I took the slow approach to completing my yoga therapy teacher training — or at least, this most recent step of it. I’ve now got 500 hours of training under my belt.  Last year, the International Association of Yoga Therapists revamped their standards, so that anyone who calls themselves a yoga therapist will now need 1,000 hours of training.  Though I’ve been grandfathered into the old system, I love learning and hope to complete my 1,000 hours by sometime in late 2014.

During both the summers of 2011 and 2012, I did a two-week residential training with the Integrative Yoga Therapy, which I’ve written about here and here.  Since this fall, I’ve been participating in a yoga therapy internship with the same group; I speak with my mentor every other week or so, and my work has included a fair bit of reading (including Siddhartha and Stephen Levine), and doing a set number of both individual yoga therapy sessions and a group yoga therapy class, and then writing up detailed reports of the experience.

It was fortuitous that as I came home from the second two-week training, I was asked to begin a weekly class for those living with cancer and caregivers.  (Just in case any of you know someone who would like to participate — we hold classes at the George Washington University Hospital every Friday from 2-3 pm; they’re free, but we ask folks to let us know they’re coming so we know how many mats to bring — RSVP to Jennifer Bires, jbires@mfa.gwu.edu or 202.741.2218.)

The private sessions have been varied — everything from a session held on the on the one-year death anniversary of a women’s mother in which a few of her best friends flew in to be with her to helping a person going through a divorce to working with someone with considerable digestive issues to working with someone with advanced cancer.

Yoga therapy tends to involve a lot more up front getting to know each other — the kind of comprehensive intake you might get with a really good health care practitioner — since the idea is that yes, we are our physical bodies — AND we also have all these other complex aspects to ourselves — energetically, psychologically, intellectually, spiritually.  So rather than 5 minutes of meditation at the beginning and 5 minutes of corpse pose at the end, there tends to be more time spent doing breath work and guided visualizations, yoga nidra as well as creative techniques like mandala drawing or body mapping.

My own practice these days reflects what I’ve been learning in working with others.  I see a great many places internally of holding and loose ends that I want to work on releasing and reconciling while I’m still alive, because I have the feeling that these areas of unfinished business stop me from fully living.  So I’ve been incorporating longer meditations that work actively to resolve and release.  At the same time, I’m craving a more active physical practice, taking strong classes with teachers I adore.  Maybe that’s just a sign that we are coming into spring, and it’s high time to release the winter from our bones.

As with anything, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.  In the weekly cancer group class, for example, sometimes people walk in and tell me they have a type of  cancer I’ve never even heard of.  Though I worry that I won’t be helpful to the person until I go home and get a crash course in their particular illness from wikipedia and my doctor-husband, I try to remember the advice of one of my teachers who said that, at least in mind-body work, techniques matter much less so than the quality of your presence.  Or, as Jews sing each Passover when they’re recounting the miracles of freedom, what we have is always more than enough.

I’ll leave you all with a beautiful poem that arrived in my mailbox this morning by Robert Bly:

Things to Think

If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.

When someone knocks on the door,
Think that he’s about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it’s been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

~ Robert Bly ~

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