I was faced with a situation recently where I was asked to prepare a practice for a yoga company that has a client with a specific need of reducing shoulder and neck issues and reducing stress. Using the principles of yoga therapy that I have learnt through the lineage of T.Krisnamacharya, I designed a practice using appropriate tools of breath and movement.
This tradition says that each individual is unique and the teacher should respects each student's needs and abilities. This is called viniyoga -appropriate use of yoga. (Not the 'type-Viniyoga'). It is a method of teaching where teacher continuously adapts to the needs of the student and forms the basis of Yoga Therapy.
Was the practice accepted? NO! why? The feedback was that it was a very calming practice but too much breath work and not enough challenging asana-s. Seemingly they were expecting me to heal a person that has shoulder and neck pain by asking her to perform a hand-stand!
This is the problem these days with yoga in the west; people have an image of yoga, which makes them want to get bend into a pretzel looking position without any attention to what is happening to their minds or breath. (The picture is of T.Krisnamacharya in a variation of handstand but I can bet you, if you heard his breath, it would be slower and smoother than a turtle). The classes are getting fuller and fuller and breaths of the people attending those classes are getting shorter and shorter.
How can people teach yoga and offer yoga therapy based sessions when they do not understand that our body is directly connected to our breath which in turn is connected to our mind? How can students expect to be free from stress if they do not understand that our body, breath and mind all work in unison and to change the state of mind that is stressed or agitated, they need to move the body in such a way that it makes their breath long and smooth. Hence the saying ‘takes a deep breath'! Hello.
And another buzz phrase these days 1-2-1 classes of yoga therapy. Really?! Are teachers and therapist really observing those individuals who are coming to their yoga therapy rooms and tailoring a practice for them or they just creating sequences meant for a group class but handing it to one person.
The art of observation in yoga therapy is an essential aspect of healing. I have spent 6 weeks studying the principles of observation in my yoga therapy course and another 6 weeks observing patients coming to the clinic in total of 24 weeks course with a requirement of accumulating as many observations as I can during the off module weeks. This is how important observation is considered in the world of yoga therapy from the tradition of Desikachars and T.Krisnamacharya.
Would you go to a doctor who prescribes the same pill to every single patient that walks through the door without understanding your problem? -I think not. Then why do we accept yoga teachers who are claiming to give you an individualised practice but actually giving a sequence of asāna-s that look amazing (form wise) but are totally wrong for the your needs?
It doesn't matter how much you can bend or if you can touch your toes? What actually matters are three things-
1) You! You were born as a unique individual. Respect that. You are not a clone!
2) Breath and your observation of that breath and where that movement is taking you. If you are getting short of breath then it is going in the wrong direction! Stop and AGAIN ‘take a deep breath'!.
3) Respecting you as an individual. Your teacher's observation of your needs and tailoring the practice to those needs rather than giving you a practice that she taught that morning to a class of 50!
It's fine to bend yourself into pretzel like positions if that fulfils your individual need, therapeutic or otherwise, but only if the exercise is completed in harmony with the right breathing technique. And remember, your teacher should be thinking like Sting: "Every breath you take, Every move you make . I'll be watching you!"
If you think you are stressed and that it is manifesting in many different areas such as a headache or back pain, consider taking some sessions in a individualised yoga therapy sessions(the real ones) to address those needs.
mi-yogaḥ offers customised yoga therapy classes that are breath focused and with no hand stands (unless of-course you need them) and are therapy based. To book a session to address your individual needs, email at firstname.lastname@example.org.