yoga therapy

A Process of Rejuvenation

by Leslie Kaminoff

perth-teaching_dsc2572-2000pxWhen 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”


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.

lak_dsc7112-square-1Excerpted from “Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine.”

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.


Courage, the ability to do something that frightens one.

yohigh_135I’ve been sharing Judith Lasater’s book Living Your Yoga with students in my Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis class. When discussing the chapter on courage with them, I told them that I believe they really embody courage—just by showing up to class. Sometimes just getting out of bed unsure about how your feet and legs will work is an act of courage. Navigating their way to yoga class is courageous—waiting for a bus, using canes, walkers or wheelchairs to make their way into the sanctuary we know as Yoga on High.

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On Aging

marcia-3982_0_0By Marcia Miller

As I write this I’m on my way home from teaching a weekend yoga workshop to a group of people over 50. One of the most meaningful parts of the workshop for me was the time we spent answering the question, “What do you know now that you didn’t or couldn’t have known when you were 20 or 30?”

The wisdom in the room was felt viscerally, as one person after another offered a phrase or two about something they had learned, often with a poignant story from their lives as examples. One woman described an unexpected acceptance of life’s difficulties, despite a deep longing for health and happiness for all. Another described understanding her own mother’s maxim, “This too shall pass.” She shared the face she used to make when her mother would say that, but lately she realizes her mother was correct. You may know that saying, that our parents get smarter as we get older? This turned out to be true for her. Another described a life in which his longtime question, “How do I get this right?” evolved into more interesting questions, including, “What can I learn from this situation?” Or, “What are my choices here?” It was quite a relief to not have to always get “it” right, whatever “it” is. We heard one woman speak movingly of a hard-won realization that she could not control the world around her. Life can take us to our knees, and, while painful, the lessons are precious.

Most spoke of a deeper understanding of what is really important in their lives now, having lost loved ones or faced death themselves. This clarity allows them to let go of that which is not important anymore and move on. And of course—love. We spoke of realizing that the essence of life is love—it all comes down to love.

These are likely ideas that we all heard when we were younger, but what I saw this past weekend was embodiment. Life turned concepts and ideas into lived experience that we could embody as truth.

In a culture where youth is revered and our elders are often invisible, I was inspired by us this weekend. Personally, my 20s were painful for me in many ways that I would never want to return to. I was naïve and judgmental, often sure I knew what was best for everyone around me. I was also earnest and caring, but without many of the skills I have now that make my life so rich and meaningful. Those of us in of 50s, 60s and beyond have lived life, earning our grey hair, our wrinkles and our shining eyes, and, to some, we are invisible. But our lives do not depend on being noticed—they are precious and empowered either way.

Marcia Miller was one of the original co-founders of Yoga on High, was the genesis behind The Yoga on High Foundation, teaches yoga classes on the public schedule, and runs many of the upper level specialty studies at Yoga on High, such as the Urban Zen program and the Therapeutic Teacher Training Program. She teaches workshops throughout the US, this workshop on yoga and aging as an example.


Above All, Bearing Witness

by Virginia Macali

There was an edge of anticipation for the second 5-day Urban Zen training that was palpable as we walked into the room. It was a mix of excitement for being together again, mixed with the anxiety of being assessed and tested on our learning over the past four months. The teachers and mentors guided us through more practices and language distinctions to help us to be even more precise with our language and more grounded and present with ourselves and others. Read More…


Moving on from Cancer Day Long Retreat, May 2013

By Marcia Miller

Thanks to our donors to the Yoga on High Foundation we were able to host 37 women with cancer for a day long retreat designed to give them rest, rejuvenation and tools for dealing with the stress and symptoms of their disease.  Thanks also to our 17 volunteers who took a day off to be with us for this special program. In addition to offering them the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy modalities of simple movement, restorative yoga, guided relaxation, reiki, and essential oil therapy, all participants were trained in basic reiki techniques.  Participants from our previous retreat requested to learn reiki for their own self-care and to be able to offer it to others in their families and community.  We were very happy to give them what they wanted.
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