So last weekend I had the pleasure of experiencing the first annual Montreal International Symposium on Therapeutic Yoga (Oct 29 & 30). The title of the symposium implies a serious, focused and perhaps even dry event. But in reality it was dynamic, engaged and even fun! It challenged some of my existing preconceptions of therapeutic yoga and introduced me to a community of teachers and practitioners who are doing very worthwhile work. I’m starting to think that the therapeutic crowd might just be the real outliers of the North American yoga scene.
I’ve been to a fair number of large-scale yoga gatherings over the years, from the swanky Omega Being Yoga conference at the Marriot Hotel in Fort Lauderdale to the grassrootsy Yoga Festival Toronto. MISTY falls somewhere in between – hosted at the Delta Hotel in downtown Montreal, the space had that contained business conference feel, yet the event itself was intimate and low-key, with an intentional non-commercial feel (no marketplace – a few tables were set up with local yoga projects and studios, and a local book vendor selling yoga books, but that was it).
Here are some of the things I learned:
Therapeutic yoga is not only about the physical body ~ I was under the impression that therapeutic yoga was all anatomy and technique, and about sacrificing the spiritual aspects for biomechanics. But, for some reason, I was surprised at how many references there were to the magic and wonder of yoga, to the breath, to union. The difference, I found, was in the language. The TY (therapeutic yoga, obv) community use a more precise language, even when speaking of the mystical. For example, in Rita Trieger and Antonio Sausys‘s session on “Yoga for Cancer,” some discussion was given to the physical benefits of yoga for cancer patients and survivors, but much more time was devoted to the purpose of classes as a sacred space and a community for healing.
Therapeutic yoga is at a pivotal point ~ One of the positive byproducts of the mainstreaming of yoga is that it’s lead to greater acceptance from the medical community. In the “Supporting Traditional Medicine” panel, audience members and panelists noted changes in doctors’ receptivity to yoga as both a preventative and curative health practice. The recent study on yoga vs. stretching for lower back pain was referenced and it was agreed that more studies and research are necessary. I was also surprised to learn from panelist John Kepner of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) that US military is very interested in TY and is one of the strongest supporters of the organization’s work. The military is interested in biomedical standards and has started to finance research.
Therapeutic yoga is based on relationships ~ And not just relationships between teachers and students, or practitioners and the community. But relationships between the yoga community and the medical community, between yoga teachers and doctors. As well, there was little talk about yoga styles or brands, or discussing the particulars between differing methods. In the sessions I went to, the teachers often didn’t reveal what system they practice or teach. This was a refreshing change. As with any yoga get together, the most meaningful parts of MISTY happened outside of the sessions: shared conversations over lunch, surprise encounters in the lobby. I was also impressed to see faculty attending each other’s sessions – this gave the event a sense of community and the feeling that people were there to learn, not just practice or teach.