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Where Does The Healing Begin; An Integral Yoga Therapy Session Revealed

Introduction: Coming to terms:

A poor woman - lacking any shoes, walking a long pilgrimage - stops to rest, perchance to sleep when an angry monk awakens her. He waves his arms and bares his teeth shouting at her, "How dare you lie down, your dirty feet pointing towards our temple, the home of Brahman!"

the woman answers calmly, "Please, show me where Brahman is not and there I will point my feet."

'Hindu Vedas'

You and I are different, although, in essence we are one and the same; I know you as I know myself, that is "essentially." How else could I perform as an integral yoga therapist? I feel profound compassion for you because together we co-originate as a finite expression of the infinite. This is our true self - our essence - Brahman's innate will to achieve consciousness in a creative fashion. In India's divine cast of deities, Brahman plays the Hindu impersonal form of God used when speaking of God as the original creative force and is often referred to as the "ground of all being."

We call Brahman's innate will to achieve consciousness "transcendence." This quality of transcendence is our universe's fundamental song and is sung by all creatures great and small, seen and heard, known and unknown. Our universe, animate and inanimate, vibrates breathing, dynamic energy. Zen Buddhists say if one sits quietly stone may be heard growing in the side of a cliff.

Dynamic energy manifests itself in countless forms moment to moment by transcending its earlier moments using established notes to generate a new composition containing those notes, yet expressing itself in the universe as exponentially different and more complex. Old notes, rests, lines, spaces, and chord arrangements giving birth to new notation evolves a fresh musical segment, each composition totaling more than the sum of its individual notes - stone growing.

From the simple to the complex imparts direction to a fecund cosmos: the seed to the sapling to the tree to the forest.

Each element of our universal forest depends on every other element's contribution to express nature's song. This co-origination imparts cohesiveness to the music of Brahman's inspired creation while ancient eastern theology, arts, and sciences such as vedanta and yoga sing through the ages, "God is one."

We proceed as a finite transcendent expression of a single infinite creative energy desiring formation of its self-awareness through using the dynamic transcendence of its whole self.

You and I are transcendent spirit manifest as self-conscious individuals imbued with abilities to reflect on our condition and innovate change. Our evolution is a mindful one. We share direction and an innate cohesive consciousness traveling a glorious journey - nothing less - and I heal you because I see Brahman as the infinite universe, as each of us, and I value my human experience in those terms.

"Yoga's lofty goal of helping human beings become aware of their deepest nature is in danger of being forgotten."

Swami Rama, Himalayan Institute

Why begin our understanding of integral yoga therapy by first grasping this point about the transcendent process of ourselves and the infinite cosmology as Brahman being a single whole? Healing means to make whole - better, to make being whole an aware, conscious activity. The first question I ask myself at an initial meeting with my patient is, "Does this person feel whole? If not, what tools will I use and where will I begin?"

Sometimes a backache is simply a backache and nothing more. However, I often sense physical pain to be the end result of fear, anxiety, frustration, anger and depression -symptomatology consequential of years struggling to achieve wholeness. During our interview, when I ask pointed self-image questions and listen to "This is the story of my life"answers, I learn the patient's awareness is bereft of their spiritual connection, an idea of who or what their true self is or why they are an integral dynamic essence experiencing life's journey. When they introspect and view themselves as being born into their world - rather than from that world - they feel insecure, confused and separated from an infinite intentional mind inclusive of, but broader than their own.

Unaware of humankind's fundamental nature, they have suffered building a sense of self and their sojourn and sense themselves set apart from others and from spirit. The foundation is incomplete; grown to adulthood, they construct houses of bones and muscles while remaining spiritually homeless.

Years later, after facing life's storms the foundation gives way, and the house leans putting stress on a section of lumbar. The spine aches, and worse, if we correct the symptoms using yoga strengthening and flexibility asanas, but do not repair the perceptual foundation, the pain simply moves to another area. The pathology is a patient never invited to live as an aware whole.

As therapists - conventional, complementary or alternative - we cannot offer an invitation to the whole life unless diagnoses concerning patients and students are born of our own whole awareness. We must balance a healer's collection of factual knowledge with our wisdom tradition of compassionate intuition. The finest healers, east and west, from all schools, seek to meld medicine with spirit in humanity's abode. This living homeostatic vision is the reality we have to offer.

