When it comes to Yoga, ‘one size’ doesn’t fit all. I was quick to discover this and had to supplement my studies and practice with various forms of Yoga and even other forms of alternative healing.
My first Yoga teacher training experience was almost 14 years ago in 2002, at the Sivananda Ashram. The course included Bhakti Yoga in the form of singing, chanting prayers and hymns. Jnana Yoga in the form of satsangs and discourses on Vedanta philosophy, Hatha Yoga in the form of asana and pranayama practice, Raja Yoga in the form of meditation, and a bit of Yoga Anatomy and Ayurveda.
Here Yoga is approached as a preventive science, incorporating aspects of mind, body and emotion and this is the approach I had used as a Beginner Yoga Teacher when I first started my teaching journey. However, I soon realised that the Sivananda style of teaching which is relegated to 12 postures, can’t be used on everyone.
Whether To Practice or Not
Inversions were a part of my training; however, when it came to students who had back or knee pain, or neck issues, I just couldn’t ask them to get into an inversion. I am sure a lot of teachers face similar problems. While some students would be eager to get into an inversion, some students will be better off using an alternate solution to achieve the same benefits.
I have also come across students who have hormonal issues like PCOD, Diabetes and Thyroid; and today many suffer from lifestyle related stress disorders like anxiety, insomnia, and depression. I was soon to discover that my practice had to include a more “Yoga Chikitsa” approach – the science of the curative.
Yoga therapy by itself certainly has the power to deal with the mind and body in terms of curing diseases, but like all alternative therapies, it requires patience and it takes time.
To quote Maharishi Dr Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj:
“Yoga chikitsa is as old as yoga itself, indeed the ‘return of mind which feels separated from the Universe it exists’ represents the first Yoga therapy.”
Yoga chikitsa could be termed as – “man’s first attempt at unitive understanding of mind, emotions, physical distress and is the oldest holistic concept and therapy in the world.”
As a teacher, you are likely to come across people from various backgrounds and past experiences. You will understand that each one faces a different physical, mental or emotional issue and that you cannot help them with just one solution. This is what inspired me to explore different styles of Yoga and also step out of the realm of Yoga and discover alternative healing therapies. In this blog, I have made an attempt to share details of the courses I have studied and how I have implemented them in my classes. I have also shared some very interesting examples of how this has helped few of students heal physically and emotionally and I hope this inspires you to explore these healing techniques.
Exploring Different Styles and Therapies
I found Thai Osteo work extremely beneficial to supplement my practice of passive stretching using acupressure and knowledge of the meridians (Nadis). It helps unblock the energy blockages in both the physical and the energetic body. This makes the work much deeper, the effect is much more profound, and the changes are subtle.
My month long Yoga Therapy teacher training at Yoga Vidya Dham in Nasik was very helpful in helping me understand the pathological features collectively, and accordingly prescribe a set of asana, pranayama, kriya, mudras, bandhas and naturotherapy cures like steam, mud baths, oil baths, heat lamps, UV lamps, along with food tips, fasting, cleanses and relaxation techniques like Yoga Nidra, Omkar chanting and guided meditations … the list goes on! But is extremely comprehensive and helps understand how all these various aspects come together beautifully to help you achieve a mind-body balance.
I have also studied Iyengar style (over a period of time) and it has given me wonderful insights into the use of Yoga props. For instance, if one can not do a Sirsasana, which is considered as the King of all asanas due to its numerous benefits on memory, focus and circulation, they can still hang upside down using ropes! This inversion is therapeutic for people with spondylosis as it allows the cervical region to decompress and provides traction by widening the intervertebral spaces and pulling the trapezius and other muscles downward.
To cite a few examples:
A student had miraculously re-developed her fallopian tubes (essential reproductive organs), with a regular 6 month practice that focused on physically and energetically working on opening the pelvis.
I had students who were relieved from long suffering insomnia and migraines who could cure their condition with a combination of Thai osteo body work, pranayama, relaxation techniques and asana.
