Personalized Yoga Therapy Is Your Map to Success
Raminderpreet Elisa Sweigart is a yoga therapist who interviewed the top people in yoga therapy and created the award-winning documentary, Your Brain, Your Body, Your Breath: The Science of Yoga Therapy, which details the healing, scientific proof of yoga practice. —Editor
Is yoga therapy something you do before you get on the mat? You can. If you have limitations of any sort, it may be smart.
What is yoga therapy? Yoga therapy is for specific conditions or circumstances. Even though we don’t address the condition specifically, we address the individual and his or her circumstances and their experience helps shape what I do. I look at a person’s lifestyle, habits, health, relationships. All of it.
This means you’re going to customize a yoga session for them? Absolutely. Once I do the intake and have a sense of the person, I have them do some simple movements to help read the person’s body.
How do you read someone’s body? For example, If they have eating or digestive issues, these issues may impact energy at the third chakra. If it’s family issues, that could result in resistance in the first and second chakras, to start, demonstrated by a very tight lower back. Also, the fourth chakra may be involved and resistance can reflect in tight or hunched shoulders. Then, we’ll do movements that address whatever those resistances may be to help bring breath and energy to those areas.
When you talk about chakras, are you only talking to people who accept that chakras are meaningful? Is that the kind of person you want to attract or do you have something to say to people who don’t know about chakras and just want the pain to go away. And that’s fine. You don’t have to understand about chakras. I think it’s fair, though, to be authentic and open to the person coming in and tell them what I’m looking at. But they don’t need to believe that for me to then use yoga, the breath, meditations, and chakras to address their issues.
Are you using intuition also? Yes. When I say intuition, I mean really listening to their story and watching where their areas of resistance are. I am looking and sensing, “Okay, there’s a block there.” I can also feel energy blockages through gentle touch. I don’t push anybody or do anything like get anybody into weird positions. “Weird” or difficult postures are limited because everything can be adapted. All the postures in yoga can be adapted to address a person’s needs.
Who comes to see you? I’ve worked with cancer patients, diabetics, autistic kids. I’ve worked with people with heart disease, spinal issues, compressed discs. From the mental/emotional perspective, I’ve worked with people who have issues with their kids or with their spouses. The gambit is wide open for people who want to address something in their lives with yoga therapy.
How does it begin? I’ll do an intake first. I observe their bodies as they move through a full, but gentle, yoga practice, with full deep breaths, and then a meditation. I‘m trained as a Kundalini yoga teacher as well, and will use Kundalini kriyas (sets containing combinations of movement, chanting, hand positions, eye focus and breath) because they are very specific. There are kriyas for the immune system, kriyas for the kidneys and adrenals, as well as a kriya for releasing anger or for creating a more open heart.
So the kriya prescriptions are asanas you recommend? Yes. I choose a kriya in the session based on what I’ve learned about them. The kriyas can be 3-10 minutes long, and I recommend practicing every other day, so no big commitment. We also develop affirmations, which we create together in the session and are based on the person’s reframing of their particular challenge.
What’s a sample affirmation? “I have clarity as to the choices I make every day.” “I am clear. I have clarity.”
Because a lot of people are foggy, right? We all can get foggy or confused or think we’re confused when in actuality we’re really not. Often we know exactly what we want to do but then we don’t do it for whatever reason. That’s a block that can be cleared.
Own it or embrace it? Embrace it—even if it’s scary. Another affirmation is “I am capable of providing for my family.” I had somebody who was concerned “Oh, I don’t make enough money,” or “I don’t have enough client.” I lead the client through the movements and breath that will help release resistance, I help them develop their affirmations based on their perspectives and then they’ll take those affirmations with them to say to themselves either silently or out loud.
I have them meet me in two weeks to follow up. Inevitably, every time I’ve met with a person after two weeks, there have been shifts. Whether it’s been a physical shift or a shift in perspective, something switched. Maybe their back opened, their digestion improved, their headaches are gone or their relationship reached a better understanding. Maybe there was a conflict at home and there’s more joy there now.
A person seeking you out would obviously wonder if you’re expensive and how many times they would need to see you. I’m very affordable, especially when you consider all the medical treatments you could avoid by releasing stress, or imbalance, ultimately helping to prevent illness. I start up front with 3 classes, one class every two weeks for 6 weeks. This covers the 40 day cycle it usually takes for people to see permanent shifts. I believe in empowering people to their own health and giving them the tools and then letting them experience and practice on their own.
Do you do group sessions right now or just private? I am not offering group sessions at the moment as these are generally at an institution, like cancer centers. It helps when the whole class are all breast cancer patients, or survivors. Group sessions can address a specific concern held by all the participants and, because of that synergy, they’re powerfully effective.