If you live in a large city, you most likely have noticed that you walk or drive past a yoga studio just as frequently as you walk or drive by Starbucks.
There is a reason for this: an exponentially increasing demand.
More and more people are looking into yoga as an alternative way to get fit or a complementary approach to overall well-being. According to recent survey by the Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, 36.7 million Americans practice yoga in 2016, which is up from 20.4 million in 2012. That is approximately a 50% increase nationwide in just 4 short years. Yoga today is a 17 billion dollar industry, compared to $6.1 billion just in 2012.
The same survey shows that 61% of those practicing yoga regularly do it for improving flexibility, and 56% for stress relief.
While attending classes at yoga studios definitely do have its benefits in the forms of exercise, fitness, and stress reduction, and many seek sanctuary in yoga studios, in these social media days, yoga seem to have become synonymous to handstands at the beach.
I am by no means discrediting the immense sense of confidence and empowerment a handstand or headstand can instill in a person (which, in itself, can be therapeutic, and has its time and place), but it does create an illusion that yoga is an acrobatic performance that only the flexible and strong can do. Naturally, as human beings, we prone towards the aesthetically-pleasing. No doubt there is grace, power, and awe of the human body in a perfectly held scorpion pose, but it does close the door to those who can seek sanctuary in the other forms and other limbs of yoga otherwise.
It therefore is increasingly important for properly trained and certified yoga therapists to step in and provide the benefits of yoga appropriately for the senior population, for the cancer patients and survivors, for chronic pain patients, for those with chronic illnesses, and anyone who seek to reclaim their own health and well-being under the guidance of a yoga therapist.
In the following sections, I highlight why seeking a certified yoga therapist is important if you are looking to improve your ailments and dis-ease.
Customized, Personalized, Specialized
While technology and globalization have somewhat redirected how yoga is transmitted between teachers and students in the modern world (large group classes for increased profit and demand, Skype sessions, YouTube videos, etc), there is still a need for specialized 1:1 yoga class.
As the popularity of yoga continues on the rise, so does the number of students per class. Some studios and classes hold up to 100 people or more in the room, and while there most often will be a couple of assistants in addition to the teacher, this still means approximately 97 blindspots while the teacher and the two assistants watch over of three students in the room at a time. Furthermore, the pace of most yoga classes nowadays is faster to match the demands of people wanting to sweat and build strength. This leaves a wide, vulnerable gap for a new student or a student with previous injuries to injure herself.
Let's say a student with herniated disc walks into a class because her doctor told her yoga is good for her back. Little did she know, she just signed up for a vinyasa class full of deep forward bends, twists, and back bends. She hobbled out of class with more pain than she came in with, and she wondered what the fuss was about with yoga.
Yes, she could have called ahead and asked to see if a vinyasa class is suitable for her injured back, or inform the teacher beforehand so that the teacher can modify certain poses for her. However, most 200-hr registered yoga teachers are not trained to deal with injuries, especially not in a big group setting.
In contrast, an IAYT yoga therapist is trained with additional 800 hours to work with individuals with injuries and/or chronic illnesses. The yoga therapist takes into consideration both the Western and Eastern medicine approaches to the client's injury and/or disease, and with thorough understanding of the anatomical, physiological, psychological, and energetic benefits and contraindications of yoga poses, breathing practices, and meditation techniques, she is able to create a protocol that is specific to the client's conditions.
Yoga for the mind
At the root of it, yoga is essentially a practice for spiritual growth rather than fitness growth.
Simply put, the aim of yoga is to be the master over our mind-waves—thoughts, stories, emotions, fear. This is not to say that we should have NO thoughts or emotions, because it is impossible for the mind to be empty, but that we shouldn't identify with these fluctuations or get entangled in them. We step beyond these thoughts and emotions and realize that there is a higher mind-space we, the Self, live in, that is untouched by thoughts and emotions, and that they are as fleeting as a hummingbird.
One of my teachers always say: The mind is like a drunken monkey, stung by a scorpio, riding on the back of a wild horse.
If you identify your mind with the drunken monkey, then welcome to the majority.
Through specifically designed asanas, pranayama, and meditation practices for the ailments that cause additional disturbances to the mind (physical pain, mental pain, frustration, fear, anxiety, depression, etc) under the guidance of a skilled teacher, one can more effectively learn how to resolve pain and bring ease to both body and mind. Then, when the body and mind are at ease, the connection to the higher Self can be experienced with more clarity.
The sacred traditions of teacher and student
Unlike the crowded rooms of yoga studios nowadays where the instructor's next cue for caturanga is drowned out, yoga was traditionally taught in a 1:1 setting. It was a sacred privilege for a student to be able to learn from, live with, and serve his teacher, or guru. The student humbly bowed at his teacher's feet as a way to absorb the wisdom and knowledge that would be imparted upon this young student. Instead of teaching asanas, however, the teacher recites sacred scriptures and imparts his own wisdom about living harmoniously with oneself, with others, and with the heavens, to the young student.
Perhaps another way to think of this relationship is that of young Skywalker and Yoda. As with their relationship, trust must be established between teacher and student first before learning begins.
That is not to say the you won't gain anything from a group class, but in a 1:1 context, the teaching is more concentrated and focused to ensure that knowledge is not lost to the student. It is the teacher's duty to train the young student to become fully capable of passing this knowledge on to the next generation.
This is the sacred tradition of parampara, or the succession of teachers and students in the Vedic culture.
Today, in a 1:1 setting where there is less distraction and more sense of safety, security, and sanctuary, the yoga therapist can more effectively guide her client towards a deeper understanding of oneself. Using gentle movements, breathing and meditation practices, and yoga lifestyle guidelines, the client becomes more grounded and centered in her own skin. She starts noticing how some of her daily habits, which may seem completely harmless and trivial to her before, may have contributed to these downstream symptoms she is currently experiencing. She starts noticing her own posture and alignment throughout her day, her mindset when she tackles stressful situations, her breathing pattern or the lack of it. She becomes aware of areas in her life that have been draining her energy and depleting her body, mind, and spirit. With more clarity and with the personal guidance of a teacher, the client discovers on her own how to change certain courses of her life by plugging energy leakages and harnessing her own energy.
As the client becomes a more vitalized being, the effects continue to spread outwards to her immediate community. Her aliveness becomes contagious to those around her, and in that way, the legacy of the teachings continues.
Empowerment can come in many different forms. Empowerment can come from nailing that handstand, but empowerment can also come from the client realizing that Yes, I do have a choice about the outcome of this chronic pain and/or illness, and I can most definitely do something about it.
In a world and time when most people are out of touch of their physical bodies, the also lose command of themselves. Some ignore or deny the dis-ease that is brewing within them. Others look for quick fixes and magic pills.
We have given up the most elemental and innate birthright we have as human beings, and that is to honor, respect, and take care of this sacred body that is given to us by Nature.
We feel powerless when we lose this responsibility; we feel meaningless.
As yoga therapists, we help our clients understand that their bodies are built for health and not for disease, and illuminate what is disrupting the body's homeostasis and healing processes. We educate our clients on their body's innate healing abilities, and once the clients can embrace all of that, the body (physical, mental, and emotional) will thrive once again.
Ultimately, 1:1 work can not only complement the individual's current allopathic protocols for her injury/illness, but can additionally accelerate an individuals healing process by bringing about a sense of empowerment, of stepping in their own power and rights to thrive.