What is Yoga Therapy?
Have you ever wondered why one type of yoga practice benefits one person and wreaks havoc on someone else? You are not alone. We are multi-faceted, complex, fascinating creatures and we all need to take different approaches to health and wellness. That’s where yoga therapy comes in.
Yoga therapy is not a new field, but it is getting a lot more attention in the West recently. Yoga therapy takes into consideration the unique needs, health history, postural alignment, past injuries, personality, lifestyle, goals and Ayurvedic constitution of each individual. Ayurveda means “the science of life” and is oftentimes referred to as the “sister science of yoga.” Ayurveda provides a framework of healing and finding balance based on assessing each individual’s unique combination of qualities.
Often, clients meet with the yoga therapist 1:1, but there is also a growing number of yoga therapy group classes, like “Yoga Therapy for Depression” or “Yoga Therapy for Chronic Pain,” popping up in hospitals, yoga studios, and clinics.
Yoga Therapy Empowers the Individual
As a yoga therapist, my hope is to work myself out of a job. The yoga therapy model is not a magic pill solution, but rather empowers clients to take their health and wellness into their own hands by building a deep sense of body and mind awareness. When we check in with our true needs, desires, and physical sensations on a daily basis, it becomes easier and easier to make choices that align with this truth.
“Your Shoulder is Not Bad, Because You are Not Bad”
One of the most common things I hear from clients is that they want help with their “bad hip, bad shoulder, bad knee,” etc. Because yoga therapy takes into consideration the whole human through a holistic lens, I challenge this notion of “bad.” You are not bad. Your body is not bad. You certainly may be experiencing pain, discomfort, stress, or fatigue, but there is nothing inherently wrong with who you are.
One of the things I find most attractive about yoga therapy is that it does not condemn. The reason why it has been both personally and professionally so profound for me is that instead of seeing the world through a polarizing lens of “right or wrong,” yoga therapy seeks to truly see, understand, hear, and support each unique individual.
Everything can be a poison or a medicine, depending on what the individual needs in the moment. For example, one person might go kickboxing and feel like anger has been released. Another person’s anger will increase. Is kickboxing inherently calming or aggravating? The answer is neither and both. It depends on the individual.
Yoga Therapy is Not the Same as Gentle Yoga
Very often, regular yoga classes are described as therapeutic, healing, gentle, restorative, etc., but this does not mean they fall under yoga therapy.
In a yoga therapy session, an individual’s specific health history, personality, habits, goals, physicality, and Ayurvedic makeup is taken into consideration. It’s possible that one client’s treatment plan will include gentle yoga, but it’s also possible that a client would benefit from a more powerful, strength-building practice.
Is Yoga Therapy Right for You?
Whether you are looking for deep relaxation, recovering from an injury, or searching for practical ways to bring your yoga off the mat and into your daily life, yoga therapy has so much to offer you. Merging ancient wisdom with modern functional movement training, yoga therapy will give you the tools to move your body efficiently and with ease, building greater body awareness and mindfulness.
The other day I was teaching a yoga class, and this mantra spontaneously came to mind:
There is enough, I have enough, I am enough.”
It is very easy to get caught up in the materialist world that we live in. We are constantly inundated with images of shiny new things that we “have to have” in order to be happy. But once these “necessities” are acquired, there is always something bigger, better, newer that we “must have.”
This cycle of acquisition never ends, and permeates into all aspects of our lives. Not only do we feel we do not have enough, but this feeling of inadequacy extends into our feelings of our own self-worth. Am I enough?
I am in no way advocating a monastic life of plain spartan things and complete unattachment to material goods. Of course, it feels nice to buy something new once in a while, to don that new dress that you have been eyeing, etc. However, this feeling of abundance must come from within, instead of from external goods/services. The happiest people I know have an abundance within themselves that is not shaken by external details such as the size of their house, type of car, social status at work, etc.
Nice things that they acquire or happen to them are treated like frosting on the already sweet cake that is their life.
Deepak Chopra sums it up nicely:
The world is as you are. When your perception opens up inside so does everything out there.
We can live our lives from a place of scarcity or choose abundance. The world will reflect our decision. Abundance in our hearts will naturally attract more abundance to our lives.
Ever since I learned the Courageous Heart Mudra a couple of months ago, I find that in times of stress, fear or anxiety, my hands naturally come to my heart and form this mudra. Mudras are ancient hand gestures that link to different emotions, chakras, body parts, etc. Not only are they symbolic gestures, but they also aid in a wide variety of physical sensations, ex. digestion, heart opening, relaxation, etc.
To practice Courageous Heart Mudra, or Abhaya Hridaya as it is called in Sanskrit,
1. Bring your hands to your heart in prayer position.
2. Cross the right wrist in front of the left, so that the right wrist is closest to the heart.
3. Interlace the pinkies, ring fingers and index fingers. Skip the middle fingers.
4. Touch the middle fingers to the thumbs to complete the circuit.
Close your eyes, roll the shoulders down the back, root through the sit bones, and breathe easily.