Maya, a Sanskrit term, is often interpreted in English as "illusion." I prefer the concept of maya as an incomplete vision of reality, a pathology of starving for spiritual essence because one has forgotten they are an integral expression of Brahman's will to be conscious.

Gaining a foothold on what it means to live as a consciously whole human being is where the healing process begins. If, as an integral yoga therapist, I lack perceptual awareness of being one with spirit, I cannot offer this deeply therapeutic gnosis to my patient.


The garden greeting:

"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."

Gertrude Stein

My spiritual mentor and dear friend, eden ahbez, said, "Always look to nature for your answers - nature is my altar." I greet new patients in my front garden rather than inside my home or office. There I begin sharing words in a conversational off-hand manner - to teach without teaching as that old Taoist sage, Lao Tzu, might have said.

I observe my new friend's body language while she exits her automobile hiking up my drive. I don't technically analyze physique or movements, but I intuit mood and personality. With one previous telephone conversation to set today's appointment, and now this bit of physical evidence, I have formulated a natural sense of her therapy program.

"Marta, good to see you! I was just examining the damage. It's been so cold at night my lawn froze white as a blank canvas, and the roses, they're just a ghost of their former selves. Then the winds kicked in and what didn't freeze got blown away - ripped out of the ground like old houses in a hurricane." I worked my gloves off my hands smiling at Marta.

"I'm sorry to hear that, " Marta said, under the weight of shoulders rounded and slumped, "about your roses I mean." She aimed her head at the driveway where she stared at her shoes, something familiar, to avoid meeting me face to face. This is a patient whose yesterdays beat her down. "My week wasn't much better. My boss laid a ton of cow-pucky on me."

"Oh, " I said, "don't be sorry for these old roses. Today the sun is high, my nasturtiums are already picking up and the roses will be blooming in no time. You see, nature in its simple way knows that it is living here and now. Yesterday and tomorrow are no longer a valid space and time to live. The plants won't live with yesterday's chill when they can feel the warmth of today's sun. Plants know how to heal, how to live in full awareness of all the moment offers."

"Maybe, " Marta said, "we'd be better off if we could live like trees." For the first time she examined me, waiting. This waiting for my reply told me she felt a fleeting sensation of self-confidence.

I looked intently into her eyes taking her a shade off balance. "Well, why not? We're as much a part of nature as any tree. We share a vast common ground with plants. We co-originate like all of nature."

One corner of her mouth drooped. The word "co-originate" stumped her.

"The world, my dear friend, is empty. It contains nothing - no thing! Yet, it gives rise to everything. The universe is empty of thingness, of selfness. Buddha said, "Not one, but two - not two, but one!" A rose is not a rose. It's everything: rain, sun, night, day, worm castings, minerals, soil, compost, my shovel, my muscles, my pruning shears, and my blood. A rose is not just a rose. Then again, that's exactly what it is. Moment by moment a rose is everything the moment offers - and so are we. Oh, we say, 'myself, me and I', but, Marta, what is that? What are we? Who are you?

By the way, I tend over one hundred roses and I have to lay six hundred pounds of steer manure on them every year. No cow-pucky, no blooms! At the moment, I'm offering tea inside. Care to join me?"

Inside, the session continues:

Still assuming a backache, Marta tells me she must stand wearing a brace, cannot sleep on her back, that the pain has become so excruciating she can no longer linger in a prone position and can't reach into her cupboard for her fine china to set a table for friends.

I examine for scoliosis and find pronounced kyphosis and scoliosis, and I believe that her SI joint (sacroiliac) is out of position, and that she may also be experiencing some tendonitis type problems concerning the fibrous connective tissue that issues from the iliac crest adding to lower back weakness and intermittent pain. I explain these conditions to Marta, suggest she visit her physician for conventional X-rays and diagnoses, and introduce her to the hatha yoga program I designed for her conditions**. This program will take approximately ten to twelve weeks to teach Marta once I have her physician's statement releasing her to participate in a physical yoga sequence.

I will tie this program together with the balance of her meditation therapy (which we've discussed in her interview) by teaching her to visualize golden-white light, an ancient tantric yoga technique, and perceive the asanas as a moving meditation or an expression of Brahman, the one energy. Later, I may add pranayama (yogic breathing) for strengthening her respiratory muscles and through her breathing to help Marta learn how to become mindful of her body. Last, I will add chanting for chakra balancing work. All of these elements will be made into a cohesive, whole program by using visualization of the golden-white light. Sessions last ninety minutes to 2 hours giving her only as much material as I feel she can digest in one week.

