(this beautiful photo is taken by my husband Pete)A couple of months ago after dinner I headed out leaving my boys at home for a 'men's night' as they call it with their Dad. I stopped in at a local cafe and bought a cup of tea to takeaway, then headed up the road and settled in at the community centre to hear Saraswathi Vasudevan speak about yoga therapy.
I took my seat in the candlelit room and about 60 of us sat in meditation, something I hadn't done in a long while. It only took about three conscious breaths to feel soothed and refreshed. Why don't I do this more often? Saras' closing words for the meditation "awaken to the reality of this moment" felt so powerful as they landed in my ears.
Saras had traveled from India to spend a couple of weeks in Australia, teaching in Sydney then on to the Peninsula presenting a two day workshop about yoga therapy. I considered attending the two day workshop but arranging care for River and Sol for two full days fell in the too hard basket but a couple of hours on Friday night I could do.
What is yoga therapy?
Yoga therapy is more than doing a yoga class. While certainly there are therapeutic benefits to doing your weekly yoga class, yoga therapy is a more individualised application of yoga that is used to treat an ailment or illness, be it physical or mental. Through asanas, breathwork, meditation, focus on diet and other life style factors yoga therapists works with individuals to improve health and well-being. The key difference between yoga therapy and western medicine is that yoga therapy considers the whole person not just the illness.
Saras posed the question, "Why are we here?" As the audience pondered the meaning and purpose of life Saras offered us an answer that to my mind was unexpected. "Pure enjoyment" she said and smiled. I say this answer was unexpected because to be alive for pure enjoyment sounds indulgent but of course that is not the path Saras was sending us down.
As we all pondered some more, Saras asked "Are you feeling whole and complete in this moment?" "Are there aspects of your life that you do not feel whole or complete?" I am yet to meet a person that feels whole and complete in every single aspect of their life. Sitting with these questions, Saras offered this "Discovering our wholeness and completeness we enter the path of yoga." She spoke of yoga as a tool to discover our true nature, "When we realise that 'I am not this body, this mind, all that I am fretting about' when we realise this we are in our true nature."
There were a number of people in the audience with an illness. One woman who had been an asthmatic all her life bravely spoke of her struggle to manage her asthma and asked "Why do I resist practicing yoga when it is something I love and helps me feel my best?" A common conundrum. We all know what we should do to look after ourselves but why is the doing so hard?
Saras encouraged us, "If we can quiet the mind, the path is clear we just need commitment and courage to follow it."
Saras explained that if we view illness as a way to find wholeness and completeness, the key is to find a way to be with it rather than fight it, it is not about removing symptoms it is about understanding.
She spoke of the relationship between teacher and student in yoga therapy as the teacher being like a midwife and that the student has to do the work with the support of the teacher. This relationship is clearly different to a traditional western doctor patient relationship that is most often played out in the roles of the patient being helpless in their healing and the doctor having the answers.
One of my favorite quotes from Saras that evening: "The most important tool we use is the breath because it bridges mind and body. Just as we vacuum our house, the breath vacuums our mind. The breath knows what to do in our body."
I was grateful for all I heard and felt in my one and half hour evening with Saras. As it turned out it was the perfect amount of time and food for thought for me. I walked back out into the night feeling like my cup was full without running over, two full days would have been an overload.
"At any point in time the support you require will come. Trust and follow." Saraswathi Vasudevan