Communication and Interaction in Yoga Therapy

By Mark Stephens on Wed, 02/15/2017 - 12:21

Excerpted from Chapter 17, " Communication and Interaction in Yoga Therapy," Yoga Therapy: Foundations, Methods, and Practices (712 pages, forthcoming November 2017, North Atlantic Books/Penguin Random House)

Human beings possess innate powers of self-curing and self-healing. Even when our self-curing powers fail, our self-healing powers can make our lives better. To the extent that our self-healing powers are strong, they can support our self-curing powers and the power of curative treatments. While there are many areas of illness and injury for which yoga offers curative treatment, the primary benefits of yoga are in cultivating a sense of overall wellbeing and a healing resonance. This therapeutic potential of yoga begins in one’s personal yoga practice and in the relationship between the yoga therapist and his or her client. Working within the integrity of this relationship, we can better engage our clients and elicit their needs and intentions in curing or healing what ails them. 
With a deeper understanding of our clients’ conditions, which we can help to illuminate and clarify through complementary yoga-related assessments (what we might also call “appreciations”), we can develop yoga therapy treatment plans with each unique client. Here we look closely at each of these steps in providing yoga therapy, starting with the healing relationship itself.
In teaching yoga either one-to-one or in a group class setting, we come into a pedagogical (and hopefully inspirational) relationships with students. Teachers’ varied instructional methods, personal styles of interacting with students, and qualities of energetic presence shape the nature of these relationships. Some yoga teachers teach yoga in a way that assumes the student must learn it all from the teacher, giving specific instructions that the student is expected to follow (directive method). Other teachers share their knowledge and insight with students while encouraging students to explore in ways that fully empower the student to learn from the experience and to adapt the practices in ways that makes sense to them (nondirective method). Teachers who teach with a sense of kindness and compassion are found in both approaches. Teachers who teach without conveying much or any sense of kindness or compassion are also found in both approaches. 
As we cross the bridge from teaching yoga to yoga therapy, we follow Devi (2000) in highlighting the teacher-as-facilitator role and the qualities of kindness and compassion that help form the foundation of healthy relationships in which adaptive practices are fully explored in support of a client’s goals and aspirations. For some this creates a sense of healing energy– affirmative feelings and associations that foster trust and openness – that is an essential element in the healing process. 
Yoga therapy is ultimately a form of self-healing that involves clarity about one’s conditions, including conditions of emotional attachment and insecurity that can interfere in developing and maintaining a healthy relationship with one’s students and clients. This highlights the importance of maintaining one’s own personal yoga practice, in particular those practices that instill emotional stability and mental clarity as awakening somatic beings. Patanjalian yoga points to two basic paths for this cultivation: the purely contemplative path of mental refinement conducted in solitude, which is a form of jnana yoga, and the more practical path of action, or kriya yoga, which appreciates how the complexity of engaged social being presents a variety of difficulties and opportunities in seeking or opening to wholeness and offers a more accessible path. 
We will often look to the path of solitude for ways deepening self-understanding and self-awareness, even as the main path is one of conscious actions directed towards germinating and growing from the seeds of that understanding and awareness.