During the 10 week training period in the above techniques I will teach Marta to engage in a tantric, golden-white light meditation session bringing her to a sub-conscious level enabling her to work on various personal issues. Learning to still the mental waters and working in such a state is called vipasana or insight meditation. The first issue we will work on at level will be encouraging the development of a new world perspective of her human experience. I have already introduced Marta to this perspective, when we met in the front garden, thus creating a seamless conscious to sub-conscious link. After bringing her to level using the golden-white light technique and stilling the waters, I'll drop in a pebble, a meditation script I have written, 'Journey to the True Self'.**

I choose to work with this meditation technique after a hatha yoga session and perhaps fifteen minutes of pranayama, because at this point Marta's body is stretched and relaxed and her "habitual" mind has been moderately challenged by shifting inversion viewpoints and slowing her mind to follow her breathing. We may now ease into the meditative state.

The above program is integral yoga in its philosophical approach and creates a whole chain link aiding in a completed communication between the mental, spiritual and physical expressions and experiencing of true self-awareness here and now.


Sidebar #1: Marta's Hatha Yoga Program:

Author's note to reader:

Before this program Marta has been taught the proper use of bolsters and props and the variations of the listed asanas. She has also been taught how to listen to her body and stay out of her pain zone. Professional supervision is required for this routine.

Pictorial references for Marta's home sessions:

The Yoga Bible; The Definitive Guide to Yoga Postures, by Christina Brown.

ISBN: 1582-97242-7 ISBN 13: 978-1582-97242-8 Publisher: and FW Pubns Inc Publish Date: 2003-05-29

Yoga; The Path to Holistic Health, by B.K.S. Iyengar

ISBN: 0789-47165-5 ISBN 13: 978-0789-47165-9 Publisher: DK Publishing (Dorling Kindersley) Publish Date: January 2001

Work this program 5 days on and 2 days off. Your "feel good" target range is approximately twelve weeks.

Weeks 1 through 3 are lengthening asanas.Week four adds twists and inversions and strengthening back bends and leg lifts if appropriate for your conditions.

Weeks 1 through 3:

1) Cat pose - Viralasana (dynamic repetitions).

2) Child pose - Balasana (static hold).

3) Single Leg Forward Bend Seated - Janu Sirsasana (static hold).

4) Double Leg Forward Bend Seated - Paschimottanasana (static hold).

Week 4, add:

5) Cobra pose - Bhujangasana (static hold).

6) Locust pose - Salabhasana (static hold).

7) Child pose - Balasana (static hold).

8) Warrior I pose - Virabhadrasana(Static hold).

9) Triangle Pose - Trikonasana (static hold).

10) Revolved Chair pose - Parivrtta Utkatasana (static hold).

11) Half Lord of the Fishes pose - (static hold).

12) Supported Shoulder Stand - Sarvangasana - (static hold).

Savasana may be added here unless you are going into meditation at this point.


That meditation can be taught is a misconception. Exercises to prepare the mind, body and spirit connection for the moment meditation's state embraces one, on the other hand, can be taught. A favorite zen koan:

An adept asks his roshi (zen teacher) to enlighten him as to the secret of zen. In silence the roshi hands the adept a broom and motions to sweep the porch of the great hall. This sweeping exercise continues night after night for many years and every so often the adept implores his roshi to reveal the secret of zen. "Sweep the porch!" is the only answer the roshi will give.

After twenty years sweeping the porch in rain, snow and under many a cold moon, one evening a leaf falls in front of the adept's broom. Immediately, he is enlightened!

Blue Cliff Record

I gather from this story that the roshi's power and compassion for his student imbued him with the patience to encourage the adept to hold firmly to the path- in this case the sweeping exercise. The secret of zen is a direct experience and no one, not even a roshi, can give this to another sojourner. As a therapist, I can aid one's preparation for the meditation experience. Preparation is as far as I can go.

Sidebar #2: General Golden-White Light Meditation:

This ancient exercise is one of the fastest and most complete ways of attaining a deep state of relaxation. It is perfectly safe for readers to try on their own. It is an excellent exercise for learning to use your mind to take control of your body, and through your breathing to take control of your mind. It is more expediant than having to sweep the porch.

1) Lights down low.

2) Secure the area for at least twenty minutes of silence.

3) Shoes off.

4) Adjust a comfortable room temperature.

