Just imagine, it’s Saturday morning and you’re all set to teach your usual open class, when a man walks in holding his head down. He looks uncomfortable and is visibly shaking. You quietly sit down beside him and introduce yourself. He avoids eye contact and tells you his name is Paul and he’s suffering from anxiety. His doctor has recommended coming to Yoga therapy to help him recover.
How do you react?
For many Yoga Teachers, this represents a moment of dread, as your frantically cast your mind back to those distant Anatomy and Physiology lessons for some clue as to where to begin. You might even be tempted to excuse yourself and run to the bathroom for an emergency Google. Because working with students with medical conditions is scary!
And while any respectable Yoga Teacher Training program should equip you with skills to identify the general benefits and contraindications of certain asanas. What do you do when you’re faced with a real-life person, with real-life health issues who is looking to YOU for support? In this situation, teachers will typically react in one of 2 ways:
Denial: give a nod of acknowledgement to the student, tell them not to do anything that feels uncomfortable and perhaps offer an occasional modification or prop throughout your otherwise unaltered class plan.
Overkill: panic, make a fuss of the student and throw your entire lesson plan out of the window in a blind attempt to ‘prove the power of yoga’ and teach a class that delivers instant transformation.
Despite being well intentioned, both these reactions are equally unhelpful for the student. In the first instance, they might succeed in ‘going through the motions’ of the class, but are likely to leave experiencing any therapeutic benefit …and possibly a little unheard.
In the second instance, the student may well feel leave feeling humiliated, self-conscious about their situation and even a bit guilty for creating such a burden. They are unlikely to ever return.
However, these common reactions are understandable, given the lack of training most Yoga teachers have in handling health and wellbeing issues.
Yet the reality is that virtually all our students bring a level of health complexity to class at some point or other. Nobody ever turns up to class as just a ‘body’ and no two students are ever the same. In addition to their Yoga mat, people also carry the emotional and spiritual baggage of living life…with all its unique ups and downs and crazy ebbs and flows.
And it’s the teachers who can read this natural fluctuation in wellbeing, that leave students with the biggest ‘wow’ when they walk out of class.
As Yoga teachers, we are hopefully aware that people are more than just gross bodies with a collection of physical symptoms and textbook ailments. In fact, according to Yogic Philosophy, we are all made up of 5 layers or koshas that subtly interact, and have the potential to cause a plethora of physical, mental and energetic conditions
This means that before we can even begin to think about the specific asanas and modifications we need to step back and focus on understanding the student.…and like many instancesin life, things aren’t necessarily as they seem.
To teach Yoga in its most authentic sense, we must develop an ability to ‘read’ our students, to look past the obvious and consider what other factors might be creating or influencing the physical manifestation of symptoms.
And while we might not often meet people like Paul, how many times do we meet students with back pain, joint issues or hypertension?
Not to mention the burnt out, angst-ridden Yogis that don’t tell you (or are possibly not even conscious) of their struggles, who literally collapse on the mat when they rush in from work.
Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of just telling them to bend their knees or offer them a bolster, you were able to create a quantum leap in their return to wellbeing?
It sounds far-fetched but this is a very real possibility when we approach our teaching from a holistic and therapeutic perspective. Sarah Routhier, who teaches on the Introduction to Yoga Therapy course at BodyMindLife has experienced first-hand just what a profound effect this approach can have.
Sarah was the real-life teacher that Paul reached out to for his Anxiety Disorder and through her training, she was able to take him on a yoga journey that transformed his entire life.
‘When I first met Paul, his anxiety was so intense, he was unable to visit the grocery store without descending into panic. His chest was concave, representing the intense vulnerability he felt in his heart space. Through a combination of gentle heart openers, calming pranayama and mantra, Paul has literally opened to life. Yoga Therapy hasn’t ‘fixed’ his anxiety, but what it has done, is given him the tools to take control of his symptoms. And now whenever he has a panic attack, he doesn’t need me (or anyone else) – he can access the solution from within using Yogic tools’
Can you think of anything more empowering that that?
So, how can you overcome your fears and prepare yourself so that you’re able to meet all of your students from a place of empathy – and offer a Yoga practice that is not only appropriate but therapeutic and spiritually nurturing?
BodyMindLife’s Introduction to Yoga Therapy course has been specifically designed to help existing teachers forge a more holistic connection to their students. It is led by Sarah Routhier and Jo Gates, a former physiotherapist who brings over 10 years teaching experience
While you won’t be a qualified Yoga Therapist after completing this 50-hour course, you will have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of Yoga Therapy and the confidence to meet whoever walks into your class.
What you’ll gain:
- An understanding of the physical, emotional and energetic aspects of health and dis-ease
- A Yogic Toolkit for restoring balance in the body
- Specific therapeutic Asana, Pranayama & Meditation practices
- Real-life case studies of typical health conditions & imbalances
- Practical tips for structuring and tailoring both private and group yoga classes
The Introduction to Yoga Therapy course runs over 6 days (2 weekends) commencing 30th June and costs $780. It is just one of the Professional Development Modules offered at the BodyMindLife Teacher Training Academy.