What is Therapeutic Yin Yoga

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This a solo episode where I answer the question What is Therapeutic Yin Yoga?

When I say that I teach Therapeutic Yin Yoga, that I train teachers in Therapeutic Yin Yoga, what in the world am I talking about

What is therapeutic Yoga, what is a Yoga therapist, and how has that affected my Yin training?

And then how I kind of merged all of these things to teach what I call therapeutic Yin Yoga.

So what do I mean when I say I teach Therapeutic Yin Yoga, what does that even mean?

Well, for me, it’s a combination of Yin Yoga and Yoga therapy. And then traditional Chinese medicine.

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So before I dive deep into any of these, I’m going to just clarify how I’m defining these things. Because yoga is an unregulated industry, there is a little bit of a wild, wild west with how we use words and what definitions things have.
So I want to be really clear on how I’m defining these things before we get into it, just so there’s no confusion. When I say yoga therapy, I’m talking about yoga therapy as it is defined by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Because I am registered with them, my Yoga Therapy training was with an, aligned, teacher training program, right?
So It’s one of the colleges recognized by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. So I’ll be coming at the word yoga therapy from that angle, just to be clear about that. And when I talk about Yin Yoga, I will be talking about Yin Yoga as taught by Paul Grilley, my teacher. So I just wanted to clarify those two terms first, because again, sometimes people have different definitions of, therapeutic yoga or yoga therapy, and some people have different definitions of yin yoga.
So it’d be really clear as to where I’m coming from. Okay. So yoga therapy is a merging of all of the beautiful things about the yoga tradition. So the asana, the mantra, the mudra, the meditation, the pranayama, the philosophy, all of that, and current biomedical studies, or sort of a Western kind of medical understanding.
Now, here’s the thing. Each yoga therapist under that is different in how much they tend to go more towards the yoga leanings and more towards the biomedical, but all yoga therapy training programs have a blend of both to some degree. Okay, so just to be a bit clear on that. So one definition that I like, um, is that the practice of yoga therapy draws from the principles of yoga and incorporates the full range of yoga practices.
Yoga therapists have additional training in Western medical pathology and biomedical knowledge. And we use those insights along with all of the gifts that yoga has to offer, like asana, pranayama, meditation, mudra, mantra, et cetera, to help the student. Sometimes this is done in a clinical setting, although often not, not in my life, but sometimes it’s done in a clinical setting, like in a hospital, right?
Sometimes, and sometimes it’s one-to-one, or with a small group setting that is suitable for the participant’s needs. So what I mean by that is, It’s not, like just your average group class, right? These are usually registered series and they’re around a specific theme, like in my case, anxiety or back care
so the small group theme, um, has the people in it that, you know, that would be applicable for. So it’s very different than a dropping class where it’s just kind of everybody coming and going. Okay. So when I say a small group setting, that’s what I mean. [00:05:00] So I wanted to read this definition by, Gary Kraftsow because I think it’s a good one.
Rather than focusing on yoga methods and practices, yoga therapists fundamentally focus on their client’s needs. So their job is to understand why their clients have come to see them and determine what it is that they can do to support them and to help them in their work. So yoga therapists are often trained to assess clients through listening, questioning, observing, and some appropriate touching.
If you have training in that, not all yoga therapists have training in physical assessment. Yoga therapists look for ways to help their clients reduce or manage their symptoms, and improve their function. And help them with both their attitude and their relation to their health conditions. After assessing clients, yoga therapists establish appropriate goals create a practice intervention and then teach clients to practice that intervention.
It’s another great use of words, but it’s a direct quote. In this sense, Yoga therapists choose Yoga techniques about how they will specifically benefit the client. And I think that last line, Is probably the most important in my opinion. So the difference between a Yoga therapist and how they might sequence a class would be very different than just the average dropping class.
Because when you’re a yoga therapist, you see everything through that lens. And so you’re going to be evaluating who is in front of you. And then the sequence that you’re creating is specific to that individual or small group’s goals and needs. So it’s not just, I created this warrior flow sequence because it’s so fun and I love it.
Nothing wrong with that, but that would not be a therapeutically minded sequence. When you’re creating a sequence [00:07:00] from a yoga therapist’s perspective, you’re choosing the things from yoga that are going to be the most beneficial to who’s in front of you. Here’s another one that I quite like, and this is by Marie Quayle.
Yoga comprises a wide range of body-mind practices, from postural breathing exercises to deep relaxation, and meditation. Yoga therapy tailors these to the health needs of the individual. It helps to promote an all-around positive, health as well as assisting with particular medical conditions. The therapy is particularly appropriate for many chronic conditions that persist despite conventional medical treatment.
And this is often true that as a yoga therapist, by the time somebody comes to you, they’ve already tried several things. And they may be continuing with those things, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, who knows, right? Whatever the case may be, they’re not getting as much as they need. And that’s when they often come to yoga therapy.
