Dangerous Moves

Is 'Yoga Therapy' an Oxymoron?

"Look, if the F.A.A. had been around when the Wright brothers were flying, they would've been grounded," Lee added. "The best we can do is learn from our colleagues and not duck when someone says, 'Hey, what's going on here?' "

What's going on here is what Sharon Gannon and David Life, directors of Jivamukti Yoga Center, wondered when a Phoenix therapist demonstrated there, with Lee observing.

"The student who volunteered had some deep issues," Gannon recalls. "In front of all these people she had a breakdown, and the person handling the workshop was fairly insensitive."

photo: Jonathan Weiner

"Gave her a pat on the back and sent her into the audience," Life interjects.

"It was like, 'See, Phoenix Rising works, it gets people to open up and cry,' " Gannon says. "But all kinds of emotions can surface during asana practice. That's why it's so important to teach yoga along with sound advice based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, which is really a book of psychology."

Patanjali wrote the 196 Sanskrit sayings, or sutras, that form yoga's spiritual foundation several thousand years ago. "Unfortunately, most yoga teachers have never even opened the Yoga Sutras," Gannon sighs. "Yoga is a buzzword these days, so is therapy. Put the two together and, wow, you have a career. But most yoga teachers are not qualified to be teachers, much less therapists."

"I would recommend finding a good psychotherapist who likes yoga," adds Life. "Then, do yoga and go to the therapist. Don't try to find it all in one package."

Shapiro encourages PTSD patients to take yoga, although "it often takes a few years [of psychotherapy] before someone is ready to take a yoga class.

"Yoga is a great path for reclaiming your body," Shapiro adds. "You don't need anybody touching you. You don't have to trust someone else, so you can learn to trust yourself with your body. Also, survivors had to burst into another realm to survive. But they don't have a framework for that experience until they do some spiritual work. Yoga can provide that framework.'

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