5 Empowering Reasons to Try Yoga Therapy

Not all yoga is created equally. Whether you ditched the ancient practice after a failed downward dog or never tried it in the first place, you might want to consider seeing a yoga therapist.

Most of us don’t think twice about enlisting the help of a personal trainer to work us through our fitness goals so why not take the same approach with a yoga therapist to work on your wellness goals? By helping you move better using breath, stillness and movement in all forms, not just yoga poses, the mentor/coach-style treatment aims to help combat symptoms like fatigue, pain, reduced mobility and anxiety. The goal? To take you from rehabilitation to wellness.

Yoga Therapy is not restorative yoga, nor is it about bending and twisting deeply. It’s for people of all levels of mobility and experiences. It’s also empowering, and here’s why:

1. Your therapy should be as unique as you.

The unique you-ness is expressed in how symptoms show up. The expertise of a yoga therapist is seeing your movement and breathing patterns, and meeting you where you are at by honouring your full context, including the kind of person you are, what’s important to you and how you are feeling that day. We typically start small and slow by focusing on one joint and one movement at a time, as small and slow movements are more open for awareness building, easier for the nervous system to learn, and progress occurs more quickly. You will be surprised how small movements can release tension. As we progress, we may increase the number of joints involved, number of reps and speed. We may also transition from sitting or lying down movements to more standing movements to build stability and strength.

2. It nurtures a sense of safety.

When the nervous system is in the stress response mode, breath gets shallow, muscles tighten, the digestive system and sleep get thrown off, and your ability to cope suffers. Anxiety and fear exacerbate the stress response. A feeling of safety is essential for healing, and it’s important to work with someone who nurtures and encourages a safe place both in sessions and in your life.

3. It helps you listen to your body.

Your body holds more information than you think. Stress, anxiety, and fear are as much physical symptoms as emotional ones and warning signs often show up before any symptoms become full blown. Imagine how powerful it would be to notice these cues, take care of yourself then, and avoid some symptoms all together. The more connected you are with your body, the more you will take control of your self-care and healing.

4. All parts of you are a catalyst for healing.

Symptoms can be a result of multiple factors, including your expectations, beliefs, past experiences, and movement and breath holding patterns. Pain isn’t always where the problem is. It’s important to work with someone who includes all parts of you, and supports you in taking baby steps towards shifting how you move and how you live your life so you can experience a greater sense of freedom and decreased symptoms, stuckness and disconnection.

5. Any movement is therapy when done with ease.

Yoga therapy often considers components of yoga poses or other activities you do or want to do, such as tennis, running, typing at the computer, kneading bread and even walking. It can also help deepen the awareness of how you move. Think ease vs. force, easy vs. tight breathing, and feeling the body vs. thinking through the movement. Awareness is key to shifting the movement and breathing habits that contribute to symptoms. With awareness, symptoms can change.

*Note: Always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

I wrote this article for Rethink Breast Cancer blog post. The original article, published on January 18, 2018, can be found at: https://rethinkbreastcancer.com/5-empowering-reasons-to-try-yoga-therapy/




Why we should do less, not more

Times in our 30s and 40s can be busy and stressful for women. I’ve experienced it myself, and I see it in my friends. While life pulls us in all directions and puts heavy demand on us, there is good reason to do less. Two talks I recently heard about the effects of stress on women are such an eye-opener that I decided to share them here with my women friends.

Imagine here two buckets, one filled with stress hormones and another filled with female sex hormones. When we are under stress, cortisol, a primary stress hormone, kicks in to prepare us to fight or flight the stress. A prolonged period of stress depletes our limited reserve from the stress hormone bucket by draining it faster than it can be replenished. When the stress hormone reserve gets depleted, the body converts progesterone, one of the female sex hormones, into cortisol. The body’s survival mechanism prioritizes survival (i.e. dealing with stress) over reproduction (i.e. producing sex hormones) and allocates resources accordingly. This is where things get tricky for women. Our bucket of sex hormones, progesterone and estrogen, is also limited, and as we reach around age 35, the first natural big dip of progesterone occurs. Another big dip, this time of both estrogen and progesterone, happens around age 50, leading to menopause. When we have enough estrogen and progesterone in our bucket, we can ride these hormonal dips without major issues. When our sex hormones have been constantly borrowed to fill the stress bucket, we experience imbalances somewhere along the way, including irregular menstrual cycle, challenging menopause, fatigue, thyroid issues, fertility issues and weight gain in the middle of the body.

Many of us may not realize that we have been depleting sex hormones to deal with stress until we experience severe symptoms. In the process, we have likely missed subtler signs of depletion. It’s never too late to make a shift and start nurturing our body. If your life feels so busy and you find yourself pushing through tiredness, let’s take a small step towards doing less. I suggest finding one thing you can drop. In part 2 of this thread, I will provide tips on how we can get to doing less.


*The content of this post is based on talks by Mona Warner, Ayurvedic Health Consultant and Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher and Dr. Claudia Welch, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, an Ayurvedic practitioner and educator.




Movement therapy empowers!

Movement therapy is an empowering practice. I entered it to help my mother who has had chronic lower back pain for several years from pressure fracture of two of her lumbar vertebrae. She's in her 80's and lives in Japan. The painkiller was no longer working for her, and her mobility was decreasing. In my search to find a safe yoga practice for myself, I came across the work of Susi Hately, a kinesiologist and yoga therapist. Her approach is rooted in nurturing stillness and in helping people become aware of their compensatory and breath holding patterns and unravel these patterns. I was drawn to her message that you can reduce pain at any age no matter what your condition is.

A few months after I had my first therapeutic yoga training, I visited my mother and got to witness the power of this approach. We did a short session immediately after I arrived. I carefully chose the movements that were safe and supportive for her rounded and protruded lumbar spine. The next morning, her pain was gone. Prior to my arrival, she had to shift her hands from railing to railing on the wall to walk to the washroom in the morning. That morning, she walked smoothly on her own with her spine more upright. She couldn't believe her reflection in the mirror. We were both emotional. The effect waned as the day went by, as her body didn't yet have a stamina to maintain the new more functional movement pattern. Continuing to practice makes it possible to maintain the pain-free state and move her towards increased stability and mobility.

Having a taste of freedom from pain gave her hope. She had resigned that her condition would never improve. For me, I witnessed that I can make a difference in the life of somebody I love and many others like her.