Hello Luz, Can you please share a little bit of info about you to the readers of this interview?
Sure, hi everyone, yoga has been a great passion and life changing philosophy for me. It was in the mindset of ‘do your yoga off the mat’ that made me realise how powerful yoga actually is. Life situations seem to be less of an obstacle with the tools of yoga. I recently divorced, have three kids, moved from place to place and through all this change yoga has been my best company. I learned to adapt, cope and flow with all that life gave to me physically, mentally and emotionally. I finished the international teacher training at the KYM in Chennai, I am also a teacher and tutor at Birthlight yoga, and a yoga therapist at the CNHC in the UK.
I knew that Yoga can help in healing body aches, but I didn’t know that Yoga can also help in healing emotional and relationship issues. Can you please explain how practising Yoga exercises can help mend relationships?
“The success of yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships” - Sir Desikachar
I have been trained in the Krishnamacharya tradition at the KYM in Chennai, this is a place that doesn’t only look at our body from a physical perspective but they look from a holistic perspective as well. We as persons, are a whole. Which means we take in consideration the emotional, mental and the physical issues that exist in our life. When I was in my twenties, I had a lot of emotional trauma from an unloving childhood with an abusive mother. It was only through yoga that a sudden change in perception happened, a change in me and how to see the world with the different people around me. I have seen this change also in many of my clients. As we use yoga to mend any physical ailments, so we can use it to heal our broken hearts. Yoga goes beyond the physical, yoga is pure energy flowing through our bodies, even when we can’t see or feel the concept of this. I started practicing yoga due to a car accident, which left me with physical pain, never for a million years did I ever think to do yoga for my emotional pain, the change just came with the practice. It was the breathing and the awareness of my life, my body and my connection to everything that brought me clarity and caused my own individual change. When there is a change in you, there is a new way of perceiving and this might help mend relationships, with yourself and with others.
I think when we understand our mind and body, we get a better understanding of others’ mind and body. What is your take on this?
My mentor, who also trained with the KYM, always said to reflect on what you just said to me, dear Uma. I got pretty much in the habit of the idea that ‘if it works for me, it works for another.’ Now, I understand it is not. We might have an idea about how the mind and body works from another person's perspective, but we will never fully comprehend how they feel or think. This perception of understanding will always be ‘coloured’ with our own assumptions and projections. However, we do learn empathy and compassion when we are able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and in this we can hopefully ‘understand’ them better. So, even though I might ‘understand’ my own body and mind, I can’t automatically assume that this will help me understand you or someone else with how they feel or think. Even in same situations, your body or my body might respond very differently in the those same circumstances, our thinking might be different also. As Dr.N. Chandrasekaran, (KYM, M.B.B.S., diploma in Yoga), says in his book YT part 1; ‘Guard against superimposition. One should regularly practice [yoga] to gain practical wisdom. Yet, one should not translate the effects from one’s own standpoint on others. It is superimposition and it will not work in yoga therapy.’
Why doesn’t it work in yoga therapy? His answer is this: ‘The practice of any technique will bring some effect on one’s constitution. The same effect should not be expected when the technique is applied to others. Every individual is different, so the effect of the technique will also be different.’ I could not agree more, after my many years of teaching, it finally dawned upon me that this is indeed the case.
How long have you been helping men and women address their relationship concerns?
I have been interested in relationships ever since I was a teenager, always asking questions, looking for ways to ‘fit’ into this world, to understand my own relationship with myself and others. When I moved to China, and met with the female expat community, six years ago, that was the time that most women came to me with questions and asked for help. However, I don’t mend relationships as a couple therapist would do, or a relationship coach. I guide women through their emotions, as they ask for clarity, I give them appropriate techniques to their specific needs and situation. Often they ask can yoga help me with understanding myself or my relationship? I say, try this or do that and see how it feels for you. Once they start with the practice and the techniques given, a change happens and in this change the women decide to do ( or not to do) something about that particular relationship. Please, be mindful that we are not only talking about a relationship to men, as in married couples or romantic relationships. Some have issues with their mothers, fathers, or other family members, but also work relationships are being discussed.
What, in your personal opinion, the most common problem that women face in their relationships between their partners?
Communication and listening skills, the ability to convey a message and listen to our partners in such way that makes clear our own wants and needs. We have different communication patterns, different expectations, assumptions, wishes and goals. It takes two very patient people to communicate and listen, it is a fine line between responding and reacting. We are either biased, set in a certain communication pattern, or have our own opinions that we like to impose to others and therefore not always take the time to either listen or respond accordingly.
