ballerina). But as she finished up her required undergraduate pre-med courses, she realized that the health care system wasn’t where she wanted to be. She also realized that in yoga, she could find all the answers she was looking for.

“I had been doing yoga for a really long time before it clicked that what I was doing in yoga was exactly what I was studying in med school,” she said. “Since I made that first link, it’s just been a never ending complementary understanding. I’m still finding new connections. Every time I learn something about yoga philosophy, it makes perfect sense with biology and physiology.”

Clearly, Carina’s background in health sciences inspires and influences her teaching and study of yoga. Her view is not that science and medicine are separate from yoga, but that the systems can work together for a holistic understanding of health.

“With science we understand how the body works – the different systems, the anatomy, physiology. Science helps to break things down in order to study them. Then yoga puts them back together for a complete picture of the self.”

She is also driven by a desire to educate people about their health and empowering people through knowledge, as evidenced in the anatomy workshops that she offers (and which are open to anybody, not just yoga teachers and students). Her belief is that if people are educated about anatomy and physiology, they’ll be able to address what’s happening within their own bodies. They’ll become less anxious about health disorders and less dependent on the oversaturated health care system.

Carina’s desire to influence healthy lives extends beyond the individual level. She wants to see yoga integrated into the health care system. This is a big dream, and she has a pragmatic approach with a five-year plan of action. She is well aware that the system is not easy to penetrate and not necessarily receptive to yoga.

After a year abroad studying pre-med in France, Carina had an experience that illuminated the realities of the medical system. She learned chemical analysis of medication, phytotherapy and plant therapy, as well as homeopathy, which is taught like all other sciences. When she returned to McGill University in Montreal to finish her coursework, she had to find someone to authorize the courses she’d taken in France so she could receive credit for them. But she had difficulty finding somebody who was willing to authorize the homeopathy courses.

“That’s what made me realize our medical system is mostly influenced by economic and political values, rather than scientific values.”

Fortunately, in her medical anthropology class, she found a sympathetic professor who was willing to give her the credits, on the condition that she write a paper. She ended up writing about the power of the mind in influencing disease – another reason why she is a yoga teacher and not a doctor right now.

This experience gave her an understanding of how the medical system works, and she learned that she has to proceed carefully and do her research.

“I feel that before I do a formal proposal, I really want to have a seamless, whole presentation that can’t be disputed scientifically or ‘yogically.’ I don’t want to downplay yoga for science and I don’t want to downplay science for yoga. I want to make sure that what I’m saying isn’t just what I believe in but is based in actual fact. I want to back it up with some solid foundations.”

While she keeps her eye on the big picture and her five-year plan, Carina stays grounded in the moment, driven by a personal mission which helps her be present in her day-to-day teaching.

 “I believe that healthy people make healthy choices. Healthy individuals contribute to a healthy community, which contributes to a healthy society. People who are doing yoga are more relaxed, conscious and clear about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. That will create a ripple effect from the ground up, towards evolving in the direction we want to be going.”

Catch Carina at MISTY 2011 on Saturday, Oct 29, 8:30 am – 12:30 pm for Physiology & The Nervous System and at 4:00 – 6:00 pm for Technical Aspects of Teaching Therapeutic Yoga.