One of my student had a problem of calcification in her bones, albeit a painful condition with no cure or cause. She has been practicing with m for 10 years and her therapy includes gentle and slow asana practice, pranayama, focus and change in diet (going vegetarian and lactose free) which has helped her maintain her practice.
Bharat Shetty, founder of Indea Yoga, Mysore and a stalwart in the Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga, says that when the four vayus (pranas) and the five elements are in imbalance, which means excess or lack of fire, water, earth or air element, it can affect bodily functions. He thus uses asana, kriyas, bandhas, mudras and pratyahara to establish mind-body balance in his students.
Here are few link that I have been allowed to use -videos on Yoga therapy by Bharat Shetty:
Another example of an amazing recovery is from a very senior teacher of classical Hatha Yoga tradition. One of his students was a regular gym goer and managed to spasm his lumbar so intensely that It was pulled to one side. He couldn’t even sit or stand. On the first day he was made to do mild lying down spinal stretches and twists and almost every hour on the first 3 days he was instructed to mindfully exhale from the region which was in spasm. Gradually, the muscles had started releasing and he started practicing Pawanmuktasana (wind-relieving pose) with more intensity. Once he was completely pain free he continued to strengthen his back in addition to a diet of non -gassy or ‘vata’ producing food.
I have discovered that the above kind of therapeutic interventions can only be sought through experience, practice and constant learning as a teacher, knowing when to push or not, and being patient with oneself and with the student. This is not easy because we live a fast paced life – in a world of quick fixes, instant gratification and ‘internet fixes!’
I thus felt a need to integrate western interventions to help with yoga therapeutics and its application. I have explored Alexandra Technique, Creative Movement Therapy, aspects of the Feldenkrais method, Vedic chanting, Tibetan Singing Bowls and NLP training which stands for Neurolinguistic programming.
Integrating Western Interventions with Yoga Therapy
According to Sudip Mukherjee, a master practitioner and teacher of NLP, 98 percent of our diseases are formed in the mind and only 2 percent are accidents.
A lot of studies being done today on the mind-body nexus further prove that only 2 to 25 percent comes from our genes and environment. This further implies that yes, we could be genetically predisposed towards…say a heart condition, but it’s our mind, thoughts and feelings or in short – our subjective experiences, which will determine if the disease manifests or not! According to research our thoughts actually changes the shape of our DNA !
This staggering statistic made me explore tools like NLP, which uses language patterns to diagnose where one is stuck cognitively. This is a useful tool to help someone move towards a more positive state of mind.
Dance and movement has always been my passion and I have used them as tools to release feel -good hormones, endorphins and dopamine, which influence the state of mind. Besides they are means of catharsis and help release negative emotions.
I have also studies other passive styles of Yoga like Yin and Restorative practices, which help induce a relaxation response; relaxing our nervous system, which indicates more conducive physiological responses like reduced heart rate, blood pressure, breath and reduced muscular tension. I think it is imperative to study these styles of Yoga to have a more well- rounded knowledge of the practice! ( a book called The Relaxation Response by Dr Herbert Benson is a good read ).
Last but not least, what would help is to have a basic knowledge of a healthy nutrition. As a Yoga teacher, knowing the ancient knowledge of Ayurveda, which includes knowing your doshas (vata, pitta and kapha) has helped me suggest a balance diet to my students as per their constitution.
Today we have a lot of half -baked knowledge about fad dieting floating around and so much on the internet that we have forgotten the art of listening to our own body! We are what we eat on a most basic cellular level! So yes, being able to guide your student with basic food and lifestyle habits would help you in becoming a good Yoga Therapist.
I feel that all these ideas together, feed the basic tenet of Yoga Therapy – Ahara, Vihara, Achara, Vichara, which translate roughly as diet, daily hobbies, activities, discipline and positive thinking!
These practices in conjunction with Yoga Therapy has helped me approach a client or student in a more holistic manner. I believe in the principle of Viniyoga of Yoga which I learnt from Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. It implies adaptation and correct application of practice, taking into consideration age, sex, and the physical and emotional conditioning of each person.
I continue on my journey of studying further and teaching workshops and retreats in India and globally, helping people transform their body, mind and soul!