I want to be really clear here, though, that yoga therapists do not diagnose. So one of the differences, and I’ll talk a bit more about the differences between regular teacher training and Yoga therapy training coming up, but one of the things that is the most significant, and I really want people to understand, is that as a yoga therapist, I am not diagnosing anyone.
That is beyond my scope of practice. I am not a licensed medical professional, so I’m not diagnosing people. Now, sometimes they come to me with a diagnosis to my classes or one on one, in which case, they’ve already seen a mental health practitioner [00:09:00] or a doctor or a chiropractor or whatever the case may be.
And so they have a diagnosis already. So then I can take that diagnosis and I can use it to inform What I create for them as far as a practice or what I’m going to put in that class based on what, the needs of that small group are, but I’m not diagnosing it. That is beyond my scope of practice. I just want to be very clear about that because I think that this is something that I really like about yoga therapy.
That, unfortunately, most yoga teachers don’t keep in the front of their mind, and I wish they would. This is why you’ll often see in yoga Facebook groups, Oh, my student has this, has back pain, what should I do? There is no way to accurately answer that without an understanding of what is the root cause of that back pain.
So as yoga therapists, we’re very clear if somebody [00:10:00] comes to me and they’ve got symptoms that they don’t have a diagnosis for, then I would still, I can still work with them, but I would refer them out to an expert that can help. So let’s just say, for example, this is random, but somebody has incontinence.
Well, I don’t know for sure why that is. And so I can’t really start to give them a sequence. To help with that, unless I know what the root cause is. So then I would refer them, for example, to a pelvic, pelvic health, PT or physiotherapist. So somebody who’s done deep study in that area, so that I would then get the information back as to why this is happening because there could be many different causes.
So that’s just one example. Here’s another. Somebody comes to me with back pain and sometimes they do that and it’s just sort of the general sore and tightness from sitting at a desk and they’ve got knots and that’s very different than if they’ve got some, you know, serious acute pain that they’ve been working through.
In that case, I’m going to need to know, have they had any x-rays? Have they had any scans? You know, do they have any issues with their discs? Is it sciatica? Once I have an understanding of what is going on, that’s when I can start to create. This custom sequence is just for them. So I just wanted to be very clear that that is one of the major differences between a yoga therapist and sort of a yoga teacher is that oftentimes yoga teachers just have this, I don’t know if you want to call it, ignorance or, um, hubris.
To just say all kinds of things that they’re actually not qualified to say, and they shouldn’t be offering advice on, whereas a yoga therapist, one of the things that we, we vow to when we register with the International Association of Yoga Therapists is to stay within our scope of practice. Just wanted to get that out there, because sometimes people can hear yoga therapists and they can think, Oh, I’m just like a physical therapist or chiropractor or a doctor.
Not the case. So on the note of yoga therapy, what is the difference between training a typical yoga teacher, like a two or 500 hour and a yoga therapist?
Well, here are just some of the additional things that we touched on in my yoga therapy training. This will not be an extensive list because that would take a really long time, but some of the things that stand out to me. Now, if you’ve listened to the episode where I introduced myself, you will have already heard how I decided to become a yoga therapist, and what I was doing before that.
But just briefly, I was already working with people in a therapeutic way. I had been teaching yoga for, I think at the time of starting my yoga therapy training, like 15 years or somewhere in there. So for quite a while. So I already had 200 and a 500-hour  under my belt before I even embarked on my yoga therapy training.
And so I had a lot of experience. I’d been around the block a little bit. Um, I had also, my first teacher training was quite good and it had a couple of flaws, but generally speaking, quite good. And then also on top of that, I had been helping people with back pain for several years and had done a lot of mentorship in that area and things like that.
So there was already, I already came into the program with like a good solid base of knowledge, but of course learned much more. And here are the things that kind of really stood out to me when I took my yoga therapy training that made it quite different from other training. So, learning about mental health.
In so many different ways. , there was a whole intensive on, yoga therapy and mental health. It was like a 60-hour intensive. So, you know, understanding kind of some of the common mental health conditions, whether it’s something as common as anxiety or depression [00:14:00] or, you know, schizophrenia or other things.
So having, a better understanding of what those are and what they might look like, how they might. Affect our students trauma training so I took trauma training which I think every yoga teacher should take whether they are a yoga therapist. Or whether they’re just a yoga teacher teaching drop-in classes, because regardless of who you teach, if you’re teaching the public, you’re teaching people who have trauma.
And I think sometimes people confuse the word trauma and they think that it means, you know, that somebody has been sexually abused for most of their life. And that is definitely very traumatic. However, there are all kinds of trauma. there’s divorce, there’s car accidents, there’s, it could be anything.
So I think that sometimes, we think that trauma has to have like a capital T trauma to affect us, but actually trauma happens all the time. If you’re human, you’ve been through some trauma. It’s impossible, I think, to not have. So, what I did learn was, um, about trauma and how it shows up in yoga.
