By Jill White Lindsay
I know what you’re thinking, therapeutic yoga sounds so…clinical. But don’t get weirded out by the not-so-sexy name of the practice, I’m here to tell you that this style of yoga changed my life.
I remember going to my favorite challenging yoga classes, ready for a great workout and especially excited to get so hot that I just had to strip down to show off my new lululemon sports bra. In certain asanas, I would glance over towards my neighbor wishing I could go deeper into a pose like they were.
My yoga at that time was about pushing, comparing, and striving for that strong and perfect practice.
I was able to let go of some of that ego when I earned my 200-hour certification, understanding that perfection is really not what yoga is about. But deep down, as hard as it is to admit, I was still trying to prove something. Because of that, I was attracted to practicing and teaching the more powerful disciplines of yoga. I was able to teach for a few years that way…until I had my one and only injury, blowing out my right shoulder. I’m sure there were warning signs I could have listened to, and ways I could have modified, but my body finally said, “That’s it! I can’t keep practicing this way!” I put a band-aid on it for a while, letting myself rest and heal here and there. But I still kept practicing and demo-ing those difficult postures, re-injuring myself again and again. When I finally admitted my defeat, I realized I was extremely limited in my practice and teaching.
It wasn’t until I found a physical therapist and yogi that understood my shoulder from a yogic perspective, and that taught me how to strengthen and support the weak muscles that originally caused the injury that I was able to begin to heal. I was embarrassed by how little I knew about the rotator cuff muscles and the glenohumeral joint. I was supposed to be an experienced instructor, after all! This PT also taught therapeutic yoga classes, a discipline that immediately spoke to me. I felt calmer, more connected, and restored after class. The need to prove flew out the window. I no longer felt frustrated by the poses I couldn’t do, but instead, felt empowered by what I was still able to do, and found myself going into poses that were still deep and opening, but in a safe and healing way. Slowly, my shoulder regained its full range of motion and became even stronger through therapeutic yoga. That PT (and my now mentor) is Harvey Deutch, and he and I still meet once a week where I assist him in his physical therapy clinic in SF. Yes, I originally stumbled upon this form of yoga because of my injury, but I’ve made it my goal to show that therapeutic yoga is a practice for all body types, all ages, and all skill levels. This rewarding practice is not just for the old or injured, it is a type of yoga that every body can benefit from.
Please don’t misunderstand me. When instructed and executed correctly, those powerful yoga classes can be of great benefit to many bodies. I still enjoy a strong, sweaty class from time to time. But the hard truth is, many classes are taught too quickly without the proper experience behind the instruction to support and guide yogis though the movements in a safe way. Injury should not be a normal, accepted part of the yoga experience. Our yoga should not be about forcing or pushing ourselves into postures just so we can say we “got there.” In my opinion, the other hard truth is, a lot of the yoga out there is not a sustainable way to practice. It’s possible when bodies are young, strong, and flexible and they can withstand the more heavy repeated force of a fast flow or challenging power class. But I’m not sure I see myself doing chaturangas, handstands and arm balances into my older age. I want a practice that can evolve with me. Part of what therapeutic yoga has taught me is to let go of what I used to be able to do. So what if I can’t do crow like I used to. At least I can say, I’ve sure never had a more safe and stable-feeling down dog than I do today because I’ve slowed down and learned more about body mechanics.
After receiving my 100-hour therapeutic yoga certification, I am a more well-equipped and better educated instructor in the studio, in addition to being a more receptive practitioner when I practice at home. I can now spot when someone who seemingly has a beautiful down dog is actually over-extending their hyper flexible shoulders instead of stabilizing those joints and trying to find more extension in their thoracic spine. Learning where to move from instead of going into our hypermobilities might help save a students shoulders before they give out like mine did.
I’m not here to instill fear, and I’m not here to speak poorly of other forms of yoga. I am here to help you give yourself permission to slow down if that’s what your body is trying to tell you…mine sure was. Our yoga practice should be about listening to what feels good, and knowing when to pump the brakes when something doesn’t feel right. I think more yogis could be practicing in a sweet and wise way. I think there could be more yoga out there that offers the practice as a healing modality, as a sort of therapy…not just a form of fitness. So come give therapeutic yoga a try with me, see what you think. The only requirement is the desire to show up, to have a willingness to play, and learn something new about your body.
Check out Jill’s classes on Tuesday and Friday.