I believe if any relationship problem has to be addressed, then there need to be an active participation of both the parties concerned to get it resolved. But you have only worked with women to help them face their relationship challenges. How well did it work?
A change in one, can bring a change in another, somewhere along the line someone has to change the pattern and the direction of the relationship. Relationship issues can not always be resolved in a way we expect them to. As Sir T.K.V Desikachar mentioned about yoga: “We begin where we are and how we are, and whatever happens, happens.” This also holds truth for any relationship issues.
When women come to me to guide them through any relationship problems, my first two questions will always be; ‘what are your expectations and can you accept those expectations not being met?’ It is in the unmet expectations that we suffer. The second step is to reconnect with the other person in a way that makes us feel that we stand in our own integrity, how painful this might be at times. And then the channels to communication can be opened again, giving ourselves the time to reflect, respond and maybe even react to how we feel and see things. Of course, I am talking here about relationships that have had no abusive incline or safety issues. Most of the time, women just want to talk and reflect first, before acting, they are looking for options, doors that can be opened. At times we just want someone to listen, to hand over a tissue and a smile.
But eventually, yes, you will need two to tango. Any kind of relationship only works when two parties are willing to take a look at the circumstances, to communicate lovingly and respectfully. That is why relationships are our biggest teachers in life, it tells a lot about who we are, our expectations and what we wish from life, ourselves and others.
What are the emotional problems that women deal with, in their relationship with their partners?
This is a challenging question, relationship issues mainly come to the front through physical ailments as headaches or at a mental level as burnouts, depression or anxiety. The emotions that might come along with this is often sadness and anger. But there is a range of emotions, like fear, guilt, shame, envy and other emotions that come and go and change from moment to moment.
And you think practising yoga exercises could help these women resolve the issues? I don’t think it can, I KNOW yoga does! Again, not always in the way we ‘expect’ them to, we have to learn to ‘let go the fruits of our labour’ when we do our yoga practice. Resolving an issue might well mean to accept the situation for the time being, or to compromise more or maybe less, or to cut our losses and yet in all these to find our peace with the situations we are in. Resolving a situation means to accept and find peace with your decision and outcome. Yoga brings clarity and awareness, the postures are there to prepare our body to move deeper into a more peaceful, positive, and focused mental state. While we do our practice and become one with our physical exercise through the breath, amazing things start to happen, however yoga is very individual based. From my understanding, change is not brought solely by the different movements, it also has to do with the energy of the person and their own physical, mental and emotional state, their own journey. When we come to know that yoga brings personal transformation, our perspective on life changes and automatically our perspective on how we see relationships changes also.
As a yoga practitioner I know, in my daily life, that every movement of my body reflect my mind and my thoughts reflect on my actions. Hence they both are affected when one is disturbed. So, do you think that practising yoga exercises can actually help men and women heal their past physical wounds that are reflecting as emotional problems in their present life?
I know that yoga can do many things, but yoga is not an ‘one cure fits all’ and we need to make sure as yoga therapists/ teachers, to know our own limits, depending on our knowledge and on how well we can apply the yoga tools to the specific needs of the individuals. Having said that, some people are able to ‘heal’ their physical wounds that are reflecting as emotional problems through yoga, depending on their complaints/ wounds or injury. However, they will need proper guidance from a yoga therapist/ teacher who knows how to use the tools of yoga in a knowledgeable and proper way. We also need to be mindful, that certain wounds/complaints/injuries can only be ‘healed’ to a certain extent. It all depends on the individual, the yoga therapist/teacher, the network around the person (including doctors, psychologists/psychiatrists and other guidance) to create an whole picture of the state of the individual and to come up with a plan for support.
Can you please share a couple of your experiences for a better understanding?
For example, endometriosis. Women who come to me with endometriosis, a disorder that affects 176 million women worldwide and is related to their menstrual cycle, have many problems. Starting from abdominal pain during their cycles, severe cramping, extreme tiredness, fertility, insomnia, long cycles, issues with concentration etc. These women very often feel misunderstood, sad, depressed, angry and stressed. Now, endometriosis can only be completely ‘healed’ through surgery, and then even the disorder can return. What yoga offers are asanas to help release the pain, pranayama to cope with the situation and visualization to move through the cycle allowing the women to feel more confident in their bodies. When working on the disorder, we work on their mental state and their feelings about themselves and the situation while we are releasing the stress and the physical pain that comes with endometriosis. Often the women will need a network of good gynecologists, dieticians, support group and a yoga therapist to guide them through their cycles and the obstacles that they encounter each month.