I took a module on the therapeutic relationship. So this is where things like our scope of practice and, um, boundaries, things like that were discussed. Very wonderful training. I already discussed the scope of practice in a bit more detail. So that was clearly mentioned and defined in this training.
Additional biomedical studies. So we learn a little bit more about anatomy and common conditions like, you know, arthritis or things like that. And also a better understanding of how actually to read some of those, studies, because not all studies are created equal. And just saying, Oh, there’s [00:16:00] a yoga study that says that.
Blank condition can be improved with this yoga. You really have to look at that and see, you know, what was the study? Pick it apart a bit. But more of an understanding from a biomed perspective of conditions and injuries. Now, just as a sidebar, I also, studied traditional Chinese medicine for a few years, which I’ll talk about near the end of this.
And as part of those studies, there were additional biomedical studies that I took. So I took, for example, anatomy and physiology. Um, surface anatomy, pathophysiology, integrated physical examination. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but you get the idea. So there was a host of other courses that I took that actually, I dove a bit deeper into sort of biomedical studies, in those.
In a yoga therapy program, there’s also a big emphasis on mentorship. And this is something that’s often missing in our typical 200 or 800-hour programs. So mentorship is where you’re shadowing a teacher and you’re able to ask them questions about why they did what they did and see the room and things like that.
So that’s one aspect of mentorship. And then you’re able to ask questions. And then on top of that, there’s a certain number of private sessions that you have to do under mentorship. So the mentor isn’t there in the physical space with you, but you’re working privately with people. You’re keeping notes.
You’re checking in with your mentor. They’re checking in with your notes to see if there’s anything that they could add if you have questions or if there are situations where you weren’t sure what to do. So that’s part of the yoga therapy program. And then you also have to teach a certain number of registered therapeutic series.
Whether they be six or eight weeks, and those are usually themed. So that might be a, I’m just going to use my examples, yoga for anxiety, yoga for back pain, yoga for sleep. So it’s got a specific. [00:18:00] theme and it’s a registered series and you have to do several of those as well on your way to being certified.
Generally speaking, most yoga teachers start with a 200-hour training and then eventually they add on another three so that they can say they’re a 500-hour certified yoga teacher. At this, as it stands at the time of this recording, and this could change, um, a yoga therapist has a thousand hours of training.
So they’re assuming that you already have at least a 200 hour and then there’s an additional 800 hours in your yoga therapy program before you can say that you are a certified yoga therapist. So that’s a pretty big difference, right? So even if you already had a 500, it’s an additional 300 on top of that.
And it’s a big difference. And I’m just going to say, and it might not be a popular opinion. I still don’t think it’s long enough. [00:19:00] I actually feel like a yoga therapy program should be longer. Like, I feel like it should be like at least 2000 hours. But maybe that’s a conversation for another time. I just think, because one thing that.
I noticed when I took my yoga therapy training is I came in with a certain amount of years of experience and teaching under my belt and already a therapeutic learning and therapeutic mentorship. And so for me, the learning curve wasn’t as big with some of these things. There were certain areas where it was like, for example, in the trauma.
Section, for example, um, back when I took my first teacher training, there was no such thing as trauma-informed yoga or trauma-sensitive Yoga. It just wasn’t a thing.
So there were definitely areas where I learned a ton and then there were areas where I learned very little. But what can happen is that you get a [00:20:00] yoga teacher who’s taken a 200 hour. And they haven’t even really dove into teaching yet. They don’t have a lot of experience under their belt, and then they go right into their 800 hours.
And I actually feel like that’s a bit of a, I think that’s a bit of a flaw in the system. I think that one of the requirements to joining a yoga therapy program should be a certain amount of experience and, or teaching hours before you come in. Because It lessens some of the confusion and also how much you have to learn when you’re a newer teacher doing a yoga therapy program.
And it also just gives you some more confidence and some more experience. So that would be, my thoughts with that is that sometimes you can have just 200 hours and not a lot of experience and then enter into your yoga therapy training. Unfortunately,. I wish that everybody [00:21:00] had to have 500 hours.
And then they could enter their yoga therapy and that would then be 800 hours or 1, 500 hours or something. So I think there’s a long way to go in the yoga therapy world. Um, and I would like to see it be longer. There are some places and at the time of recording this, I think there’s one in the States where you can get a master’s in yoga therapy.
But unfortunately, it’s only one place and it’s in the U. S. So. Not overly helpful, but I would love to see more of those, popping up so that those that are already yoga therapists could then continue on to take their masters. That would be great. So that’s a little bit about yoga therapy. Now, again, the word yoga therapy has not been, trademarked.
It can’t be really. So this is why you’ll sometimes see people say that they teach therapeutic yoga, which I think is more accurate. If you teach yoga and you’re not a yoga therapist. But you teach yoga with therapeutic learning. I think it’s more accurate to say you teach therapeutic yoga. Also more clear to your students.
