As yoga teachers, we have the opportunity to work one-on-one with students in a therapeutic capacity. A holistic approach to yoga has transformed my relationships with students in a profound way. Here is an example of how therapeutic yoga can truly benefit students.
I have had sessions with a person. Let us call her Prema. She was coming to me to address some physical complaints. Prema had previously practiced yoga, but in recent years, she had surgery on both knees, an injection for hip and low back pain, and the beginnings of arthritis. While she came to me to address these physical issues, it was quickly apparent that the physical issues were also connected to some life stresses.
A physical assessment and suggested asanas to address her ailments would have only skimmed the surface of what she truly needed.
We talked a good deal at our first session. While I did do some physical assessment, my focus was on simply listening. I could sense Prema was stressed, overwhelmed and frustrated. We practiced some breathing, gentle movement, and restorative yoga. We ended with a short meditation. Then Prema had an emotional release and became aware of the underlying stresses that contributed to her physical state. Through the practice, awareness was created, and only by listening could I help her with that awareness.
While it is important to have a solid foundation in anatomy, kinesiology and disease processes for yoga therapy, it is even more essential that we listen. Through this listening we develop a relationship, which is the key to healing.
The student cultivates awareness of internal experience, rather than continually striving to improve the posture. Just as it is hard to talk and listen at the same time, we can hear our body more clearly when we stop trying to “do” the posture and just allow it to happen. Often, spontaneous alignment, release and insight will arise when the body is given space without expectation.
Through my experience, I understand that while many thoughts do arise from the limited perspective of my ego; some are direct messengers from inner Divine intelligence. This Divinity is within each one of us, knowing just the right thing to do and say.
I have learned about an important difference in thoughts and messages when listening to my body. One is that when an intuitive thought arrives the whole-body feels clarity, while a biased thought feels trapped in my head, spinning and bouncing. When I am grounded in my body with the natural breath, my thoughts become a tool that I use to help students discover their own truth.
How to choose the appropriate asanas? I listen to the student’s words and movements and select stretches that will help her to listen to her own experience deeply. For example, if a person expressed an inability to stretch and let go, and I see some tightness in the hip, I may give a gentle traction to the leg to bring more attention to the hip and what she is holding there.
I would check by asking, how is it now? What do you see? Again this is an invitation for the person to dive deeper into his or her own experience.
The intention is not to fix the hip and lower back according to a therapeutic plan, but to facilitate a process that arises in the present moment by Divine grace and will. Because yoga is not about fixing the body, it is a journey to seek the divinity within. As Amma says, choices create habits. Negative habits eat us up and positive ones keep us alive. We need to listen with awareness to the infinite changes constantly happening and make discriminative choices in our lives from a practical perspective.
Yoga is a process of sharpening the inner ear so that one can ‘hear’ what is true in the present moment and act accordingly. It is a conscious effort to cultivate this tuning and listening. Animals flow naturally through their lives. They respond spontaneously to situations yet are alert to sense any upcoming danger and act accordingly.
We are gifted and have this rare blessing to be born as human beings. We have a keen sense of awareness to dive deeper and relate to the divinity that we are.
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