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Yoga Yoga Teacher Training Yoga Therapy YTT Blog

Thoughts for Yoga Teachers – explaining yoga as therapy

The practice of yoga is therapeutic. Anyone who has practiced yoga will agree with this statement, but the idea of “yoga therapy” is contentious. In January 2016, the Yoga Alliance requested that any yoga school remove the terms “yoga therapy” and “yoga therapist” from their title. This instruction was a precaution against misleading the public that yoga teachers are diagnosticians. The point was not that yoga isn’t therapeutic, but rather that yoga is not a strategy for diagnosing or curing ailments. The therapeutic potential of yoga comes from its consistent practice. Yoga is a complete system for maintaining health and wellbeing, but it is not a prescriptive solution to specific ailments.

As a yoga teacher, you will receive a lot of inquiries about how to “cure” a variety of ailments, or “treat” a specific population. Some examples include depression/anxiety, back pain, pregnancy, injuries, asthma, arthritis, insomnia and obesity. Your role as a yoga professional is to guide students to treat themselves for whatever they are suffering from. Yoga is not a replacement for other medical care, but it is a useful tool in healthcare. Consistent yoga practice offers students autonomy and awareness in their own healthcare journey.

The difference between yoga and other types of healthcare is that yoga does not apply a reductionist style of therapy. It requires commitment from the student and it is not a quick solution. For example, consider the following statements:

“If I meditate, then I’ll be calmer.”

“If I don’t smoke, then I’ll be able to run faster.”

“If I eat less, then I’ll be thinner.”

These statements are true, but they fail to capture health as a complete psychological and physiological system. Yoga affords a point of view that goes beyond the reductionist if/then approach to health. For example, the primary series of Ashtanga yoga is called yoga chikitsa. Translated, this means yoga therapy. The therapeutic application of Ashtanga is its systematic approach towards wellness rather than a prescription to cure/treat an ailment.

The therapeutic quality of the yoga is its attention to discipline, devotion and patience. Yoga chikitsa is intended to be practiced daily. Practitioners are to do each pose in sequence and follow the other suggestions for a well-rounded lifestyle.

First, you have to practice for a long period of time; second, your practice must not be interrupted—you must do it regularly; and third, you must do your practice with love and respect.
-Yoga Sutra 1.14

It is these qualities of the practice – discipline, devotion and patience – that students can apply to other therapeutic requirements.

How to teach therapeutic yoga

First, you must provide a nurturing and welcoming environment for every student that comes to your classes or even who asks you a question. Yoga is therapeutic in its consistent application. But suggesting this to a student who has recently been diagnosed with arthritis or asthma or depression and who is looking for a prescriptive “fix” may be counterproductive. Students who have recently been diagnosed with an ailment, particularly if they are new to yoga, will not initially be receptive to your suggestion that yoga must be practiced regularly and consistently. Incorporating a yoga practice into a healthcare regime is fundamentally different than taking a pill or getting surgery. Informing students that they must practice “forever” will be overwhelming. Furthermore, with insidious problems that require therapy such as obesity or back pain, students might be reluctant to embrace the lifestyle changes that are necessary to change their circumstances. So, it’s important to be compassionate and welcoming to each student, regardless of their previous yoga experience and regardless of their current expectations of the practice.

Next, be patient and creative in your approach. Encourage students as they develop a regular practice. Although it might be obvious to you how yoga is therapeutic for many ailments, the yogic approach of a mind-body connection might be foreign to new students. Assess each student by asking questions about their experience, their perception of yoga and what aspects of yoga make them feel better. Elaborate on this by making yoga appealing. For example, an injured athlete with a lot of energy may not stick with a seated meditation practice. She might find it boring and annoying. Propose to her instead that she try walking meditation. Instruct her to set a mantra before she walks and then to repeat the mantra during the walk. Just as yoga is an overarching solution for almost any ailment, there are infinite ways to incorporate yoga into a lifestyle.

Finally, even though yoga therapy is not a replacement for medical intervention, it is a valuable companion to medicine. As a yoga teacher, you have the time to discuss with students what is ailing them and together, you can evaluate lifestyle changes, such as work environment, leisure activities and emotional circumstances. Together, you and your student can determine an effective and useful application of yoga. Furthermore, by consulting with your student, and putting them in charge of their own health via yoga, you are giving them the autonomy to take charge of their personal wellbeing.

Yoga may not be a prescriptive tool to cure ailments, but it does provide a therapeutic elixir of which students have control over the dosage.

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Workshops and Events

Morning Yoga Workshop – October 2018

Happy almost-autumn yogis! I’m teaching another morning workshop this fall in Yellowknife, NT at Taiga Yoga and Therapy Centre.

The workshop is 12 classes, each an hour long. The sequences will be based on familiar yoga poses, but will have advanced options. Beginner yoga students are welcome to sign up, but please be prepared for a challenge!

Hope to see you all on the mat on Tuesday October 9 at 645am!

Early bird price: $155

Promo Code: GetStarted

Register at taigayoga.com

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Uncategorized Yoga

Cue the Silence

Our world is a noisy place. We exist among conversations, loud engines, music, sirens, air filter machines, humming computers, ringtones, radios, barking dogs and constant chatter inside our heads. Silence is an elusive concept. So when the power went off in my office building last week, besides the darkness, the aftermath was a silence that juxtaposed the constant background noise that I hadn’t realized was there.

In yoga, I encourage my students to “let go of distracting thoughts,” and “quiet the mind.”

But how can the mind become quiet when the world is so noisy?

Therein lays the challenge. I constantly struggle to quiet the omnipresent chatter in my head. I do yoga as a tool to quiet my mind and I teach yoga to help others quiet their minds. Paradoxically I teach with a soundtrack playing in the background. Music is something that I always incorporated into my classes. Deva Premal, Wah!, Krishna Das. These musicians were my most regular attendees. They never missed a class and their voices and rhythms provided the ambiance for my classes. But is more external noise really the key to inner silence?

When the power was off and my office was silent for 25 minutes, I had the time to reflect on the value of silence. I pondered why I play music during yoga classes.

Who was it for? Did my students relate to it? Did it assist them to quiet their minds, as I was constantly reminding them to do? Doubtful.  It occurred to me that I was playing the music for myself. The music was a comfort for me in case I couldn’t think of anything to say. It was a buffer between awkward silence and valuable commentary from me.

So I turned off the music. The relief of not having to design playlists for every class was a wonderful byproduct of my new music-free yoga classes. More importantly, I noticed my students. When I played music, I wasn’t listening to my students. I was often listening to the music, wondering if it was too loud, too fast…did the students like the song? But none of that has anything to do with yoga and my teaching wasn’t effective with the distraction of a playlist.

Without the music, I am able to listen to the pranayama in the room and focus on how students are responding to my verbal cues. I am able to tune into how students are responding to my teaching and subsequently teach poses and sequences that cater to what my students need.

It is my intention to foster an environment where dynamic and valuable yoga practice can take place. An environment where students can silence the chatter, tune out of the world and achieve an internal focus and respect. Turning off the music is my small contribution towards finding silence of mind, awareness of breath and steadiness of body.

Join me on the mat for music-less but pranayama-rich power yoga.

Mondays and Wednesdays at 7pm

Tuesdays at noon.

Taiga Yoga Studio, Yellowknife