But when you say you’re a yoga therapist, that can get a bit confusing because people are like, what do you mean by therapist? Do you mean like you’re a counsellor? Do you mean like you’re a physical therapist? Like, what does that mean? So it can be a bit confusing. Hopefully, that cleared some of that up.
All right. I’m going to talk a little bit about Yin Yoga. So Yin Yoga is a functional form of Yoga. What I mean by that is it’s not what the pose looks like that matters.
It’s what does it feel like, right? So all of these are kind of vague. Blanket alignment cues that work for some but not for others are not part of a yin practice. So, there’s no right way or wrong way to do a pose unless you’re injuring yourself. What we’re looking at in a yin practice is the function of the shape that you’re doing.
So I’m doing this pose because I want to access this area. So that’s functional. It’s floor-based. [00:23:00] So you rarely get off the floor occasionally. And I know that there’s going to be confusion on this because there’s a pose sometimes called dangling, which is described as a yin pose from my training. And my experience that was only offered as a yin alternative pose.
If somebody couldn’t do seated forward folds and actually feel. What they needed to feel, based on their bone structure. So if they were, you know, impinging at their hips as they folded forward, sometimes standing them up and getting them to dangle would get them past that because it would change the orientation of their pelvis.
And so that would be their shape, but dangling or standing forward, fold in my training, all of the 500 hours with Paul Grilley was never taught as a yin pose. It’s like a, Hey, you could do this if, okay. So just to be clear, floor base. So we’re on the floor, we’re sitting on the floor, we’re laying on the floor.
There’s stillness. So rather than moving from pose to pose or moving within the pose, there’s stillness. And the stillness is relative because. Of course, you’re going to come into a shape and then maybe partway through, you’re going to notice your body’s changed. And so maybe you adjust the pose, you change your grip, or you tweak it, or you grab a prop.
So there is some movement, but it’s not a movement like in movement forms of yoga, right? We’re not, flowing in from one post to the other, nor are we moving in the pose itself. Stillness longer holds than what you would find in a more movement or dynamic-based practice. So This is a general rule of thumb, but like two minutes to five, kind of for the average dropping class.
I know lots of experienced yin teachers and students that do hold longer than five minutes, but that’s kind of a general rule of thumb. Shorter holds on the areas where the tissues aren’t as dense, longer holds where the tissues are more dense. It may include the use of props. So I [00:25:00] don’t know where this idea came from, but I hear it sometimes that teachers will say that yin yoga doesn’t use props.
So I don’t know where you got that idea if that’s what you’ve been told, but that is actually not the case. In fact, when I talked to Paul about this, my teacher, Paul Gurley, said, Where do people get this idea that you can’t use props in yin? He was just as shocked as I was. So, yes, if you look at the average yin book, you’re not going to see a lot of prop usage.
But you could say that for most books. Finally, the yoga publishing industry is starting to get a bit more accessible and show more options and props and things. But for many, many, many years, all you saw were people on a mat without a prop or on the floor without a prop doing the poses. So I don’t know if that’s where people get the idea that you don’t use props in, Yin yoga, but that’s not true.
You can use props and that does not make it a restorative practice [00:26:00] that’s a, uh, topic for another time. There is a difference between restorative and yin, and it’s not because you brought a bolster out that now you’re doing restorative yoga. So it may include the use of props. When would we use props?
Well, when we need to get the student or ourselves comfortable enough to begin to settle into the pose and to let it become passive. Because this is a passive practice, we’re relaxing as much as we can into these shapes, not using our muscles to, engage while we’re in the practice. So sometimes we might need to prop, either to deepen sensation, to lessen sensation, or just to support an injury, or to just support the body so that you can stay in shape and really let go.
So may include the use of props. How much depends on the student and the practice. Yin yoga is a bit more meditative. It’s often nicknamed the quiet yoga. So when we are in our shapes for minutes at a time, it really gives us [00:27:00] an opportunity to work with our mind in a more meditative way than we would if we were moving quickly.
It’s what I often call an inside-out practice. So rather than focusing on the external part of the practice, like proprioception, like Where is my body in space? and what does this pose look like? We’re instead looking at the inside of the practice. What does this pose feel like? Is this version working for my body?
Can I drop inward and see what I’m feeling? This is something called interoception, which, Again, we may have a whole episode on that, so I’ll just plant that for now, but introception awareness of what is happening inside. Although from the outside, yin yoga looks easy, if you look at people just sitting on the floor for two minutes and you’ve never experienced it, you’d think, Oh, what are they doing?
That’s [00:28:00] so easy, but it can actually be really challenging but in a totally different way. Yin yoga can be challenging in the way that when you are in a society like we are, where you are rushing from thing to thing to thing, and you are constantly doing and adding things to your to-do list, sitting still and being quiet can actually be really difficult.