Notice the beating of your own courageous heart. Feed off this energy to solidify the body for the tasks ahead.
Go out into the world with an open, strong heart and live your truth!
I recently attended the Minneapolis Yoga Conference. I had no idea what to expect and showed up on the first day with one goal for the weekend: “do not compare yourself to others.” I heard the quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” several weeks prior, and had not been able to stop reflecting on this statement.
How much of our suffering derives from comparison? We drive ourselves crazy comparing ourselves to our peers, family members, celebrities, perfect strangers, etc. “She’s prettier, funnier, skinnier than me.” “He’s stronger, richer, kinder, more successful than me.”
During the three-day conference, my little experiment banning comparison revealed three lessons to me:
1. I had so much more time. I realized I had been spending so much energy and time focusing on my shortcomings, as well as the successes of others. When I let go of this toxic habit, I created room for what I love to do, yoga!
2. I could be present with ease. Many times when I start letting my monkey mind run with a comparison, I lose my present focus. I think about how I need to get skinnier, prettier, more flexible, etc.. in the future. I lose my present peace of mind. Without the monkey mind, I was able to focus on the people in front of me and make heartfelt connections without thinking about what was to come.
3. I was happier. Releasing comparison invites self-acceptance to emerge. The reason why we compare ourselves to others is an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. When we relinquish this feeling of unworthiness, abundance wells up inside to fill the void. We are enough. We have enough. We are worthy to receive.
Everyday we are faced with unexpected challenges and surprises. No matter how diligently we try to control every facet of our lives, shit happens. Many of us immediately react to these unforeseen crises viscerally. But what if there was another way?
We have the power to CHOOSE how to react. What if everything is happening just as it should? What if every so-called calamity or upset can be turned on its head into a positive/learning experience? Here is a recent example of my own. I was driving a friend home from work the other day and hit a pothole that was so deep it popped my tire upon impact. The next day, I was stranded downtown with a flat tire, no one to call, and a packed day of yoga classes with no way to get to them. I immediately reacted and panicked. I let my mind run.
Eventually, I calmed myself down and got the help of a roadside assistance company. Everything was fine, the wild stories I had created, hyperventilation, and panic was all for naught. Did I really have to experience all of that? The answer is a resounding “no.” I had the choice to react that way. We are not vehicles of our emotions. With practice, we can hold dominion over our monkey minds.
The world is as you are. When your perception opens up in here, so does everything out there -Deepak Chopra
So many of my yoga students are living in a state of chronic stress and anxiety, reacting to every blip in life. So many of us have fallen victim to our surroundings, believing certain reactions are necessary and out of our control. Here are a few examples: reaction before a big test-anxiety, reaction to a missed flight-anger, reaction to relationship issues-jealousy, reaction to not getting your dream job-sadness. The list goes on and on.
By no means am I advocating not feeling every emotion that comes your way. But instead of absorbing each story, thought, emotion, etc. and letting it define you and change your day, be the master of your mind. Watch your reactions like a movie, without judgment. Observe, feel fully and then let go. I used to have a volleyball coach that encouraged each player to slap the court floor with every mistake we made to symbolically let go of the last play and move on without absorbing our mistakes and letting them affect our future moves. What if we took this approach to our daily lives?
Next time something seemingly shitty happens, feel any emotion that pops up, experience it fully and then let it go. Slap that shit to the floor, and move on with your day. You are more than your mind and more than your body.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how we communicate and connect to one another and I have witnessed one too many relationships strained by the reliance and dependence on technology. Many people seem to come alive behind the screen, saying things they would hardly ever repeat to someone’s face. If we had to relay every text and email to the recipient’s face, would we say the things we do? There seems to be a false confidence gained behind the protective barrier of a computer/phone screen.
One recent example comes to mind. A customer at a local coffee shop had a bad experience, and immediately wrote a vehement complaint on her computer while she was still in the shop. After receiving the complaint electronically, the manager confronted her and asked what he could have done differently. Being faced by an actual human being, the girl buckled under pressure and shed her tough online persona to reveal a shy girl incapable of addressing the problem in person.
One of my yoga instructors once said, “Which version of yourself would you choose to be in a room full of your dearest friends, every family member, coworkers, and strangers?” If we are truly living authentically and being present in every moment, there is only one version of ourselves; there is no choice. However, more frequently, we adapt to our surroundings, try on different personalities and adopt new traits depending on whom we are with. Living with authenticity requires practice, awareness and determination.
Tune in to the beautiful people in front of you. You will never have this moment again. Each day is precious and each person deserves to be seen. Your phone does not love you and should not be used as armor to hide behind. Speak your truth from the heart without fear and the world will reflect your goodness.