When I was 18 years old, I discovered that I had a torque in my spine. A small twist along the spinal column that was not anything serious or even close to being diagnosed with scoliosis. Never-the-less the torque was the cause of many a headache and stiff neck that came and went every few weeks. I sought chiropractic therapy to help realign my spine, and while it helped immensely, I had to repeatedly go back for relief, as the pain would return again and again. Apart from my regular visits to the chiropractor, I never paid any attention to my neck or head and simply popped a painkiller when needed.
This pattern repeated itself for about six years until I rediscovered my love for yoga and started to practice yoga on a regular basis again. The style I was most fond of was the Integral Yoga Basic Hatha class -- a very simple and gentle, yet extremely effective, style of yoga. Without even realising it, my headaches slowly disappeared. After four weeks of daily hatha yoga practice, I returned to the chiropractor for my follow-up visit and to his surprise, the torque in my spine was about 65 percent less than what it was before. When we discussed this, I of course informed him of my new practice and he told me to keep it up and then I wouldn't need to see him any more.
So I continued my daily practice and found other parts of my body started to work better each day as well. My menstrual cycle changed, making my periods much more manageable and lighter, and soon I was off the painkillers forever. What's more, I lost about 5 kilos without dieting. I was in no way straining my body... I actually took it very easy as my body was very tight and holding advanced postures was either impossible or too uncomfortable. I adopted a very gentle therapeutic style of yoga as my personal practice, and I found that after about 6 months of this soft yet dedicated practice, I could very easily get into advanced postures with very little forcing or effort. I found the same approach to produce similar results with my students.
When I began teaching, my classes for some reason were never full of young and fit yoga practitioners, but those who suffered from physical issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, as well as recovering from surgery. I found that the best approach of yoga was an adaptive and therapeutic style, encompassing the full practice, not just asana. My responsibility was to gently guide each individual into a comfortable posture where they could feel a stretch, but were never over tired or in pain.
Therapeutic styles of yoga are a slow, steady form of self-healing. Results are not immediate, but when they come, it’s long lasting -- the body does not easily slip back into its old form of functioning. Gentle yoga works on the stiff, inflexible, misaligned and diseased. The trick is to learn to work with, rather than against, the body. A long-term practice is a lifestyle choice and the results have a permanent effect on the body and the mind.
When the body is compromised, whether through an injury, regular wear and tear, or with disease, the philosophy, "no pain, no pain," must be followed. Yoga as a therapy requires each person to go to their comfortable limit... no forcing, no over-stretching, no straining and definitely no comparing yourself with the person next to you in a class.
Our minds are deeply conditioned to perform and to "reach goals" that we often miss the body's signals or natural reflexes to stop. Yoga is about brining an experience of a pose to the body that you have, regardless of your ability or disability. When the body and mind are in harmony, there is a trusting relationship that develops, which in turn nurtures our instincts and enhances our intuition.
Many times students would comment that they didn't sweat in the yoga class and wanted to know if they were receiving any benefit. I simply told them to note how they felt before and after the class. Always, the answer was that they felt more relaxed and at the same time more energised. Over time, many of them who couldn't even touch their toes are now achieving more advanced postures with ease. That's the beauty of yoga therapy.
Although those requiring yoga therapy may not ever perform advanced postures, the purpose is to function with ease. My yoga master, Sri Swami Satchidananda, would always stress the importance of having a "body full of ease... not dis-ease." He also said, "what's the use of standing on your head if you can't stand on your own two feet properly?"