When you don’t take time to sit still and be quiet regularly, Then there’s all kinds of thoughts and emotions and things that we actually don’t even know are in us because we’re not paying attention, we’re not dropping in. And so sometimes when we do take that time in a yin practice or even a meditation practice to sit for minutes at a time and not move and be still, then The circus of our mind can come up.
So the thinking and the planning and the list writing and the analyzing and the ruminating and the criticizing and the storytelling and the judging and the itching and the bitching and the twitching and all of that comes up. So although Yin looks easy, it’s actually quite challenging, but just in a different way, a quieter way.
Yin Yoga works deeply into our body with passive-held poses. Physically, its special superpower is that it affects the deeper tissues of our body, our connective tissues, ligaments, joints, the deep fascia networks of the body, and the meridians. But caveat, via the sinew channels, and the sinew channels are like the fascia channels that align with the meridians.
Again, I’ll have a future episode where I talk about that more, but sometimes people think that we’re working with the meridians in a yin practice the same way that an acupuncturist would be, and that’s not really very accurate. We’re sinew [00:30:00] channel of each corresponding meridian. Whereas in Yang or movement forms of yoga, those yoga practices tend to target the muscles and in Yin we’re looking at deeper tissues.
So now that we’ve got a bit of an overview of what the heck is yoga therapy. And a brief overview of what the heck is yin yoga. Now I’m going to tell you what changed. Because I was already a yin certified teacher when I took my yoga therapy training. In fact, I did my last 100 hours with Paul, not my last in general, but because I plan to do that repeatedly,
the one that got me to 500, with Paul while I was in my yoga therapy training. So there was a module that I applied for credit for. It was a YIN module. And then I, while all my yoga therapy cohorts were doing that module, I [00:31:00] ran away to California and studied with Paul again. And I’m going to say that although I say now that I teach therapeutic yin, initially, I was very resistant to that name, I think because, to me, I wish that all yoga was more therapeutic.
I think it used to be, but I think in the day and age Yoga has become a workout and fitness, and there are yoga exercises and yoga drills. It’s lost its therapeutic leaning sort of in the general culture. So I was resistant to saying I taught therapeutic yin simply because I thought that all yin should be therapeutic.
But what I realized quite quickly in my studies is that actually what I was teaching as far as yin goes was quite different. That the yin that I was [00:32:00] teaching when I became a yoga therapist and started tweaking things was different than the average yin class. So there were a couple of things that they had in common.
And then there were some things that I had to change as I became a yoga therapist. I remember taking my trauma training and hearing her define trauma-sensitive yoga, which by the way, just to be a little bit anal trauma-sensitive yoga is a system of yoga trademarked by the trauma center. So you can’t just go around saying you teach trauma-sensitive yoga.
They’ve kind of TM the term attached to, trauma-sensitive yoga, but you can say that you teach trauma-informed yoga. And I know this sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous. However, I also understand from their perspective as well, that we don’t want just anybody who’s taken no specialized training at all to run around saying that they’re teaching trauma-sensitive yoga.
Because it is a bit of the wild, Wild West in yoga. [00:33:00] So there were some things that yin yoga and my yoga therapy definitely had in common that were totally cohesive. But then there were also some things that I was like, Oh, I think If I’m going to keep teaching yin, I’m going to need to figure out how do I merge yoga therapy and yin.
And I had a little bit of a crisis of faith while I was in my trauma training. And then I realized that was because I was trying to use the trauma center’s definition of trauma-sensitive. And in that case, actually, yin is not trauma-sensitive as defined by the trauma center form of yoga, neither is restorative yoga or yoga nidra.
So I had to kind of sit with that and be like, I want to be a yoga therapist. I love yin. How am I going to, how am I going to bridge this gap? So yin yoga was already a functional form of yoga that acknowledges that each individual is different. And therefore has different needs and different [00:34:00] bodies. And so there’s no one right way to practice the poses.
So that was already thoroughly ingrained in me. Yoga therapy also sees it that way. That there’s no right way for each person to do a pose. That it is individual. So that part was, paradigm-shifting. But what did change was that I started teaching my yin classes. With a focus on the nervous system.
So the nervous system set the stage for the whole practice. Literally, it sets the stage. The very first thing I do, once we all say hello, check in and pop pause for a moment of gratitude is I get them lying down and constructive rest, which if you’re not familiar with that, is just lying on your back with your, knees bent feet on the floor.
You can add props, which I do accordingly to make that more therapeutic, but that’s the general shape of constructive rest. And [00:35:00] I started all of my classes with that because that particular shape is so therapeutic to the nervous system. It’s like a nervous system remedy or tonic for, many reasons in many ways.
And I learned this in my yoga therapy training. So I now focus on the nervous system as the primary intention of my class. So the primary intention of my yin classes is now nourishing people’s nervous systems.
So we start with a grounding and a centring while they’re in constructive rest. I walk them through a combination of going through the koshas and mindfulness to bring them from the external world, the day they’ve had the world outside of the room and gradually drop them into their own center.
