by Leslie Kaminoff
When I teach workshops about the healing potential of Yoga, I play a section of a 1996 documentary I helped to produce in which my late teacher T.K.V. Desikachar talks about the students who show up at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram seeking help. His simple words express very beautifully the essence of how Yoga can help:
“The most important problem is suffering. When somebody suffers, they cannot meditate, they cannot worship, they cannot pray. When these people suffer, and they go to the usual system of healthcare and it doesn’t work, they suffer more. For some reason, the usual system of medical and health care is not able to understand the person who is suffering. They know a lot about the problem…they know a lot about the disease…they know a lot about illness…it’s amazing how much they know, but the relationship between this illness and the person is not so much emphasized. So, when the person goes to all these people and still they are not better, they become desperate. It’s not just illness…it’s what I call ‘the relationship to the illness.’
“We [at KYM] talk to these people. We say, ‘You have some resources which are not just medicine. There’s something you have: you can still breathe…you can still talk…you can sit and move. That means you still have the energy that can heal you. Let us direct and use this energy…who knows? It may do something good.”
Desikachar goes on to emphasize the importance of the relationship between the student and the teacher:
“Care, love and attention gives the student confidence. With a new positive attitude they can begin to work on their body and their breath, which creates a process of rejuvenation. I don’t know how it happens…it happens. I can’t say it’s because of this technique or that technique, but it happens, and they subjectively feel better, which make them feel more confident, which motivates them to do more Yoga more positively, so the healing begins.
“Even if they’re sick, they feel better, which makes them more prepared for other aspects, like meditation…which can lead them to discover important things about themselves. This is Yoga…one thing leading to another”
REFLECTIONS ON THE TEACHINGS I RECEIVED FROM T.K.V. DESIKACHAR
In both my private practice and in the clinics I lead at The Breathing Project, people with all manner of dukha (suffering, literally “bad space”) show up for looking for help. As I meet these people who are seeking healing through Yoga, my unspoken gut reaction is typically, “I’m just a Yoga teacher…not a doctor! Who am I to address this condition?” I regain focus in those moments by remembering the principle embodied in my teacher’s simple words in the passage above, when he is clearly referring to prana, the life-force: “You can still talk…you can sit and move… that means you still have the energy that can heal you.”
In my practice, this principle has evolved into a quick checklist for new students: “Are they breathing? Are they able to focus their attention? Can they move their body voluntarily?” If the answers are even a little bit of “yes,” then they can practice Yoga and reap immediate benefits. It is my contention that the most profound healing derived from Yoga practice comes from the simplest things we teach, not the most complex. The first, simplest thing that we ask people to do is also the most powerful: bringing the body and mind together through the medium of the breath.
As soon as a person engages in this act of integration, what immediately becomes apparent are any obstacles that make it difficult to coordinate mind, body and breath. This principle is what allows asana practice to become a true tool of Yoga. Breath and postural practices help us identify and resolve obstructions to prana – on whatever dimension we may find them. Therefore, Yoga practice is not about doing the asanas; it’s about undoing what’s in the way of the asanas.
Yoga on High is thrilled to host Leslie Kaminoff for the second time this October 21- 23. Friday he’ll offer An Introduction to Breath-Centered Yoga as taught in the T.K.V. Desikachar tradition. Or join him for the whole weekend workshop Leslie Kaminoff: Yoga Therapeutics.