Yoga Exercise vs Yoga Therapy

Yoga is a booming $27 billion dollar industry. Group classes are overflowing with a mere few centimeters between mats, there’s plenty of nice gear to go along with it all, and instagram is full of yogis and yoga challenges like #hybridasana (don’t even get me started on this!)

As a student I’ve been part of this boom for the last 14 years, but I quit group classes after returning from Bali in late July this year. I aggravated my SI joint and I’m damn sure it was all the vigorous vinyasa (I averaged 4hours of yoga a day over 7 days) in a warm climate. My body type is flexible and my joints and muscles certainly don’t need any encouragement from heat to loosen up. Ligaments are there to stabilize and the way I was practicing started to unravel my body’s natural stability. So I took a break.

At the time I had also just begun studying yoga therapy, so I was in a perfect environment to gain knowledge and support for how to begin using yoga therapeutically, rather than as my primary form of exercise.

As an ex-dancer/physical performer, my body loves the choreographic aspect of vinyasa flow classes and being a rather ‘go-getter’ type personality, I also love being pushed physically to my limit, it is exhilarating-- and I though my body loved it. In fact, I was causing serious damage.

My teacher Nikola recently said something along these lines... we don’t go to yoga classes to undo our habits, we go to reinforce them. And this applies psychologically as much as physically. This was a light-bulb moment for me, so... I quit, to reassess what my body really needed.

Now, I’m not saying all group classes are bad, if you practice with awareness, ideally in a small group setting with an experienced teacher, it can still be beneficial. Time on the mat can be time out for yourself, to work on cultivating your internal focus; paying attention to the sensations of the body, the activity of the mind and by deepening focus on the breath. This can be a perfect anti-dote to over-stimulated, stressed out days and it’s a solid hour away from technology. Plus you’ll still get the benefits of exercise; increased muscle tone, flexibility, cardio vascular strength (depending on how vigorously you practice), lymphatic flow etc.

Just don’t expect yoga to be healing by nature.

Ironically, the yoga the boom is happening largely because of the healing potential of this practice, after all there is a lot of research now about the body-mind benefits, including how yoga can help everything from back pain, to asthma and chronic anxiety. But how is it truly possible in a class of 100 people (or even six for that matter) to address these individual conditions, when everyone is being asked to do exactly the same thing?

The principle of yoga therapy as my teachers at Adore Yoga have taught me is:

PERSON --> PURPOSE --> PRACTICE.

We don't treat conditions. We treat people. If we start with the practice, ignoring the person and their unique purpose for coming to yoga in the first place, how will a goal ever be reached?

By starting with the whole person (not just the body), it is immediately obvious, even before a purpose is started, the practice is going to be different from one person to the next.

The last six months of studying yoga therapy has changed the way I teach and the way I practice. Like I said, I’ve quit group classes and have established a personal daily practice given to me by my yoga therapy teacher. And even this changes some days, as I am changing and I’m learning to know what I need in different circumstances.

I’m also become more interested in pranayama and meditation and use asana as a preparatory step for these practices, rather than may main goal, which is how it was intended-- after all asana is only the third of eight limbs.

Above all, I LOVE that yoga is a practice I can evolve with. There is no single one-size fits all series of postures and yet there is an absolutely crystal clear path to alleviate suffering and see our true nature and the nature of the world more clearly. We can follow this path in our own time, with the right teachers, as we are ready.

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If you are curious about yoga therapy and would like to find out more about working with me one one one to develop a healing practice specifically for you, contact me here.