And that is the foundation of each class that I do. So there’s a focus on the nervous system that changed when I became a yoga [00:36:00] therapist. Um, holding a trauma-informed space. This can include agency, which Yin already does, and changes, like letting people know when I’m moving around the room.
This isn’t something that ever occurred to me before I took my yoga therapy training and my trauma training, that if I get up to go adjust the lights or, you know, lock the door this might actually be a trigger for folks. So I started trying to look at, okay, so I’m not going to do full-on trauma-sensitive yoga because I can’t with Yin.
How can I make this practice more trauma-informed? And one of the things was the space. Agency, people can come and go as they need. People can come out of the poses as they need. They can grab whatever props they need. They can do a different pose if they need to. So total agency over their own bodies.
I let people know when I’m moving around the room, so saying things like I’m just getting off of my mat to go adjust the heat. I’m now coming back to my [00:37:00] mat, things like that. So I let them know where I’m going in the room and why. So I’m not just randomly walking around the room. That changed. If I have to lock a door, which sometimes you do in a space if you’re teaching.
Announce that I’m locking the door and that I also tell them why. I’m locking the door to keep our privacy or to allow the heat to stay in whatever the reason is, but please know that you can just unlock the door and leave at any time. Because for certain folks with certain traumas, just the sound of a locking door can be a trigger.
So that wasn’t something I ever thought of, but I do now. Starting to use more invitational language. So instead of picking your right foot up and putting it here, You might say something like, as you’re ready or in your own time, or you could try. So using language that is open and invitational instead of directive language.
[00:38:00] Now, I’m not as. I’m not as completely undirected as I would be if I were teaching trauma-sensitive yoga, but there’s definitely a lot more invitational language and opportunity and agency there. I also had to sit with some of the common language that is used in yin yoga and decide if those were a fit for me.
So things that I had never noticed before about the language that I was trained with and that most yoga, most yin yoga teachers use if they were trained by Paul or Bernie. It never occurred to me before, but once I had my trauma training, some of these words started going making me go, Oh, ah, I don’t know if I want to use that word.
So here are some examples. Edge. So I no longer use the word edge. First of all, the very term itself can be triggering what has edges, cliffs, knives, like, it’s just not only is it, could be, could it be a [00:39:00] bit triggering, it’s also, I don’t feel very accurate because when I come into a yin shape and I start to feel sensation, I’m not feeling an edge.
An edge denotes that there’s a line. What I’m feeling is a little bit more like a line in the sand, right? And it changes and it shifts from even inhaling to exhaling. So not only did the word edge not feel accurate to me, but it also felt like it wasn’t very trauma-informed language. So I have now switched that to using the word sensation.
I tell people. That they can come in and feel the sensation. Sensation is also a lot more open because what they might be feeling is stretch or if they’re quite flexible, they’ve already reached the limits of their bone structure and they’re not feeling stretch in the pose. Maybe they’re feeling the sensation of Qi moving through their body, so it’s more open and I think more accurate.
Also, oftentimes you’ll hear yin yoga teachers say come to 70% of the most you [00:40:00] could do from my experience. When I used to use 70%, I would see people white-knuckling it through their yin practice. Like there was somewhere to go like they were competing.
They were just pushing themselves and being super aggressive. I still see it sometimes, especially in seated forward folds. It’s like everybody thinks if your hands are on your foot, you win the prize. So I switched the word, edge to sensation. And I also switched the degree of how much sensation.
So I say now 50 to 60%. Knowing that that means that those recovering A types will probably still be at 70, but at least they won’t be at 100. And I also address this with humour in my class, right? So, I don’t say come to 70%, I say come to 50 to 60%. I’m truly interested in the middle way, what the Buddha would have called the middle way.
Right. Not too much, not too little. And that changes because one breath into a pose, two breaths into a pose [00:41:00] might be different than your first breath into a pose. So this is why I don’t use the word edge, use sensation. And when I talk about how much sensation I say, 50 to 60%, and know that is a movable amount of sensation that will change over time.
I also don’t use the word target. That’s, You know, we shoot at targets. We aim arrows at targets. We, in the corporate world, have financial targets. It just isn’t a word to me that feels, first of all, trauma-informed, but also accurate. Again, I’m going for accuracy as well. Because I, as a teacher, might have, your hip butt IT band in mind as the target for this pose.
But in your body, maybe your hip butt IT band is quite open that day, and so as you draw your leg in, in like a figure four lying down or something, you actually are feeling that in your hamstring. [00:42:00] So, does that mean they’re doing it wrong? No. And so, instead of the target, I use the word intended. The intended area for this shape is…
You may be feeling it somewhere else, right? I’m always going to say, but you may not be feeling that you may feel it somewhere else, or you may not notice the sensation at all. But I use the word intended instead of target.
