We are all looking for something. Sometimes we need an alternate path to finding.
Let’s be honest, most of us find yoga and yoga-related practices because we are seeking something within ourselves, but we are or were not able to find on our own. Not because of lack of trying, but because of lack of a roadmap. Since my first blog post several people seeking something from within have asked me to define the difference is between a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist. I think it’s such a great question I decided to dedicate some time to answering the question here.
First things first, in simple terms, yoga is a physical, emotional and, in some cases, spiritual practice that brings together, or yolks, the mind-body experience. This is common to all lineages, practices and styles of yoga.
A yoga teacher is trained in any one of a number of styles and/or lineages to properly teach poses (asanas) used in a yoga practice. The role of the yoga teacher often extends beyond the physical teachings of poses to incorporate the subtle body experience (breath, softening, etc.). Yoga teachers can also provide a more holistic approach to a practice allowing for a mental, emotional and even spiritual discipline to develop in their practices and within the class/workshop offerings they share with their students.
Yoga therapy is defined a little differently for so many reasons. Much of this related to the scope of the tradition itself. I like to reference the definition provided by the International Association of Yoga Therapists:
“Yoga therapy is a self-empowering process, where the care-seeker, with the help of the Yoga therapist, implements a personalized and evolving Yoga practice, that not only addresses the illness in a multi-dimensional manner, but also aims to alleviate his/her suffering in a progressive, non-invasive and complementary manner. Depending upon the nature of the illness, Yoga therapy can not only be preventative or curative, but also serve a means to manage the illness, or facilitate healing in the person at all levels.” (www.iayt.com)
In other words, this tradition of yoga allows the yoga therapist to work not only in what we would consider traditional yoga studio spaces with more traditional and/or contemporary yoga offerings, it also allows the yoga therapist to work with practitioners who may not be comfortable in these settings due to illness such as MS, arthritis, past traumatic injuries or who have a sensitivity to certain languaging or cues due to anxiety, PTSD, or any other number of circumstances where alternate cueing provides the feel of a safer environment.
One of my most favorite experiences in a yoga therapy setting comes from working with a retired client with arthritis and mobility issues due to multiple knee and hip surgeries tracing back to a particularly damaging childhood accident. She attempted several yoga classes but was unable to move with the flow and pace of the classes due to her arthritis and physical limitations. Frustrated, she asked me simply to give her some yoga poses to allow her move with a little ease.
She and I immediately scheduled to meet and completed an assessment of her present state and established her goals. I then put together weekly practices for her to help her with her goal of additional mobility. It started with a breath exercise, moved into some gentle movements and then some deeper movements, incorporated mudra (hand gestures that allow the flow of energy in the body to shift, think prayer pose at the end of a yoga class) and ended with a visualization meditation which focuses on healing not only the physical trauma but the emotional trauma. The class (and, in fact the entire series) was custom written with languaging, asanas, breath work, mudra work and space for the emotional exploration these practices revealed for my client.
Having shared this, I want to be very clear, this woman is very open-minded but she is also one tough customer! She was less than happy to have to sit and breath and she looked at me like I had three heads when I told her about a mudra practice. And, meditation, forget about it! She wasn’t going to sit through a visualization to save her life for anything.
Then, something changed for her at about the third session. When we started the session she noticed she was able to settle into her breath easier, she had additional movement/depth in each of the postures and we were able to add on new poses in positions she had not tried in years, and she actually felt heat generated by the palms of her hands during a mudra exercise. She still wasn’t super comfortable with sitting still in visualization, but that is coming.
About 5 weeks in to the series, she requested a second weekly meeting dedicated to breath and mudra. This experience has not only helped my client move with greater ease and confidence, it has developed a bond that I never before thought possible with practitioners. She, a mother, the healer of so many childhood wounds, has now allowed me some space to help her find a way to heal her childhood injury. That’s a pretty special balance, if you ask me.
Interested in learning more about yoga therapy and how it can help you? Email me at email@example.com.
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