adaptive yoga

More about yoga for chronic pain

My last blog post generated questions about the chronic pain video that was attached. What kind of yoga did Linda do? How much did she practice? Here is some context for her remarkable story.

Linda has been a yoga student in one of my weekly classes for quite a number of years. As she describes in the video, she arrived in pain and usually felt better when she left – the pain was eased physically and she was also more relaxed. The benefit, however, was not sustained, and she was plagued by chronic pain in multiple joints as well as neck and spine pain. This led her to be concerned about her condition as well as fatigued from managing her life with pain as a constant companion.

In the summer of 2012, I challenged the students in one of my classes to start a brief (and I really mean brief) daily home practice. I created what we affectionately called the "10-Minute Practice" because I assured them they could do it in 10 minutes or less. I created a stick-figure diagram with breathing instructions so they would have a guide to practice with at home and we reviewed it in class. It has 3 postures! A video version is below.

A number of students began to practice it daily and Linda was among them. She noticed that it helped diminish her morning stiffness and it also helped her feel centered to start her day. Interestingly, within a couple of months Linda decided to go on a diet, something she had not been considering previously. Over the next 20 weeks, she lost 25 pounds and she has kept them off ever since! The combination of daily yoga practice and weight loss seems to have markedly changed Linda's pain.

As Linda and I were talking about this blog, we both wondered if it was her daily yoga practice that created the right environment for her to embark on her diet. Her successful discipline in doing this 10-Minute Practice helped build her will and remind her that she could take on and follow through with new activities for self-care!

My Viniyoga Journey

I had been practicing Yoga for many years when I happened into a Viniyoga class at my transplant center in Seattle late in 2001. I was quite ill and felt extremely sick and I had no idea exactly what this Yoga was – it seemed like not much was happening. But at the end of the class I felt profoundly still and filled with a sense of calm and balance that did not match my external circumstances at all. I knew then, that if I survived and could create the opportunity to learn more, I would.

I have been studying and practicing Viniyoga with Gary Kraftsow since 2004. I know it has been an essential element in my own healing, and I see the amazing impact a Viniyoga class or home practice can have for my students.

So What Is Viniyoga

Our view is…the breath is the primary tool through which you will be able to access what’s actually happening in your body. It’s the primary tool to activate change in your structure at a deep level, and it’s the primary tool to link your conscious awareness to the process of change.

So think of the breath as an internal flashlight, microscope, viewfinder, that helps you discover what’s going on.

Gary Kraftsow, Founder  and Director of the American Viniyoga Institute.

Viniyoga implies differentiation, adaptation, and appropriate application. It is a school of Yoga developed by my teacher, Gary Kraftsow, based on the teachings transmitted to him by T. Krishnamacharya and T.K.V. Desikachar of Madras, India.

Viniyoga asana is distinguished by the following:

  • Breath is the medium for movement in asana and we adapt the pattern of breath to create different effects.
  • We emphasize function over form in asana and we use the science of adaptation to achieve different results in postures.
  • We move in and out of poses not just holding in a static position.
  • We employ a sophisticated art and science of combining sequences of different orientation, length, and intensity to match the intention and context of each practice.

Viniyoga draws from the many tools of Yoga, not just asana, so a class experience will always incorporate breath awareness and some kind of guided relaxation or meditation and often chanting. Your experience in a class is not just that of using your body. Even in a class setting, each student can discover his or her own potential and connect with that sense of interior well-being which is available to each of us.