What makes Yoga therapeutic? It depends on the teacher’s objectives. If the goal is fitness, then it’s work out yoga. If the goal is meditation, it’s traditional yoga. If the goal is joint mobility, it’s therapeutic yoga.
But really the goal of Yoga is connectivity between body, mind and soul in order to 1) live more fully in the world and 2) to renounce the world when the time comes. Yoga teaches the art of non-attachment. Non-attachment doesn’t mean to get rid of all your belongings or to walk away from your relationships. It means not to be so fixated on something that you aren’t okay when it’s no longer yours, as if it ever was to begin with. Non-attachment is the continuous remembering that the things in our lives are temporary.
We all know how easy it is to take a tool and manipulate that tool to aggravate our imbalances rather than correct them. This is a pervasive predicament and one of life’s great mysteries. Yoga is no exception: because Yoga cultivates optimal physical health, we can and do use it as a way to become more deeply entrenched and attached to idealized body images.
Sadly it seems that the best teacher of non-attachment is the tragedy of loss- the loss of a loved one, the turning of brown hair to gray, the slow persistent symptoms of age. To paraphrase Yogi Bhajan- the degree to which we haven’t learned to become our own teachers by age forty is directly correlated with the speed and decline of the aging process.
I interpret this to mean that life declines when there isn’t a discipline of minding the body and minding the mind. Bodily self-care is just one slice of the pie. We can’t just use the mind. We have to also step back from it and analyze the functionality of its processes.
Becoming my own teacher means I have spotted my internal inconsistencies. I see when my actions are misaligned with my thoughts. I am aware of the gaping holes in my psyche... and... I am doing something, however slowly, to instigate wholeness.
I used to lament when I taught Yoga class that all the above mentioned complexities couldn't be covered in the course of a seventy-five minute class. Eventually it dawned on me to create additional avenues to share about Yoga. At that point, I embraced the beauty of a seventy-five minute class in which my objectives were to facilitate an experience of bodily freedom and a spacious mind.
Now I teach three Yoga classes a week. On Tuesday nights, my objective is to help people decompress from their day while also providing a series of strengthening postures that build confidence and stamina over time. I draw students’ awareness back to the breath as a way to practice one-pointed concentration.
On Thursday mornings, my objective is to create a sequence that gently invigorates the mind. Even though the class is early, students feel energized when they leave. This happens through partial inversions like downdog, standing forward fold and rabbit pose. Class culminates with a series of backbends on the belly or on the knees in camel pose.
My Wednesday morning class is therapeutic. I define it as such because the goal is to liberate blocked energy in the body through methodically improving range of motion. We focus primarily on the spine, starting with the low back. We do simple movements to realign the hips and the sacrum. Class often starts on the back practicing variations of bridge pose.
This class mostly draws students over fifty who are seeking Yoga’s benefits in a safe environment.
It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my week to hear a student reflect on how much better they feel after class and how markedly decreased their chronic pain is. Some days, we just nail it! Everyone feels eons better and looks exuberant after class.
It’s a privilege to be a part of another person’s healing journey and to know that the more I give to another, the more I work out my own freedom.