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.
“Human beings are fundamentally communal; our individuality is a product of community, and our choices are shaped by our being with others.” (Judith Plaskow)
We naturally crave connection and the power of yoga is multiplied by practicing together. Sure, we can practice yoga at home, but there is nothing quite like the energy shared in a group experience, breathing and sharing the space with a community of yogis.
Taking this power of community practice one step further is the practice of partner yoga. Partner does not have to mean romantic partner or even good friend…the benefits will reveal themselves, regardless.
Practicing partner yoga and facilitating partner yoga workshops, I continue to be amazed by what shows up for people. Remember those pesky grade school group projects? Some similar feelings can arise with partner yoga. Frustrations can surface, as well as a tug for control, a letting go of the small things to focus on collaboration, and a call for clear communication and trust.
Trusting goes hand in hand with letting go of control, especially if you are used to having things go your way.
Allowing another human being to fully hold you up, is a great first step to letting go, knowing you are not alone and that you can share some of life’s challenges with another person.
I have taught high school girls (you know, the catty, mean, darn right cruel kind?) to do partner yoga, switching partners with every pose. They were uncertain, but soon there were giggles and connection between girls who normally did not speak to one another. A sense of community was formed once they had experienced trusting each other and getting out of their comfort zone.
We place a lot of value on verbal communication, when in reality, our bodies, eyes, faces and hands communicate even more. Connecting with your partner without the distraction of work, phones, TV and excessive words, allows you to really see each other, connect and become closer.
Once I attended a class with a close friend of mine and remember being asked to sit face-to-face, knees touching and stare into each other's eyes for 10 minutes, without saying a word! After a few minutes of giggling, then finally sitting in silence, I had a profound realization that I had never truly seen my friend. We had always been talking or doing something, constantly bombarded by noise and distraction. A deep, silent connection occurred that forever shifted our friendship. Giving someone your unconditional and undistracted attention is a powerful gift.
Physical touch is healing. It is a nonverbal way of showing support for another human being. I had a yoga teacher who believed that people are drawn to yoga to be seen, heard and touched. In partner yoga, we use our partner's bodies to enhance a stretch or deepen a posture, as well as create more strength and stability together. What better way to connect with another person, while experiencing more freedom in your own body.
It is difficult to take yourself too seriously in a partner yoga class. These poses can seem silly and sometimes ridiculous. Sharing the experience with another human being fosters an environment of lightness, an invitation to be authentically you, and permission to play. Yes, grownups need to play too!
Upcoming Partner Yoga Offerings:
Sat, Feb 24th, 1:30-3pm Partner Yoga at Up Yoga
Sat, Feb 16th, 2-3:30pm Partner Yoga w/ Childcare at Blooma
For as long as I can remember, I have been a voracious reader, never quite able to sate my thirst for knowledge. There is always so much more to learn. My purse is always unnecessarily heavy because I will never leave the house without at least one tome to page through at any free moment I can find. Below is a list of my most cherished books that have made the biggest impact on my yoga practice, my teaching and my life. Each book has shaped me in some way. Enjoy yogis! And please send me your favorites that I may have missed.
Books that make you ponder
These are the books that have touched my heart and changed my perspective on the world. They are tattered from use and every page is underlined, with notes in the margins.
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
A Path and a Practice by William Martin
Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope
Foundations of Yoga
Whether you are an aspiring teacher or a student wishing to deepen your practice and understanding, these books are essential reads.
Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar
Teaching Yoga by Mark Stephens
Yoga as Medicine by Dr. Timothy McCall
Women’s Health, Big Book of Yoga by Kathryn Budig
Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya
Key Muscles of Yoga by Ray Long
Eastern Body, Western Mind by Anodea Judith
Yin has always been my most favorite type of yoga. It can be tricky to understand at first how still and quiet the practice is. These books break down the practice and explore the Chinese meridians in each yin pose.
The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark
Yin Yoga, Principles and Practice by Paul Grilley
Insight Yoga by Sarah Powers
Yoga’s sister science Ayurveda, which means “the science of life,” explores each individual’s dosha, or individual constitution. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Vasant Lad are leaders in the field. There is so much out there, but these books will get you started.
Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra
Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad
Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine by Deepak Chopra
My all-time favorite element of yoga, mudras, are gestures or seals that we make with our hands and bodies to direct and redirect energy within the body for healing, energizing, or calming effects. This is a very subtle practice and takes time to deepen your awareness and knowledge. I started with the Mudras for Healing and Transformation. This book is intended for yoga therapy purposes and is very accessible to all.
Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph & Lilian LePage
Mudras of India by Revital Carroll
Mudra, The Sacred Secret by Dr. Indu Arora
Yoga Therapy and the Science of Yoga
Do you want to understand how yoga works, and how the practice affects your brain and body? These books are a great jumping off point into the great abyss of all the resources and books out there that cover yoga for specific conditions.
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky
The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad
Recovery 2.0, Move Beyond Addiction and Upgrade your Life by Tommy Rosen
Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph & Lilian LePage
Presence, Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
Goddesses in Every Woman: Powerful Archetypes in Women’s Lives by Jean Shinoda
Women who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Clean Eating & Healthy Living
When I first started doing yoga, my body and mind felt so good and calm, that I wanted to clean up other areas of my life, like my diet and home beauty and health practices. Clean Food is my absolute favorite cookbook ; every recipe is delicious and nourishing.
Aim True by Kathryn Budig
The Home Apothecary by Stacey Dugliss Wesselman
Clean Food by Terry Walters
Aroma Yoga by Tracy Griffiths
Nothing to do with yoga, just my favorite book
A friend gave me this book years ago, and I rarely reread books, but I can’t get enough of this one. It’s one those books that never gets old and seems pertinent at every age and phase of life. It is simultaneously about nothing and about everything.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
"Don't be a mean girl, be a fॐॐking nice girl" has become my mantra!
Whatever the struggle or conflict is, I am usually able to boil it down to, “geez, if we were all just a little bit more fॐॐking nice to each other, this situation wouldn’t be so damn ugly.”
I work at a studio that does not tolerate gossip and mean girls. During my interview, the owner said, "drama is not tolerated here." I have heard this before, but this was the first time that I have worked in an environment of women that truly are kind, supportive and loving to one another. It has opened my mind to great possibilities!
As women, we have the power to be a destructive force in each other's lives, or the power to be supportive, empowering and inspirational to one another. The decision is ours.
When we spit venom and wonder why the sky is falling, we cannot be surprised. When we tear down another woman for having qualities that we are jealous of, we only hurt ourselves.
We are human and it can be easy to fall into judgment, comparison and cruelty. But we are also humans who can change. Step back, become a witness, and observe your thoughts and behaviors. Where do all
these mean and toxic thoughts stem from? We hurt others when we are hurting, and when our cups are full and we are content, we have abundance and offer kindness to others.
Let's start a Kindness Movement! When another woman accomplishes something that you too would like to accomplish, say, "You fॐॐking rock girl, show me your ways."
When another woman looks beautiful, tell her.
When another woman stares you up and down, assume the positive and smile at her.
I used to think that if I was silent while others gossiped and tore a woman apart, that I was innocent. I no longer see it that way and feel that, "Silence is the accomplice to injustice" (Ayaan Hirsi Ali).
Lets speak up, defend and support each other.
Don't be a mean girl, be a fॐॐking nice girl. Who's with me? Let's get this ball rolling and support the shit out of each other.
Why I decided to stop passing by the swingset, and finally jumped on a swing and said “to hell with it!”
I am not too old and definitely not too mature to swing on the monkey bars, dance like a fool, or hula hoop.
My entire life I have had a voice of insecurity that keeps me from doing what my heart desires. Sometimes I can overcome this self-doubt and self-limitation, and the outcome is always positive, but for so many years, I let this little voice keep me from expressing myself fully, and more importantly, living more passionately.
I recently got back from a month-long intensive yoga therapy training at Kripalu Yoga Center in Massachusetts. I chose this program to learn how to help others utilize yoga as a healing modality for specific conditions. One of the interesting things about yoga trainings is that to be a good teacher, you have to deal with your own issues first, and intensive trainings bring anything that may have been stifled within to the surface quite quickly. So imagine my surprise when I started having flashbacks of mean girls in middle school and debilitating self-consciousness and constant worry about whether I was “likeable.”