This one, () I still slip up occasionally), and it depends if I’m talking to yoga teachers or not, but I try to use the word Shape instead of the word pose,, and the reason I use the word shape is that, again, certain populations have been posed, so whether they’re a model and they’ve got some trauma around that, anyone who has been, sexually abused and had photographs taken of them, so the word pose can be a bit loaded as well, so I just turn that word into shape.
The other word that I stopped using was the word rebound. And this one wasn’t [00:43:00] because I think that word isn’t trauma-informed. It just didn’t feel accurate to me. A rebound to me feels like it’s like a quick snapback. And that’s not what I feel or what my students feel in the practice.
So I use the word resonance or linger because that feels more accurate to me when I come out of a long-held Yin shape and I’ve got that urge to moan and groan and come out of the shape when I feeling of unfamiliarness in my body, the resonance of that pose or the linger of the shape that I was just in is still very present in my body and then that resonance or that linger starts to soften and fade and fade.
Until I feel more like my familiar self again, right? And so the word rebound just doesn’t denote that to me. It’s more subtle and more stretched out than that. So I use the word resonance or linger.[00:44:00] I want to just mention this too because a lot of times people think that if you study with a teacher and then you change the way you’re teaching you’re being disrespectful. And the last time that I was with Paul, And studying with him while I was in my yoga therapy training and starting to come up with some of these words that was like, Hmm, these words just aren’t sitting right with me anymore.
I mentioned it to him. I said I’m taking my yoga therapy training. This is what I’m learning. And I’m just finding that some of the words that we use in yin are either not feeling accurate or, not feeling as therapeutic as I would like. And he looked at me very matter of factly, because this is the way Paul is.
And he said, Well, you should use whatever words work for you and your students the reason I mention that is because sometimes as teachers, we get dogmatic, about certain things and we think that we’re doing that because that’s the way our teacher told us and we’re being loyal to the teacher.
But [00:45:00] actually my teacher and any teacher who I would ever call my teacher is super open and encouraging to us learning to explore, think outside the box and use critical thinking and then choose for ourselves.
So Paul can be okay with it. Maybe you can be too. The other thing that started to change when I started teaching Yin from a therapeutic mindset was explaining to new students the mental and emotional aspects of a still-quiet practice. I have a little story about that. So when I did a teacher training at the yoga therapy college where I took my training, I used to lead, their yin modules.
And one of the ones that I did, a teacher came up to me on the break and she was very teary-eyed and she said, thank you so much. And I said, for what? And she said, for talking about the mental and emotional [00:46:00] parts of this practice. I’ve been to a yin class before and the teacher didn’t say anything.
It was just taking this shape. Here’s the time. And then was totally quiet. And she said she was freaking out in her poses. She was having all kinds of emotions come up, her mind was going all over the place. And she thought I hate this practice. To me, that’s a bit heartbreaking. Because here’s the thing.
We all, as humans, have these busy brains that are going to kick up a storm when we’re in a quiet practice like this. This is totally normal. And so, I normalize that to my students. If you’re trying to work with somebody therapeutically and they’re about to walk into a completely foreign situation where they’re unprepared, they have no idea what’s going on, and their nervous system might be a bit triggered, don’t you think it would be nice to just say, Hey, here’s what you can expect here, just so you know, and you’re not alone because we’re all having this soap opera [00:47:00] going on in our mind.
So I explained, started explaining to the new students, the mental and emotional aspects of this still quiet practice, the fact that The mind stuff can come up that this is normal. and offering some anchors for practice. I’ll give them some simple concentration techniques. They always have the option to use whatever anchor they’d like to, or ignore my advice on using an anchor altogether if that’s what serves them.
But I give those new students a little bit of information about, here’s how this practice is different. Here’s how it can affect the mind. If you notice that you’re thinking and planning and list writing and all the things, just know that’s totally normal. Everybody in this room is doing that. Here are some things you could use if you would like to work with your mind.
Makes a big difference. So giving an understanding of the busy mind, creating a sense of normalcy around the mind-stuff, and then offering anchors to practice with if they would like to take them. [00:48:00] The other thing I want to mention, and I see this often in yoga forums too, is that do you give hands-on adjustments in yin?
Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about going over and handing a student a prop, right? I do that. I let people know if I’m walking around, I’ll say, because I’m teaching in a trauma-informed space, I’ll say, I’m just moving around the room to help some of your yoga friends get more comfortable. You can follow my voice and know where I’m at.
So if I see that someone is struggling and that I could put a block under their foot or that would get them more comfortable, that would allow them to settle into that shape, I’m definitely going to offer that, but otherwise, it’s hands off. So this is a trauma-informed, perspective, right? You don’t teach a trauma-informed class and touch your students.
It’s just not a thing. That being said, of course, this is up to you, but I am teaching a trauma-informed class. Paul and Susie never touch us. Never. Never once did they walk around the room giving us adjustments. If we needed them and we called on them and we’re like, Paul, Susie, I can’t. I can’t feel this, or this is happening in my body.
