Therapeutic Yoga

One of the things that sneaks up on you as a yoga teacher is an awareness of other people's bodies. We can't help it! I find myself at parties quietly noticing posture, stance, and hip alignment of the people around me - not to mention energetic 'vibes' as well!

When I first began practising yoga, in my early 20's, I was about as unhealthy as I have ever been in my life. After University I was sleep deprived, hadn't exercised in years, and had done who knows what damage to my lungs and liver from the excesses of student life! And I was certainly not flexible - I couldn't even touch my toes! On top of that, since high school I had developed painful tightness in my right shoulder - a common symptom of my type of scoliosis.

Fast forward to today, when I am stronger, more flexible and healthier than I could ever have imagined! Some days I think that I take for granted how it feels to live in a healthy, pain-free body. So, back to my party and looking around, I realise how many people take for granted just the opposite - that the body is a source of struggle, pain and even shame. And no wonder - many people live with structural or deeply developed muscular imbalances, resulting in limited range of motion in key areas like the hips, shoulders and lower back. And these people are not ill or injured - they are everyday people that work with you in your office, or who you have a drink with in the evening. Some of them are sporty and fit - they run, lift weights or cycle. And yet, for many of us as we approach our 30's, 40's and beyond, the story of our battle to stay fit is like a chronicle of various aches, pains and injuries: "well, I was running a lot, but then I developed shin splints so the doc told me I should take up cycling, but then I hurt my knee, so now I'm swimming..." Sound familiar?

For the fairly fit, a regular beginner's yoga practice is the perfect option. But there are many people for whom even a gentle asana class may not be accessible. And for those people who are suffering from injuries, living with or recovering from illnesses, or losing mobility due to age, and for the people who work with them, there is Therapeutic Yoga.

Therapeutic Yoga is a combination of relaxation, meditation, breath work, body awareness, restorative and yin yoga poses, and self-healing practices. It is a wonderfully holistic system, and its ultimate aim (like most holistic healing systems, and unlike many western systems) is to help people help themselves.

The Kit pictured here was given to me by a friend. The kit was developed by Cheri Clampett and Biff Mithoefer. It is a remarkable resource containing an audio CD, 16 asana 'cards', and a manual explaining the principles of self-care and the benefits of therapeutic yoga, a detailed guide to 16 restorative postures including many prop variations and examples of gentle yoga stretches to accompany the poses, and a guide to other healing techniques like self-massage and guided meditation.

At the time I recieved this gift, I had expressed a vague interest in Yoga Therapy and restorative yoga. Recently, I have been getting more and more interested in restorative yoga practices, deep breath work, and meditation. I have been working with a private client who is recovering from an illness and seen the transformation in her as we work with simple poses and develop the breath. As my own awareness expands around me to notice the multitudes of people dealing with chronic stress and pain, my interest in this type of Yoga grows.

So I share it with you dear bloggers and blog readers. What are your experiences with restorative or Yin yoga, or with body imbalances, injuries and illness?

Oh, and for Babs, a picture of me in a pose from the Kit, "Resting Half Moon Pose", which I used in the previous post's sequence for menstrual pain :)