Tiffany Wood Yoga

The Beauty of Yoga and The Yoga Butt

Tiffany Wood in a seated cross legged yoga pose

In 16 years of teaching yoga I have seen pretty much all the initial reasons people decide to try a yoga class. Everything from reducing pain and healing injury, soothing the soul going through a divorce, calming work related stress, creating flexibility or obtaining “the yoga butt”, and even the desire to meet the cute guy teaching yoga at the gym has brought tens of thousands of people to their yoga mat in the past few years. What is so beautiful about yoga is that it will meet all of those intentions with even a small commitment to one class per week.  However, most people who come to a yoga mat for the first time have no idea that yoga can go far beyond their initial desires to become the best form of healing therapy they will ever come across!


So when does the yoga become therapy?

It can happen with the first Ujjayi breath or just after the final relaxation pose called Savasana as the practitioner opens up to the peace of their own intrinsic freedom and joy. This state of pure awareness and bliss is the anecdote to most modern day maladies and is truly the reason yogis across the globe keep returning to their mats.  It is in the place of pure consciousness and bliss, called Chit Ananda in Sanskrit, that true healing occurs and the blockades of vitality known as pain, stress, and dis-ease of all sorts are diminished or transformed.  

The deeper question is thus; how does the student or practitioner of yoga skillfully and consistently create the healing benefits of yoga, especially when they are experiencing pain or distress?  

The first step is to acknowledge the desire to know freedom.  This desire sets the stage for wanting to know how to align with the pulsation of freedom. We all know when we are in alignment with our heart and the heart of the Universe, there is more joy in our lives. It’s also painfully clear when we are out of alignment because life becomes effort and struggle; an uphill battle so to speak. The practice of yoga in any or all facets (the physical/hatha, breath, and meditation) is a profound method of attuning to the pulsation of freedom that is always present within even when it’s cloaked with pain or struggle.  

The attitude of the heart’s wanting opens the yogi to want to learn how to better align in order to find freedom.  And so the study of technique is born.  This is really where yoga takes a huge self empowering turn and becomes yoga therapy!  Anusara® yoga is known for its healing and transforming alignment techniques known as Universal Principles of Alignment.™ While the principles of alignment are simple enough for the new student of yoga to grasp and see benefits, they are also complex enough to forever expand for the advanced practitioner.  

My approach to yoga therapy is to keep it simple! Take a look at what is going on within the particular person’s system and then approach it with the basics of good alignment. Here are the UPA’s in brief detail:

1st Principle: Open to Grace
Open up to what is working in your life and in the world around you. When you step back and open to the goodness that is already present, you can soften and move into your heart. When you open to your heart’s desire to know freedom, you can then embrace the necessary steps that will take you there.

2nd Principle: Muscular Energy
Honor your heart’s desire and embrace your intention. Create stability within by stabilizing the periphery and drawing into the core of your being. Your own loving strength is a necessary component to facilitating deeper healing and expansion. In the physical body this is a literal hugging of the muscles to your bones, engaging the strength of your mid-line and drawing your limbs in toward the core of your body. This muscular engagement emits signals of safety that allow for true healing to occur.

3rd Principle: Inner Spiral
Once you feel supported and  safe you can open to creating a deeper space for healing. Hopefully this is possible in all facets of healing. However, this alignment principle is critical when it comes to healing hips and low backs. With muscular energy engaged in the legs, the upper thighs can move in, back and apart to create space within the hip joint while also creating a natural curve in the lumbar spine. Also, when the femur bones/thigh bones move into the back plane of the body, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and rest, relaxation, digestion, and healing are all greatly improved. Conversely, when the thigh bones are pulled anteriorly/forward, anxiety and dis-ease are the result.

4th Principle: Outer Spiral
Too much expansion without a steadfast anchor can create new problems or simply exacerbate an already present unhealthy imbalance. Outer spiral is a contraction that brings strength, length and balance to lower backs and hips.  Learning how to keep your thighs back and wide while drawing the tailbone toward the pubic bone and narrowing the hips just enough to provide stability will not only clear low back and hip pain, it will teach you how to set appropriate boundaries without overpowering your own need for expansion into a fulfilling life.

5th Principle: Organic Active Energy
When you draw muscular energy into the appropriate focal point within your body (and your life’s journey for that matter), you have given yourself the opportunity to connect with your true strength. It is from that place of wisdom that you can appropriately expand from the focal point to ground into the Earth and then up and out. This principle brings even greater freedom and joy to our physicality and our hearts! It is an expansion into the delight of being you. So often, we don’t really allow ourselves to be as bright and brilliant as we can be. This diminishes the light inside and we begin to grip too tightly. We must engage our muscular energy in order to create stability and then learn how to trust that power and evenly expand into our heart’s desire in all aspects of our Being.  

Isn’t yoga therapy about using physical postures or breath work to relieve pain?
Absolutely! The key is to keep it simple, however. When someone is in pain using basic postures paired with impeccable alignment is the fastest track to relief. It is possible to clear acute disc pain within a few minutes of simple postures designed to root the thigh bones into the back plane of the body and bring curve to the lumbar spine. From there, then bring in enough length through the tailbone and outer hips to provide stability. I love working with people in acute pain because when they find the right combination of Inner Spiral and Outer Spiral, there is a huge sigh of relief and they have just discovered the secret combination to their own freedom.  

The real trick with yoga therapy is to guide a person into the alignment in such a way that they can recreate the experience on their own. As my friend Holly Horvath says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.” You have to be able to teach the Principles of Alignment™ in a simple enough posture that they can create the actions and then repeat the actions again and again. When my clients leave a yoga therapy session, they have no more than 3-4 postures to work on for the next week. I’ve learned that is about all they can remember and about all they will actually make time to do. Of course, with more advance yoga practitioners, you can apply the same principles to more advanced poses and give them more homework. Still, I will always default back to the basics when there are injuries or long term patterns that need addressing.  

Download a basic sequence for low back therapy. They are great postures for anyone wanting to clear long standing low back injuries or pain. However, please keep in mind that learning how to move the inner thighs in to the back plane of the body and wide apart is the key. The power of the buttocks muscles tend to always take over causing the low back to flatten and contract resulting in discomfort or pain. If you want to learn more about this, come to my Yoga Therapy training February 15-17, 2013!!  You can find more information on line at tiffanywoodyoga.com or yogautah.com

Happy healing!
Love, Tiff