Then they might offer a prop or a touch or give you an alternative pose. But to be clear, the touch was to get you more comfortable, not deepen sensation, not to push you further into the pose, in my opinion, whether you’re teaching Yin or any other style of yoga, this is very outdated. way to teach. If you are putting your hands on your students to try to deepen their pose, I would really question whether or not that’s actually serving the needs of your students.
Now, there can be a therapeutic touch in different ways if you have the training and the modality to do that. So for example, I have lots of hands-on bodywork training. I took some in my yin training. I’ve taken a Thai Yoga massage. I’ve learned, integrated, medicine courses where I actually physically assess people.
I have taken medical qigong and some medical qigong training when I did my Chinese medicine studies. So I can use those skills because I have the training in it, but what I’m never doing is trying to push somebody deeper into a pose than what they can do themselves. So there’s my rant on that. But definitely, if you’re trying to teach therapeutically, it’s hands-off.
Also what changed when I took my trauma training, and then I started going into my yin classes, and I would see that someone was having a trauma response. I now knew what it was. Whereas before my therapeutic training, when I would see people doing certain things in my class, I’d always be confused. What’s up with that?
Did they not understand what I just said? Why aren’t they doing what I just said? What’s going on over there? I would be confused. Now, I would never be aggressive or pushy. I would never tell people they had to do what [00:51:00] I was saying, but I would be lost and confused as to what is going on when people would either disassociate or they wouldn’t do things or there are all kinds of things.
And this is not the podcast for that, but all kinds of things that can come up in a yoga class. That could be a trauma response. So when I took my yoga therapy training, I now knew what that might look like. And that is so amazing to have that gift and to not only know what does it look like, but also what do you do about it or not do about it?
Again, this is beyond the scope of this particular, podcast, but we will do one in the future on that. So when I see someone, having a trauma response to the practice. I now know that’s what that is and what to do about it or not to do about it didn’t have that knowledge before.
And then the last thing I’ll say about what changed when I started shifting to teaching from a therapeutic perspective is. the role of emotions and speaking to it when it’s needed. I want to be really clear here though. I am not talking about saying, did you know that all of your grief is stored in your chest?
Or did you know that your emotions are stored in your hips? That’s actually irresponsible, in my opinion, to tell students that, because then if they don’t ever experience anything from doing a hip opener, they think that something’s wrong with them, or if they experience a different emotion in a different part of their body, now they think there’s something wrong with them.
What I mean by the role of emotions and speaking to them when needed is that sometimes our students have not had any time to be still and quiet and to process emotions that have been coming up for them based on whatever they’re going through in their lives. They’re grieving, whatever it is. And so these can come up in the yin room, and this could look like a student crying.[00:53:00] This could look like a student being super irritated impatient and frustrated while they’re doing their practice. Like a lot of exasperated sighs and like being super fidgety and just like really having a lot of trouble emotionally, being irritated, frustrated, et cetera. Okay. Sadness.
These are the common ones.
So I don’t address the role of emotions. In my intro in a class, but what I do is if I see them occurring, I’ll speak to them so that people know that they’re what they’re experiencing is normal again, normalizing this inner experience, what they’re experiencing is normal, and that they’re not alone. For example, if somebody started crying, I wouldn’t start right as they started.
But, partway through, I might say something like Another thing that can happen in a [00:54:00] yin practice, because we haven’t allowed ourselves this time to sit still and be quiet and process emotions, is that sometimes the emotions come up while we’re here in this practice. So to be clear, it’s not yin yoga that’s causing the emotions, but you’re allowing yourself an opportunity to be still and quiet and to process, and so these may come up.
So I might say it like that I never would have discussed that role of emotions. Before I had my therapeutic training, nor would I have probably know what to do with it very much. Okay, we’re getting near the end here. So far we’ve talked about what the heck is yoga therapy. We’ve defined yin yoga, and then I’ve told you a bit about what changed for me when I became a yoga therapist, started taking yoga therapy training and how that affected my teaching of yin.
And there’s one more element that I define as therapeutic yin. So when I’m saying that I teach therapeutic yin, there’s [00:55:00] one more element that comes in. So I decided after some healing that I had experienced with my own body, with traditional Chinese medicine and my studies with Paul. And got a little bit of a vague understanding of Yin Yang theory, although not in depth and kind of a little bit of meridians again, not in depth that I was really interested in studying Chinese medicine.
And so I did for almost three years I did not complete the program because I realized partway through that I wasn’t ever. I wasn’t very excited about putting needles in people. It wasn’t gross or weird or scary. It just left me going meh. So I adore Chinese medicine still to this day. I hope to, do my medical qigong training.
That’s where I was headed when COVID hit, which sidetracked a few things, but that is where I’m going to take it. All of this Chinese medicine knowledge that I learned in, my Chinese medicine training and kind of branch it [00:56:00] into that with some additional training. So that’s where it’s going.