Therapy as the Heart of Yoga
Ultimately, yoga is about love. Yoga means union of body, mind, and heart. Love involves respect, caring, intimacy, trust, and value of self or others in body, mind, and heart. As Americans, we tend to value the mind sometimes more than body and feeling.
To explain that I use the metaphor of a headache. Say a person works all week without exercise or enough rest. The dull pain begins about the fourth day. The person ignores the signals to stretch, rest, or drink lots of water.
Yoga puts you in tune with the body. With time, a practitioner becomes aware of more subtle body messages. “Browning out” is no longer an option. With yoga, the exercise presents new challenge and intensity, taking the mind into the body in new ways.
The body is like a huge memory chip. It stores all memory of thought, experience, feelings, and beliefs. Yoga may bring suppressed or denied feelings to the surface to be recognized and processed.
How many times have students shared that relaxation pose (savasana) brought tears to their eyes? I congratulate them for their genuine feeling. Now the challenge becomes to value the feelings and deal with them honesty and with integrity.
All emotions are teachers. All feelings are good but the mind judges certain ones as bad. The joy, peace, love, and calm we categorize as good. The sorrow, fear, doubt, shame, grief, anxiety we label as bad. If these feelings have been suppressed in the unconscious, yoga helps them to surface. Some quit yoga for it takes great courage to open to the deep honesty of the true self.
This opportunity for deep integrating carries great rewards and power. As a teacher, I encourage students to open to their courage. Like a flower opens slowly to the sun, it must not be forced, especially to feel stuffed down angers. How comforting to know that behind all anger is either hurt or fear or both. The body as living consciousness holds many patterns logged in the unconscious mind. Often we are not aware of the unconscious memory until the body gives a message: my knee hurts, my head aches; my back is sore; my stomach is in knots. Or the message can be optimistic of high energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and happiness.
Qualified yoga teachers will learn to bridge the conscious to the unconscious because that is what yoga does. The legacy of teaching is 5,000 years old. We have much to draw upon to gain knowledge from the masters in the intricate and mysterious energies of the body. The body, so wise, gives off messages all the time if we learn to listen.
The messages of the body can be explained by the teacher who practices, studies, seeks, and learns. The knowledge is passed onto the student often in transference, mostly in the love, caring and guidance given to the students.
A therapeutic teacher knows and understands the yoga postures (asanas) that may help heal students’ aches and pains. She/he knows the contraindications to protect the students as well.
A teacher who understands therapeutic benefits knows that concave back postures soothe bulging discs and strengthen the spine. Traction postures with right props help heal back pain, sciatica, and scoliosis. Tight necks, shoulders, and headaches are released with proper work in bridge, shoulder balance, down dog tractions, and more. These issues often surface from a block in our true voice. Yoga fosters our willingness to trust life and enjoy its gifts.
Pregnant mothers in particular are wise to seek the help of qualified teachers. The many contraindications of yoga are detailed in Geeta Iyengar’s Book Yoga: A Gem for Women. Pregnant mothers must avoid abdominal poses, deep twist, and certain back bends. They thrive on poses that lower blood pressure, relax and strengthen the pelvis, as well as give confidence to the birth process.
Knee problems, surprisingly, may suggest suppressed irritations and old angers often directed at a parent living or dead. What cannot move? Why are the vulnerable ligaments of the knee causing so much discomfort? Contraindicated to knee pain are poses, which torque or misaligns the knees. Hip movements open the knee safely. Poses performed properly with straps and support ease pain and re-creates alignment in these tight ligaments and quads. Training in standing postures strengthens and stabilizes the legs, ankles, hips, and knees.
Stomach and digestive issues are at an all time high. Those suffering with irritable bowel or acid reflex can follow a precise series of postures to strengthen the organs and find relief. Plenty of water is a must.
So what does love have to do with it? Love allows us to forgive the body and heart for its hurts and pains and betrayals. It takes tremendous courage to know we have a choice to heal or suffer. The suffering keeps us feeling something at least. Yet, love is not suffering or struggle. Love is pure and free, full of dignity and hope.
Those who commit to yoga, if they persist, often find they become more happy, healthy, successful, and content. In the dignity and comfort of authentic feeling, they begin to have compassion for the intricacy of being human. Now the mind, body, and heart merge into one; a collaborative, loving friendship.