5) Sit in a soft chair with a straight back, arms resting loosely at sides and hands palms up in your lap.

If you are not a physical therapy patient with limitations, you may sit eastern style on the floor with a zafu (meditation cushion) and pillow or a folded blanket.

"We are all energy and this energy can be visualized as a golden-white light. The energy light works without any effort or instruction from you. You simply need to be 'aware' to witness the light working.

Begin at your feet. Feel the golden-white light working like heated fingers massaging the bottoms of your feet. The light works from deep within the muscles. It's direction is always from 'within to without'. Your breathing is gentle and easy and natural. In a moment or two you will notice without any effort on your part that the light rises over the tops of your feet deeply relaxing all of the small bones and muscle fibers. The light rises into your ankles and your feet feel heavy, like two lead weights. This relaxation feels superb as it rises up your calves softening the muscles from deep within and you can feel them becoming fluid and relaxed. The golden-white light always works from the bottom to the top and back down again. Tension and stress cannot exist in the same space as the golden white light, so, you make a choice, and you always choose the light as you go deeper and deeper into relaxation"

This process continues until the light has reached the top of your head, spreads throughout your face muscles, your trapezious muscle, your shoulders, down along your arms and into your fingers.

Many yogins use the above technique as part of their savasana (supine resting position) at the end of their routine. Others use this exercise to go to a deep level1 of mental relaxation where they may then drop a suggestion or a current life issue for examination into the stilled waters of one's mind. As a therapist, I find this to be an excellent moment to drop in a script that is designed to allow the patient to come to resolution over an issue or perhaps learn a new point of view.

Sidebar #3: Marta's First Script:

Author's note to reader: This script can be delivered in an hypnotic fashion if one is properly trained to do so. I have chosen to leave out the hypnotic breathing, voice inflection and environmental instructions in this published version as much training is required to safely lead a patient in such an exercise. For most patients and students a moderate meditative perspective is all that is required on a repetitive basis to achieve a gradual natural change in one's point of view.

Patient is at level: "Find yourself sitting on a carpet of fresh fallen leaves in the clearing of a rain forest teeming with life. Beneath the leaves rests a carpet of soft soil, and out of the deep green earth, everywhere you look, rise huge trees above your head, high as the heavens. Beyond the heavens, you see a lush green canopy of leaves where tree creatures feed their young, raise families, and make their beds for the night. You try following the tree trunks but they disappear into the leafy canopy and beyond. You feel at peace with all you survey. Hear birds high in the canopy. Sniff clean fresh air that holds familiar scents millions of years old. These vague yet familiar scents comfort you and deeply relax you. The smell of fresh water bubbling over rocks in a running stream have you growing sleepy from the fragrance of flowers. You are very sleepy and deeply relaxed and you feel that this is your home - it is where you belong.

A leaf falls to the ground and you pick it up. Examine it. Notice the leaf's skin. It has veins. And now, examining your own hands and wrists, you notice you also have been designed with veins. All of nature is alive with an intelligent, perfect design and plan. The leaf's veins carry the nourishment of an infinite universe: sunlight, warm tropical rains, an ancient moon and starry ceiling, the living and passing fertility of every molecule, cell, every species of creature in the forest. This is the plan of perfection, perfect balance brought forth by universal intelligence running through an infinite network of veins. The infinite network of veins is called the great chain of causation where each element in the universe is the result and the cause of every other element - all elements arising together. Nothing created is created alone. All of creation is a concert of co-origination. You are spirit and human, and you are nature, and you are a part of the great chain of causation - you belong.

Again, you examine your own veins realizing that you are part of a perfect plan - you are perfection. Your veins carry nourishment of the infinite creative universe to every organ. Each living, breathing cell in your body takes its sustenance and directions, and you create yourself, from the same pool of intelligence as the infinite universe is created. The wisdom of the ages is yours. The universe is your body. Its mind is your mind. Rest deeply. Feel the universal perfection of mind and spirit, the perfect plan flowing through you. The earth is your mother, the moon your father, and you know that you were born out of all that has ever been and born into the promise of an infinite creation, all that will ever be the great chain of causation. relax, and let go with the knowing that infinite perfection is your birthright. No one's words or deeds can ever take this certain knowledge from you.

