Recently I was asked to provide some information about what Yoga therapy is and about my own experience in this field in a format of interview for a course assignment in local university. The purpose of this interview is to counter cultural encapsulation by demonstrating awareness of diverse worldviews on healing and the impact of culture on help-seeking behaviours. In other words, the purpose is to look beyond the Western and mainstream notions of healing and to gain understanding and appreciation of alternative worldviews and healing practices. I hope this would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about yoga therapy and it's benefits.
o How long have you been practicing yoga therapy?
I have been practicing yoga generally since 2007 and have been teaching classes since 2012. In 2016 I changed my teaching focus slightly towards the yoga therapy direction.
o What led you to this path?
Attending one of the yoga teacher’s courses a few years ago, I was really impressed by our yoga therapy lectures and practical sessions. I hadn’t thought very deeply before about how yoga tools and methods may be helpful and efficient in treating different health disorders and diseases. And I also had a very experienced teacher Artem Frolov who inspired me a lot.
o How does one become an experienced and trained yoga therapist?
To become a certified yoga therapist it is necessary to take a yoga therapy teacher’s course. Experienced? It is a good question:) I guess, knowledge and on-going teaching practice, self-practice, ability for self-study and diving into the field deeply are very important.
o How does yoga therapy work, in a nutshell?
Actually yoga therapy is also yoga. The main principle of yoga therapy is building and adapting hatha yoga practice for people who suffer from various health disorders such as degenerative spine disorders, bronchial asthma, arterial hypertension, varicosis, reproductive system and urinary system conditions, etc. In addition to traditional yoga practice we use physiotherapy exercises, remedial gymnastics, kinesitherapy, ayurveda and phytotherapy. Yoga therapy (and actually just yoga) is not about only your muscles, it’s about the whole body, your internal organs and mind, about building connection in between them.
o How does yoga therapist view health and well-being? What contributes to a sense of wellness?
What contributes to disturbances in wellness? Can you provide an example?
In my view physical and mental health are strongly correlated. It is impossible to be healthy eating good food and doing some sports, but at the same moment suffering from failed marriage, unsatisfying job or feeling lost in life. And vice versa, eating junk food but being generally happy wouldn’t bring you the perfect health.
What contributes to a sense of wellness? Finding balance, calmness and satisfaction in all spheres of your life. It’s about listening to yourself and following your principles, building the connection between your mind and body.
o What’s your impression of how big the community of healers that practice from your modality in Vancouver is?
Yoga therapy is not very popular here. We can find restorative yoga classes in Vancouver, but it is not the same. I have a strong feeling (which also is supported by my clients’ feedback and my personal local experience of attending various classes) that the approach that I follow in my teaching practice is quite unique for Vancouver.
o What does a typical session look like?
My typical class is the following: breathing exercises and short meditation, warming up including lots of dynamic low-amplitude movements for almost each joint in the body, then a few sets of static asanas (yoga postures) and dynamic sets of asanas combining with different physiotherapy exercises, including strengthen and stretching, then breathing techniques and final relaxation in Shavasana. Sometimes I teach specific classes like Yoga Nidra (deep meditation and relaxation technique).
o How many individuals or families do you see in a week?
I have 2-3 group classes a week - small groups with around 3-8 participants at class, not more. And also I have approximately 7-9 private classes a week. Some of my clients do practice on their own using personalized sets of practice that I made for them and we meet sometimes to keep track of changes and make corrections or improvements.
o What kinds of concerns do these individuals or families come in for? How do they usually find you?
As I teach currently “Yoga for back pain and stress relief” and “Yoga for women’s health” groups new clients mostly find me because of their concerns with muscular-skeletal, nervous and reproductive system.
I used to do some advertisement on fb. But now it’s more about word of mouth. Also some of my new clients just find me on Google, Meetup, FB or directly via my website (CanadaYogaTherapy.ca).
o When do you know if someone has benefited from your healing? What are the indicators?
I use different health questionnaires (such as SF-36) and general follow-ups to keep track of changes and benefits. I have an introductory questionnaire for new clients with questions about their current health state and requests for the practice that allows us to keep in mind the goals that we set up.
o What is the general demographic makeup of those who seek your help? (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religious background, class, age, sexual orientation)
As we know Vancouver is very multinational city, and the general demographic makeup of those who seek my help varies. Currently I have clients from 19 to 78 years old, approximately 70% women and 30% man, and different nationalities.
o What are some misconceptions you think the public has about your area of expertise?
I’d like to describe some misconceptions about yoga generally that are very common in North America.
1)“I am not stretched and fit enough to do yoga”.
Nobody is stretched and fit enough:) Actually yoga will help you to become flexible, physically and mentally. When I came to my first yoga class I was as flexible as a tree and couldn’t do almost anything properly.
2) “Yoga is a religion”.
Yoga gives us techniques that can be used for a number of goals, from simply releasing your stress or improving posture to become more self-aware and acquiring the deepest knowledge of one’s own self. The common belief that yoga derives from Hinduism is a misconception. Yoga actually predates Hinduism by many centuries. The techniques of yoga have been adopted by Hinduism as well as by other world religions. The cultivation of awareness from yoga practice may help you go deeper into your own spiritual practice, but only if you have such goal.
3) “Yoga practice is something very easy, I’d rather go to gym”.
Some people may think that yoga is not challenging. However, depending on the yoga class that you attend, it can be quite rigorous.
4) “Yoga is only for women”.
Yoga was actually started by men thousands of years ago. It is as equally beneficial to men as to women. Lots of my male-clients were surprised that yoga is not as easy as they thought before. If you think yoga is easy and girly, book me for a private class :)
5) “Yoga is not safe, I know a few people who injured their knees/back/neck at the yoga class”.
Yoga doesn’t hurt people. People hurt people. Yoga teachers can hurt people with bad adjustments or improper instructions. Yoga practitioners can hurt themselves by being unaware during the class. In my opinion it’s a question of choosing a good experienced teacher and also taking own responsibility – be focused on the practice and body sensations during the yoga session. Be gentle on yourself and try always be aware of your body limits. Ego is dangerous, yoga is safe.
6) “Yoga can treat everything, from obesity to cancer”.
Of course, yoga can treat a lot of health disorders and improve your physical, mental and emotional state. But trying to recover from the 4th stage of cancer or even severe depression only by attending Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga classes or doing some meditations is a question of common sense…
o What are some areas your healing practice can capture that Western talk therapy can’t?
Yoga is more a holistic model, which corrects the imbalances at the physical, mental and emotional levels.
o What is one thing you would like Western-trained therapists to know about with respect to your area of expertise?
Mind and body are strongly connected and we should work with both of them to achieve treatment goals efficiently.