Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Yoga Therapy - Principles

I was just reading the December 2010 issue of The International Association of Yoga Therapist's (IAYT) "Yoga Therapy Today."   This journal presents research and ideas for practicing Yoga therapists.   A common theme of recent issues is definitive standards for Yoga Therapy especially as it continues to emerge as an accepted practice in our Western culture.

I can affirm that Yoga as Therapy works.  Large binders filled with detailed notes on my private students are the formal documentation of postures, movement, and breath.   Yet, heartfelt moments witnessing another person understand, accept, and emerge is something that I can never quite fully articulate.   It's one of life's "you gotta be there moments" to understand -- goose bump moments that are deeply humbling when I recognize that the Divine is connected to this work.

It's been an honor to work with a wide range of students from athletes to individuals living with conditions including - multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, post-stroke,  Parkinson's, fibromyalgia, chronic pain (back, neck, hip, leg), migraines, dystonia... the list of conditions is long and the students I work with are a spectrum.   And these students' stories don't scare me - thanks to extensive Therapy Training with Jenny Otto's Body Balance Yoga, Anusara Yoga's Universal Principles of Alignment & Philosophy, and Pilates continuing education as well as teachers from many other lineages and disciplines that I study with each year.

I look forward to 2011 and who shows up in my life - both students and teachers.   They will arrive when I am ready to receive what they have to teach me.

Thinking of receiving, I receive a lot of invitations to study more.   One group that direct markets heavily is Duke Integrative Medicine's Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors Professional Training Program.  This month's IAYT's "Yoga Therapy Today" listed Carson-Crucoff Principles of Practice.   Carson and Crucoff are the two Yoga teachers who lead the Duke program.    Read an abstract of their work here.   I like their Principles, a lot.   Here they are...

1.   First, Do No Harm.   Join with our physician colleagues in making this our primary intention.
2.  Create a Safe Environment.   Cultivate ahimsa (non-harming) by encouraging students to honor their own personal journey and explore their full potential, with compassion and integrity.
3.  Encourage Yogic Balance.  Sthra sukham asanam - A yoga pose is, by Patanjali's definition, stable and comfortable.   Invite students to challenge themselves, but never strain.
4.  Meet People Where They Are.  Honor individual abilities and limitations by offering accessible and appropriate modifications that reflect the intention and function of traditional postures.
5.  Emphasize Feeling Over Form.   Let go of ideas of how a pose should look.   Focus instead on how a pose feels.   Teach students to discriminate between discomfort, which may be welcomed as an inherent  part of the growth process, and pain, which is to be avoided.
6.  Honor the Inner Teacher.  Don't assume you know what's going on with someone, even if you've asked.  Consider yourself a guide, helping students to explore what works best for them.
7.  Encourage Gratitude and Joy.   Create an environment that celebrates what students can do.
8.  Emphasize Fluidity.   The Tao's teaching that "those who are soft and supple are disciples of life" is particularly important as the body becomes rigid with age.   Minimize static "holdings."
9.  Use Skillful Language.  Encourage and invite rather than direct and demand.
10.  Respect Our Scope of Practice.  Recognize what we do as Yoga teachers is only part of the integrative health landscape.   Do only what we are trained to do and refer to other practitioners when necessary.
11.   Be a Guardian of Safety.   Get CPR/AED training and keep your certification current.
12.   Teach People, Not Poses or Conditions.   While acknowledging the inevitable changes inherent in life, it is essential to recognize the unchanging spirit at the heart of all beings.

May we remember.