After a few weeks of silent judgment, comparison and negative self-talk, I had a breakthrough. I wandered into a yoga dance class, something I had been avoiding like the plague because it was too “out there, silly, ridiculous, etc.” What happened next was profoundly humbling and freeing. The group of people that had gathered for yoga dance were of all ages and backgrounds. No one seemed to care what anyone else was doing. The entire experience was so out of my comfort zone that I reached my edge. I could feel my heart rate increase, my face flush red with embarrassment and my mind race. Compared to my very controlled, predictable, individual yoga practice, this experience was the complete opposite! It was freeform, spontaneous and participatory. I had two options: run away and cry, or embrace this awkwardness and give it my all. I threw all my cares to the wind and let myself be goofy, ridiculous, bizarre, and most of all, vulnerable. From that moment on, I could not get enough of this feeling of freedom! Every thought that crossed my mind that I would have ignored before, I embraced.
I stopped to smell the flowers, I ran through the field, I hula hooped and played the bongo drums. Because…why not??
I started imagining what my life would look like if I stopped doing what I thought I “should” do or what I was “supposed” to do.
Like anything, this way of thinking is a practice, a muscle that must be utilized and strengthened, and certainly a skill that is much easier to foster in the safe yogi-minded community at Kripalu. I returned home totally thrilled to start living from this place of pure intuition and bliss, but then life happened, and my little bubble burst and I needed a reminder to not take myself so seriously.
Today I was walking around the lake and I thought how fun it would be to sit in the sand and then swing on the swingset. My self-doubt and insecurity immediately activated. I thought how “stupid, dumb, and immature, etc” it would be to act like a kid. What if people look at me and think…you fill in the blank. I recognized this limiting behavior of my past and ran without a care to the beach. It is so liberating to stop caring what others think. The instantaneous result is joy because you finally get to do what you have been eyeing up for years! Every time I pass a swingset, I want to play on it, but I hold myself back and do the “mature thing.” Screw that.
Today I sat in the sand forever and then meandered over to the swings and squealed with delight. I doubt anyone cared, and if they did, what does it matter?
“Carpe diem” has become a ubiquitous term in our society, but what does living fully and taking life by the horns really look like? It will be different for each individual, but I think the essence of living fully is releasing the thoughts and behaviors that hold us back, therefore making more room for our intuition to bubble up and guide us toward our passions. Oh, and don’t forget to swing from the monkey bars :)
A student recently approached me after a Yin Yang class, and he said, “Yin is not for me, because it is too easy.” Yin yoga, unlike its action-packed, adrenaline pumping yang counterpart, is a stable, slow, restorative practice, in which you hold a seated or supine pose for 3-5 minutes. Yin is a completely passive and fluid practice. There are very few alignment cues, and the goal is to find stillness of the body, which facilitates stillness of the mind.
In the busy, highly stimulating world that we live in today, finding physical stillness, let alone mental stillness, is almost impossible. We have grown accustomed to a world of instant gratification and shortcuts, and sometimes bring these expectations to our mats.
What is stillness and why is it so hard?
From an outsider’s view, the yin practice may appear quite easy at first glance. In this prop-heavy, quiet class, there is very little movement. However, like an onion, the layers are myriad, and what may appear to be “just sitting or lying there,” may actually be the most difficult yoga practice of all. Yin is akin to trying to recreate the feeling of peace, silence and stillness we strive for in savasana, in each yin pose.
Simple Does Not Mean Easy
When I first tried Yin, I did not quite understand it. I was addicted to Power Vinyasa. If a workout did not make me sweat, I did not see the point. For some unknown reason to me at the time, I continued to go to Yin. At first, it drove me mad that I couldn’t quiet my mind. It was like I was watching a movie of every thought I’d had in the past two weeks. Exhausting! This physical stillness was unbearable to me. I was stuck with myself! No distractions. My mind was craving the constant stimuli it had grown accustomed to in this world of bombarding images, tasks, concepts, to-do lists, etc.
The real muscle to be strengthened in Yin is the mind.
Yin may appear to be a physically simple practice; after all, there are only about 20 poses. However, what is going on inside the mind is the most beneficial and potentially difficult practice of all. Many emotions, memories, and ideas will arise during a Yin practice, and the goal is not to suppress these sensations, but instead, observe them without identifying with each thought or adding stories. I like to use the analogy of a deep-sea calm. The surface may be torrential and crashing waves, however, beneath the surface, in the depths of the ocean, there is calm. When we are able to cultivate physical and mental stillness on our mats, even when challenges arise in the body or mind, we can take this newfound stability out into the world and apply it to our daily lives. If you have never tried Yin, I highly recommend it! Check out my Yin Yang class on Sundays at 11:30 am at Core Essence Yoga.