I practised Yoga exercises regularly until a few months back (very irregular now) to get rid of the chronic Migraines that I was suffering for almost thirty years. So I learned yoga asanas to fix my back and neck issues that were thought to be the major contributors for my Migraines. While I was practising those exercises, I found that other ailments such as shoulder pain, TMJ disorder, sinusitis etc vanished. Remember these pains started while I was 12years old and then it became chronic as I grew up. I had problems with relationships though I thought that I was a very nice and loveable person. Do you think that chances are there that these physical ailments could have been the cause of my relationship problems?
I am sorry Uma, I can’t answer this question. Only you know the answer. If I had to make a guess, I could say maybe. If your physical pain made you shout at people, because you were impatient, due to your migraines, well this could be a possibility, right? Or your physical pain caused you to sleep bad during the night, which caused you to be tired during the day, this could have had an effect on your behaviour towards other people. Maybe you were snappy at times and people thought that you were not as nice as you thought you were. Often how we feel will have an effect on our behaviour and our actions as you already mentioned, so it could be possible.
What do you, as a Yoga therapist, see as the causes of depression and anxiety in women?
Depression and anxiety can have many different causes. It can be an imbalance in hormones, or they can have their roots in unhappy relationships, it can be work related, home related issues, lifestyle, change of seasons, and many more. There is not one specific cause for depression or anxiety, sometimes it is even a mix of causes.
How do you address depression and anxiety in your Yoga therapy sessions?
It depends on the individual and on the situation. If it is a very severe case, I would always initiate the help of a doctor or psychologist. If it is less severe, at times all that a person might need is a massage, or more sunlight. And at other times I give them asana, pranayama, and/or visualisation.
The effect of depression and anxiety varies from person to person. So I feel that it is always good to work with one-on-one instead of a group session.
Again, this depends on the person. The need for community and laughter is actually what a person with depression might need at times. And at other times one-to-one sessions would be better, or a mix of both.
Do you work with them individually, since these concerns are very sensitive and they can’t be talked out in the presence of others?
Actually, there are women who feel more safe in a group setting. Also some women need community, the presence of other women helps them to relate to their own issues and gives them a relief of knowing that they are not alone in their struggle. Nevertheless, working one-to-one helps me to create an individual plan to their specific needs. Which in return supports the women more in depth in their specific journey. So, it depends again on the set up, and what the women prefer to work on.
How long would it take for a woman to come to terms with her physical and mental conditions?
I will not be able to answer this question, this totally depends on the individual. There are women who never come to terms with their conditions, there are women who take up a year, others five or even longer. But there are also women who take only five months or less to come to terms with their situation.
What is the difference between a Yoga teacher and a yoga therapist?
‘The first lesson in yoga therapy: “Do not teach yoga” (Principles and practice of yoga therapy).’ Yoga is the manifestation of the total potentiality of an individual, Yoga therapy is an application to bestow healing on to the practitioner, according to Dr.N. Chandrasekaran. He continues in his book, and I could not agree more; ‘With yoga therapy, a client comes with a specific health issue [this might be mentally, physically or even emotionally]. They want to regain their health, these individuals have not come to learn yoga [as the way we know it, solely for the purpose of exercise] they have come with a very clear goal, to balance their health.’
As yoga therapist we need to think about making the situation for the clients better, in such a way, that the client is capable to implement the necessary changes without harming them any further or without aggravating the condition. Which comes down to having the knowledge and how to apply this knowledge to modify certain postures to the benefit of the individual and their needs, to approach the situations from different angles and to make sure the guidance and support is their along the way.
Can a yoga teacher help some one to address a specific health issue as good as a yoga therapist can?
Depends on how well a yoga teacher can apply the knowledge of yoga to an individual’s specific needs. In my opinion, I feel that the term ‘yoga therapist’ is just another label. Every well trained yoga teacher with many hours and a love for the philosophy of yoga, can be a therapist. As long as they get to know the person standing in front of them and know why they are giving those particular practices to their clients. What is the purpose of the practice and will this specific practice support the needs of the individual seeking health.