A small mouse scampers in front of you and stops. It rises on its hind legs and looks around at its world, and you see through its eyes. In the world's infinite wisdom, you have been perfectly designed to be that part of the infinite that can gaze upon itself, and using your infinite wisdom, tuning into the universal plan, you make decisions and affect changes - advancing the perfect plan that creates you. You feel deeply relaxed - at one with the all and everything of your creator - your self. You are born as a process both out of and into the perfect chain of causation. You are a finite piece of an infinite miracle, an eternal miracle that ever was and shall become. This is the truth of who you are, why you are, and how you came to be. You are on an infinite journey of wonder opening into wonder; no one can take this truth from you.

You look down at the leaf you hold. You look around yourself at yourself, and survey your surroundings. You relax feeling profound pleasure, and amazement at the intuitive and intimate knowing of your infinite source, your true nature. You esteem yourself as perfection in the mind's eye of your source. Breathe long and deep feeling the magnificent joy and clarity, and esteem yourself."


Yoga therapy as a complementary or alternative healing practice:

I am at heart in full agreement with structuring my practice as a complementary process.

Many years ago, when I began my practice as an integral yoga therapist a supermarket cashier came to my office complaining of alternate pain and numbness running from her fingers up her arm and into her shoulder. She diagnosed herself as having a repetitive condition we call carpal tunnel syndrome (C.T.S.). This made sense to her because she performed the same work on her cash register for 9 hours every day of her working week. Truthfully, this also made sense to me. However, I told her I would be unable to accept her diagnosis nor could I provide a diagnosis, and she would have to see her physician for a diagnosis and provide me with his release for her to practice a physical yoga program.

The reason I suggested this approach was due in part to stipulations of the senate bill under which I am allowed the freedom to practice, and also because she casually mentioned that for weeks the condition would disappear and then reappear for a period of time. This last remark sounded vaguely like multiple sclerosis (M.S.). In its early stages, M.S. may present symptomatology similar to C.T.S. .

Carpal tunnel syndrome may often be treated with a specific Yoga program and no medicine or surgery, while multiple sclerosis may be controlled to a large extent by a yoga program but must simultaneously be treated medically.

Three different doctors diagnosed her condition as M.S. . This incident brought home the protective nature of the senate bill and of structuring a complementary practice for both patient and therapist.


The Yoga therapist's agenda - physical, philosophical, spiritual or religious:

My practice is in line with my factual knowledge and intuitive faith in my direct experience. In the course of treatment I may touch upon the physical, philosophical - and with caution - spiritual concepts of eastern traditions. While these elements have often been born of religious fundamentals, I do not challenge my patients' religious views; that is against my views. I am a health professional, and I bring philosophical and spiritual concepts into counsel only in so far as these may affect one's physical health. On occasion a wise physician will counsel a patient in his office rather than prescribing a tranquilizer in the examining room. In principle I will do the same.

During meditation and sometimes hypnosis, I use a script that is designed to challenge and change one's daily perception of their living journey if such a script will improve that pathology the patient and I have agreed requires treatment. At such times I am careful to reference our cosmological being in non-sectarian terms. The same rules apply when speaking of asana as moving meditation.

The short story I opened this article with would never be told in a one to one yoga therapy session. However, a session does not lack my personal sense of spirituality; believing one can separate the therapist from the therapy is as unrealistic as a scientist believing she is not an intimate part of the scientific process.

It is the responsibility of every therapist and patient to do their part in securing a relevant relationship. As a mystic working in the west I lean towards the Jungian point of view and that philosophy will find its way into the consulting portion of my therapy before Freud. As an integral yoga therapist, I'm most likely to give the final word to an individual that I admire in the world of yoga:

"The yoga we practice is not for ourselves alone, but for the divine; its aim is to work out the will of the divine in the world, to effect a spiritual transformation and to bring down a divine nature and a divine life into the mental, vital and physical nature and life of humanity liberation and transformation of the human being."

Sri Aurobindo


** See sidebar, Marta's Hatha Yoga Program

**See sidebars on White Light Meditation and on Marta's First Script.

1 Extremely deep levels approaching those of hypnosis are sometimes required for working with patients who are experiencing long-time pain. Such levels require an experienced professional supervisor to lead the session and should not be done on one's own. The meditation described above is to reach an average, reasonably relaxed level. Much work can be accomplished at this level without going deeper.

By Youngbear Roth, SW., CYT, RYT, - Youngbear Roth is a samnyasin/swami (renounciant) Yoga therapist, associate research scientist in mental health, and East-West journalist since 1972. Youngbear is working on his life journals and retired fro...  

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