In many ways, the growing field of yoga therapy (or therapeutic yoga, as it’s also known) is uncharted territory. Not many people know what it is or how it can be used, and it can difficult to access standardized training and certification.
Carina Raisman is on a mission to change that. The Montreal-based yoga educator recently founded Yoga Re:source, a school for yoga therapeutics. In addition to private session, group classes and workshops, the school offers a 300-hour Yoga Therapy Certification course for yoga teachers (and any health practitioner) who want to take their work to the next level.
With a lifelong interest in health, a strong curiousity about how the body works and an academic background in microbiology and immunology, Carina has a wide range of tools to bring to her practice.
She talked to me about the underlying vision of her yoga therapy practice and the essence of her training process.
What is your approach to yoga therapy?
I meet the person where they’re at. Of course, I take into consideration a person’s lifestyle, habits and other factors. But when you meet someone, you can more or less assess where they’re at. The simplest way to put it is, I use the symptom as a starting point to address the whole body and the whole being.
I’ve noticed that there’s an exploratory aspect to your therapy, as well. You encourage people to explore and sense their own bodies.
I really try to emphasize the importance of exploration, so the person who is practicing can really learn about their body – where it moves freely, where it doesn’t move freely. We can learn how to read sensations to make the best of where they’re at and where they want to go.
What can yoga therapy be used for?
Anything. Whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, practical, ergonomical, cognitive… What I’ve realized is that yoga can be used to complement any healing process and any life process, because yoga is a life philosophy. Yoga can help guide, balance and reestablish anything that is happening in your body or in your life.
What are the most common things that you see in people looking for relief from with yoga therapy?
Lower back pain and anxiety/depression.
You started out as an Ashtanga/vinyasa teacher. But at some point you switched to a more therapeutic style. How did this shift happen?
I took an Ashtanga yoga training in 2003 because I was into anatomy and alignment. I still am, but for different reasons. At the time, I was interested in alignment and biomechanics, and I learned a lot about both by studying Ashtanga.
But to obtain the results yoga can provide, Ashtanga isn’t necessarily the best method for everybody. It’s a wonderful science, but for the average North American who isn’t super active and maybe works at a desk, the rhythm and postures of the Ashtanga system are too challenging.
Instead, I chose to take Ashtanga and break down the postures to get the benefits of them without the drawbacks. I’ve also integrated elements of the Hatha, Anusara and Satyananda systems, and my academic background, to understand why certain things make more sense, biologically speaking.
Is that what lead to your interest in yoga therapeutics?
Since I was five years old, I wanted to be a doctor. I’ve been interested in health for my whole life. I started med school but didn’t like the philosophy of what I was learning, so I stopped. But I didn’t want to stop learning about health. I then realized I was getting all the answers that I looked for in school through yoga.
While I started with Ashtanga, I took a curious meander to find what it is I’m doing now. And it’s a never-ending process.
I understand your journey, but what was your training process to get to where you are? Yoga therapeutics is a nebulous area right now, and what makes a yoga therapy teacher or a yoga therapist is undefined, not standardized.
After my initial formal teacher training, I continued studying and practicing on my own. I studied Satyananda, the Bihar school of yoga books, and Anusara for biomechanics. I approached doctors who teach yoga in med schools, and went to IAYT conferences. I’ve taken plenty of seminars and workshops with yoga therapist teachers and doctors who do integrative medicine. I keep learning and integrating more information until I get a bigger and fuller picture.
It seems like this training you’re offering is a way to synthesize everything you studied and learned over the years.
I’ve taken so many teacher trainings and taught the anatomy portion of other YTTs. I always feel like the time is too short, and I want to elaborate and teach more. The more I understand the body as a whole, the more it’s challenging to teach anatomy without teaching why we’re learning anatomy.
It’s open to yoga teachers and any kind of therapists who want to take their work to the next level. The course focuses on understanding how the body works, biologically (through anatomy and physiology) and then learning how to use that knowledge in conjunction with the tools you already have.
For a yoga teacher, the training teaches how we can use anatomy and physiology to sequence a class and make sure it’s therapeutic in terms of alignment, balancing the nervous system, all these things. And for people who aren’t necessarily yoga teachers – massage therapists, Pilates teachers, etc – they can take this information and use it in their pre-existing work.
One of the reasons I want to give this training is to give the full picture of how the biomechanics affect the biochemistry and how yoga can help balance out from the physical to the physiological to the energetic.
What are your other reasons for giving the training?
My main vision is that everyone lives a fulfilled life, whatever that means to them. I think we’re so lucky to have manifested, so we’re at an advantage to begin with. We’re lucky to be able to cultivate our spiritual wellness as opposed to just survival. I try to carry out my mission by teaching health through yoga, to help people to live the life they want.
I see health as a stepping stone towards fulfillment. I opened the school to teach health in a language that’s common to practitioners here, so if people go see their doctor, they understand the language the doctor uses. The language serves as a transition between medical science and yoga philosophy.
Yoga Re:source is doing well, so I want to train a team of therapists, help create a standard education for yoga as a health modality/practice, and ensure that when people go out to teach, they’re educating.
It’s amazing how little people know about their own bodies. I see that you’re also working to make basic anatomy more accessible to more people.
Yes! When you buy a computer or a new car, there’s a user’s manual. But if you think of your body as an instrument, there’s no user’s manual. Unless you’ve taken anatomy in high school or university, we don’t learn about how to use our bodies.
In the fall, the school will offer drop-in anatomy group classes, which will be a half hour of theory and a half hour practice. The classes will be open to everybody, with no prerequisites.
I think it’s really fundamental, for health, to know your body and know how to take care of your body. With my training, learn how the body works, learn how to see when the body is out of balance and learn how to bring it back into balance.
I’ve chosen yoga as the health care system, but it’s not exclusive. It’s multi-dimensional and complements all other modalities.
What are you most excited about with this training, with your school?
I love being inspired by people who want to learn and who’ll be teaching in a way that inspires others to take care of themselves. I also love having a community of people who are into learning, opening and sharing.