For the past several years, every Friday morning at 9:30am you can find me at YogaSole in Windsor Terrace teaching a class called Yoga Tune Up® Pain Relief.
This class is designed to welcome any kind of pain the student might be in – physical, energetic, emotional, existential… all types of pain are welcome!
I begin class by taking out a notebook and going around, person by person, inviting them to share what’s going on in their body/life/mind that is causing discomfort. I usually wind up with a pretty colorful list of ailments ranging from “my knee hurts” to “I’m feeling so afraid” to “I’ve lost my will to live”.
Here is a sample list from a class I taught not long ago ago:
Student 1 – Seeking calm, stomach issues, office work anxiety
Student 2 – Bunion pain and thyroid problems
Student 3 – Tension in feet, legs, thighs and torso – need more flexibility in my whole body!
Student 4 – Temple tension, overstretched lateral rotators in hips, anxiety in upper back, nervous
Student 5 – Left shoulder into neck pain, tensor fasciae latae on left side pain, left knee pain
Student 6 – “Calibration” is off, glutes, IT band, and hips feel tight
Student 7 – School teacher stress, right buttock pain, piriformis pain, left foot “wonky”
Student 8 – Bass player causing whole left side of body to be sore, especially forearm
Student 9 – Left scapula pain, neck pain, desire to “escape”
This might sound like a rather depressing start to a class. But this is one of my favorite classes that I teach because there’s something about the collective permission to be in pain, and to speak it out loud, that sets everyone at ease right away.
There is no fake feeling “fine” necessary. Just by letting down the “fine” facade people tend to feel better immediately.
I then improvise the teaching of the class based on the list.
Anyway, the point of this intro is to say that I’m very excited about the idea of “pain relief” so when one of my regular students named Sara lent me a newly released book called Yoga for Pain Relief: A New Approach to an Ancient Practice by Lee Albert, NMT I was super intrigued!
What is “Yoga for Pain Relief” Really About?
This is a very practical book that emphasizes using yoga poses to return the body to “homeostasis” (balance). Albert is the creator of Integrated Positional Therapy (IPT) and has been teaching yoga for 25 years.
In the book, Albert focuses on the main physical imbalances in our modern world being caused by typical seated posture – at desks, in cars, etc.
Albert emphasizes that this seated position over-stretches the entire back-body (except the calves), and shortens/tightens the whole front body. So yoga poses should be used to specifically address these imbalances, and not exacerbate them.
As such, Albert warns against approaching the practice from the desire to achieve grand shapes – especially the ones that might further your imbalances!
“Remember that asana practice should not be about practicing poses. It should be about selecting the poses that will bring the body back into balance. The glory is not in achieving a particular pose. The glory is in a balanced, pain-free body.” (45)
He asks the practitioner to truly examine why they are practicing each pose with the following questions…
- Which muscles did I stretch today? Why?
- Which muscles did I strengthen today? Why?
- Which muscles did I neglect today? Why?
- Why did I choose a particular pose?
- Are the poses I selected the correct ones for my current imbalance? (51)
Although approaching practicing yoga in this way is not actually new, it’s a different way of practicing than what we often do in many group classes. Albert’s way of approaching the practice is nowadays considered yoga therapy.
Yoga therapy is essentially about treating specific issues with yoga, instead of just doing a broad overall mind/body practice that is not tailored to the practitioner’s unique imbalances.
A Great Common Sense Book
In addition to the earlier portion on asana (poses), there are a couple really nice chapters on Breath and Meditation at the end. Albert stuffs these chapters with science while also pointing to ancient wisdom.
Most of the ideas in this book were not new to me. Pretty much every single one of the ideas and practices in the book are embedded within the Yoga Tune Up® style of yoga therapy that I have been teaching for years. (Plus YTU goes into much greater detail on how to see and address many more varied imbalances.) But I still really liked Albert’s message!
The thing that’s great about this book is it’s SO common sense. It uses language and visuals that are really easy to follow if you are Joe/Jane off the street.
This book is also a great inroad for less educated yoga instructors who want to think critically about how to better serve the bodies that walk into the studios where they teach.
Overall, I’d give Lee Albert a big old high five, and two thumbs up.
You should check it out if you’re curious… there is always something new to learn, or be reminded of when we pick up a book : )
*I’m @arielkiley on Instagram