I am a people person. I enjoy interacting with people. I like observing their actions as well as reactions. I also observe my own actions and reactions. And I find that I have become a more supple person than I was. I was a very adamant, angry and revengeful person. I believe the reason for the transformation in my personality is Yoga. I also found that not all who practise Yoga have a supple personality. So, I think it is the exercises that makes the difference. Do you think the same?
Could you please give me more details? I didn’t get that question clearly. Sorry.
Ok, here I go. My notion - Not all yoga practitioners become a calm person and develop a supple personality. My sister’s yoga therapist speaks so fast that my sister finds it difficult to follow her instructions. The teacher doesn't make any effort to find out whether my sister could follow her instructions or not. That was one incident. And I had another experience. This time it was a middle aged male yoga teacher. I was reading a book while I was waiting for my nephew to return from his summer yoga class. The newspaper flew from the table at the front and landed on the floor near my leg. I was reading a very interesting book, so I wanted to complete the para before taking the paper and putting it on the table. This gentleman walked towards me with a very angry face, bent down and picked up the paper and took it with him. I know he did that to show how irresponsible I was. If I was him, I would have done that with a neutral face. I would have thought that it is upto her to pick the paper up and put it back on the table. And the third experience was with an online friend, a yoga teacher who travel around the world to teach yoga to kids and grown ups alike. He is not a therapist. When I asked him whether he can reply to my email questions. He said that he don't have the patience to read the questions and write the replies. He said that he felt lazy to do that. He said he is a fast paced person. If he has told me that he is too busy to reply to my questions, then I would have understood that. I wrote to him to keep the questions with him and send me the replies when time would allow him to slow down a bit. The same experience with two more female yoga therapists from my country. "Have no patience"- can this actually be the case with yoga practitioners? I just wanted to know whether a trained yoga practitioner thinks the same.
No, I do not think the same. The individual is what makes the difference in combination with the yoga practice. We have our own lessons to learn, our personalities and our perceptions help in our journey of transformation. We are born with a certain constitution, and within this constitution, we can kind of ‘move things around’ in our personality, change certain things in our behaviour, and transform ourselves in other ways with yoga. Some of us just have a little more pitta, or vata, or kapha. However, as we mentioned before, the effect of the yoga practice is unique to all. To understand yoga, you will also have to learn the philosophy behind it. The yoga sutras of Patanjali, for example can help in understanding our own yoga path to transformation. But, this transformational path is a very personal one. We don’t know what our lessons might be in this world, stand alone that of another person. Nevertheless, we need to take in account our three doshas and work from there. Also don’t forget, that we are working on samskaras (patterns/habits) and these have big influences in our lives too.
You have been helping people for so long. Have you come across anybody who came to you for help, but NOT open for receiving help? If yes, how have you dealt with that person and helped her to get her problems resolved?
Yes, I have encountered this a couple of times. It comes down to action, once a person sees how much work it takes to break down patterns/habits and the time involved, they already give up before ever starting, it is all in the mindset. It is important that people know that it is a lifelong journey. However, a good therapist/teacher will also let clients know that the process can be broken down in smaller steps. Take one step each day towards your desired outcome, do your practice when you can (even if it is only 10 minutes of breathing), eat an apple for a more healthier lifestyle, go for five minute walk etc. Just start, start where you are and with what you can do. Many focus on excuses and on the things that can’t be done, at the end it won’t help you. With change comes work (action) and only the individual involved can make the change. I had some clients who came to talk about how bad the situation they were in, I would give them a yoga practice to take home, and often when they had to return for another session to see how their progress was, they would come and say they did not make time to do the practice or to implement the changes. As a therapist you will notice that these clients aren’t ready for change, and this is ok, everything in due time according to the individual.
Thank you so much for your time, Luz. As I said before, I turned to Yoga to get rid of my Migraines that was married to me for such a long time that I actually wanted to end my life a few years back because Divorce (cure) was not an option. On the path of recovery, while I was understanding the happenings inside my body, I discovered that I am also starting to understand things that are happening outside my body. That is the priceless gift of practising Yoga exercises that I have got. Am glad I found you on Facebook and connected with you in your group YogaWella, for women’s health. ______________________________________________________________________
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You can also read the previous interview that features Sandy Pradas of Joyful Heart Yoga. She answers my questions on how “Yoga Helps Migraines”
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