Teacher Annie Adamson shares with Jenna Lynne Roberts about some of the wisdom and benefits that she has gleaned from over 30,000 hours of teaching yoga.
What is Therapeutic Yoga?
There are a lot of approaches to therapeutic yoga all across the board. With the therapeutics that I do, we’re always looking at the body individually and holistically. When you take a group class, we’re teaching general sequences for every body in there. When you get into a therapeutic yoga session, you have someone like me with a trained eye to see your body habits. You get someone able to use techniques like muscle testing, passive and active range of motion, or watch you walking to see the natural body habits that you have. Those usually play into your injuries. You get a personal assessment, which you don’t get in a group class.
In therapeutic yoga, no two sessions ever look the same because your body is always different. We’re able to be in the moment and assess the situation as it is.
How did you come to find Yoga Therapeutics?
I started out teaching yoga to private clients. I was working with people who had back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain… they either couldn’t or didn’t want to come to a group class. We did stabilizing work and very simple sequences. Then I started studying the world of anatomy and Anusara Yoga, which had a lot of training in yoga therapeutics and biomechanics. I went through my certification for about 8 years and did as much training as there was offered on yoga therapeutics and on adjustments and manual work.
Over the last 10 years, my best research has been with my clients. I know now what is really supportive for somebody that has a lower lumbar strain or someone who had a slap tear in the shoulder.
Who are some influences in the field of Yoga Therapy?
I started studying a lot with Doug Keller. His work is specifically in yoga therapeutics, and he is my biggest influence as a teacher. Leslie Kaminoff has also been very influential in my work, especially with the breath. Tom Myers, of Anatomy Trains, I read a lot of his work. I get a lot of perspective from friends who are in Chinese Medicine, or Chiropractors, and I read up on Physical Therapy or Sports Medicine. I try to get a lot of diversity in my research and apply that to the therapeutic yoga method, which is holistic.
What do you feel is a good Therapeutic Yoga method that helps most people?
Anytime that I see a therapeutic yoga client, we do a body reading, muscle testing, look at posture, and then we do at least 20 minutes with the breath. We look at what your body is doing, how you’re holding your breath, what is the mechanism of your breathing, and oftentimes we find some harmful habits. People might be hyper contracted in their neck or breathing primarily with their belly.
One of the most important things with breath is that the whole rib cage is is freed up for movement. It’s not a style of breath, but rather a way to be more spacious with your breath. How can you be more aware and take breaths with your whole rib cage, or, as Tom Myers calls it, your rib “basket”.
In my opinion a lot of neck and back and should pain stems from people holding their breath and being really tight. The breathe is fundamental. It is our center. The diaphragm is a huge muscle, so we strengthen it and focus its efficiency all the others tend to harmonize more easily.
Leslie Kaminoff has been a big influence for me with the breath. He’s actually coming up to be a part of a 300-hour teacher training. It’s been transformational working with him as my breath teacher.
Do you offer trainings in Yoga Therapy?
We always offer 20 hours of yoga therapeutics in our 200-hour teacher trainings. In the 300-hour we’re going to have 100 hours of yoga therapeutics. One of my biggest intentions in training teachers is that they leave knowing how to help people who have injuries with a good tool set beyond basic modifications.
How can Yoga Therapeutics help someone with chronic pain?
I have clients who have stenosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and they can barely move. To ask them to get up and down or do poses that require a lot of muscle engagement is difficult. A lot of the work that I do is an Iyengar method of restorative yoga with a lot of props. There’s no hanging out in the joints. We’ll use 12 blocks if we need to, a bolsters, straps, whatever we need to use in order to get the bones supported. We take the shape using props and then allow tight muscles release.
If someone has chronic pain, such as chronic scoliosis, one side of the back will be overly tight, and the other side will be slack. Using the props so the overly tight side of the back can release, while the slack side has something to rest into.
How can regular yoga practitioners benefit from Therapeutic Yoga?
Some people come in who are hyper mobile and they just keep getting hurt in yoga. I’d like to say that we can escape from the injuries in yoga, but yoga actually can actually create injuries too. I think more often than not, regular asana practitioners get hurt because they’re not strong. Actually a lot of what I do with yoga therapeutics is in the world of strength training. Often, in the first few sessions, nobody’s stretching anything; only breathing, aligning, and strengthening.
This is because they often go to stretch muscles that are already hyper mobile, and they’re not getting into areas that are chronically tight. We find space via the breath, and little movements of the spinal curve and through joint actions we create space. When they are able to stabilize and the muscles are strong, then we can begin stretching with much greater efficiency.
What’s the difference between Yoga Therapy and Physical Therapy?
I get a lot of people who go to physical therapy because their insurance will pay for it, and they come out with more pain. In physical therapy, they tend to only adjust the ankle, for instance. If they’re working with the ankle, they don’t adjust what’s happening in the knee. They’ll give you exercises to stabilize your ankle, and when you’re doing this, you’re misaligning your knee.
So, I go over my client’s physical therapist’s sequence of 10 things to do to make sure they’re aligned their whole body. That’s where physical therapy and yoga therapy are different. I am going to address not just the ankle, but the whole body, the breathe, and the entire being.
I know you’re very busy, what categories of yoga therapy clients are you currently accepting?
There are a lot of great yoga teachers in Portland who can teach modifications. That’s not what I do anymore. I’m booked out 6 – 8 weeks, and I’m generally not taking new clients.
I do take people with back pain, especially who are considering surgery and are not sure about their decision.
I will take new clients who everybody has turned away. I’m getting the people who are trying to get off medicine and seeing a chiropractor and getting acupuncture or seeing a physical therapist doesn’t help them. They have to see me pretty regularly, normally, a few times a week at first.
I will take post-partum women. Women in post-partum often get back into exercise too quickly. Having some really livable and valuable ways to keep your body safe after you have a baby can help so much.
Being a mother of two, I also work with kids who have pain. My teenager is a gymnast and her body hurts. I am doing work with her diaphragm and with trigger point and range of motion. Many teens are in pain and I make special cases for kids.
I also have references for teachers who want to work with new students.
What do you feel that each client takes away from Yoga Therapeutics?
What I am teaching people is that they are in charge of their body, and they know more about their bodies than I know. I have a trained eye, but I am teaching them not to depend on me. I am teaching them to listen to their own awareness to participate and even guide their own heaing. I am educating my clients, so when they step out of a 10-part series with me, they understand their body more and feel inspired and more in charge. Sometimes they come from doctors and feel disempowered. I am there to advocate for their success.
Annie will be offering a 10-week strength training series for $40, or only $5/course starting June 5th. You can also join her regular classes by seeing the schedule HERE