I wish I could get Lululemon credit for every time I have heard someone say this to me. There are a million excuses people come up with for not attempting yoga, but this one is particularly irksome, because it’s just not true. Whenever I hear someone bemoan or accept his/her inflexibility as fact, I like to tell the story of how I first learned about yoga.
I was first introduced to yoga by my former football player father. A stocky guy by nature, a life of extreme activity took a toll on his knees and hip, leading to a double knee replacement and a titanium hip, limiting his flexibility greatly. I was 10 years old when we first started taking classes with a local swami, who was, in my 10 year old mind, 1/3 grandpa, 1/3 teacher and 1/3 wizard. He was so majestic and regal. My dad’s mobility was very limited, but this did not prove to be a problem in the restorative yoga class we took with Swami Jaidev weekly. The soft lights, booming yet reassuring voice of Swami, and the gentle movements in a heated room became an addicting source of relaxation and peace of mind. Even from my child’s perspective, I knew something spectacular was happening in that room. Yoga is soooo much more than being able to put your foot behind your head.
If flexibility is what is holding you back from trying yoga, I challenge you to question whether this inflexibility is physical or perhaps mental. So often, I see students of all ages, limiting themselves in class, because they believe they are not “a flexible person” or a particular pose could never be possible for them.This holding back is rarely physical. There are so many students that have the strength and even flexibility, but fear of failure or making a fool of oneself holds them back. Be silly. Fall on your face. Have a sense of humor with yourself, and get back up again and try again. I can’t thank my dad enough for teaching me this at a young age.
If you are new to yoga, and feeling slightly overwhelmed by all of the different types of yoga to choose from, I recommend reading Meagan McCrary’s book, Pick Your Yoga Practice. She breaks down the most popular types of yoga ranging from Bikram to Restorative. I truly believe there is a type of yoga and a special teacher for each and every person. It is just a matter of taking the time to find him/her. Sometimes, finding that special teacher that you resonate with, might not even match up with the type of yoga you usually prefer. I have been a lifelong athlete, and almost always gravitate towards inversion/arm balance heavy power classes. However, some of the dearest and most influential teachers have been yoga therapists that teach restorative classes, where I barely break a sweat.
Newton’s First Law of Motion states:
An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.I have been thinking about this law recently, in terms of what is the driving force behind people’s levels of activity. What causes one person to sit on the couch for hours each day, while another person will not miss a single workout, no matter what?
I believe a body in motion cannot help but stay in motion.
I am reminded of that popular 90s song “Start the Commotion” by the Wiseguys. They chant “Put your body in motion!” repeatedly, until you can’t help but get up and obey.
Twice a week, I teach three yoga classes in a single day. People can’t believe that I could possibly have enough energy to complete this not only daunting physical task, but also emotional and spiritual. However, i find these days to be the most invigorating days of the week. I usually attend a yoga class/run/kickbox, in addition to teaching. Once I start moving, I cannot stop! I get energy from each physical exertion, and fly high on these days!
I truly believe that physical activity leads to happiness. I am overflowing with endorphins on these days. I completely understand the rut that people get in after being inactive for many years. I often hear friends and family bemoan exercise. The hardest part of physical activity is the initial impetus needed to get up off the couch and get to the gym/studio. I once had an instructor say at the beginning of a yoga class that the hardest part of class is done…we got here. Nothing is harder than overcoming that initial hill of inactivity.
So many people have jobs that are inherently inactive. It is hard to squeeze in a workout, and sitting begets more sitting. Hence, the conundrum that many face after the workday is over. The dreaded gym….After sitting all day, it is so hard to muster the energy to get the body in motion.
My best suggestion for overcoming this issue of inactivity is starting small. On days that I know I will have very little time for activity and most likely less energy after a full day’s work, I wake up early and take a walk. No matter how long the walk is, I get my body in motion and can’t help but feel happier, more agile, and heralding the Wiseguys and Newton, can’t help but keep my body in motion the rest of the day!
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.