Yoga Therapy sounds like something you might do on a couch. In truth it is much less expensive and potentially more enlightening. I had to try it myself. Here’s why: The other day in yoga class, I got to practice next to my friend, Adam. We soared through a bunch of fun arm balances and laughed together about “being that age” where we can only hope to be about 80{2bd103ee3922297dd26721aa2b4723f52b7c1e46e10078a5bb1f7638d0cbcf8c} pain-free in our yoga practice (and in our lives off the mat).
A recent hamstring pull made me think about striving for a higher percentage, so I signed up for an hour-long yoga therapy session with physical therapist, Alison Aiken.
She asked me some preliminary questions about my health history and my practice, then we hit the mat. “Show me the poses that aggravate your hamstring.” She was enthusiastic, I think she even clapped as I ran through Adho Mukha Svanasana, Uttanasana, Paschimottanasana, Trikonasana, etc. As I held each pose, she gave me instructions for variations (“They are not modifications,” Alison is getting away from that word. “You are doing it. You are not doing it wrong.”) that took the ouch right out of my hamstring. I also found some relief in Utkatasana – who knew chair pose could be so comforting?
Here are some of the pain-reducing variations I learned:
Uttanasana – Bend the knees about 3 degrees, keep the spine neutral (in other words, don’t round the spine, as this will exacerbate my sciatica, another common ailment associated with “being that age.”)
Paschimottanasana – Keep both feet “super active” and flexed. Make sure you are properly warmed up before you even attempt forward fold. It is a very deep stretch.
Parsvottanasana – To facilitate this one, Alison gave me two blocks at their highest height. Outer spiral the front thigh, micro bend the front knee. Keep the spine neutral.
Trikonasana – Only go down to hand on the shin, rather than all the way on the floor. Outer spiral the front thigh, micro bend the front knee. Micro-bend the front knee.  (These are all terrific cues I learned in my Anusara practice and overlook sometimes, not any more, thank you, Alison!)
For you anatomy nerds, I pulled my medial hamstring at the insertion, my right hamstring is looser than my left, my right quad is tighter than my left, thus exacerbating my pelvic instability, the bane of the 40+ US population.
Alison emphasized quality over quantity. And suggested I take my postures all the way to the end range. She gave an excellent lawn-mowing analogy. If you cut corners every time you mow the lawn, you’ll eventually end up with so much overgrown grass, you wont have any lawn left to mow. Our muscles are like the edges of that lawn. If you don’t take them to their edge occasionally, you’ll lose that edge.
The great part of the yoga therapy experience, besides Alison depth of knowledge and general awesomeness, is that I walked away from the session with a proactive yoga sequence tailored to my particular needs. Here it is:
Cat-Cow – to “tap into the lumbo-pelvic rhythm” and develop more awareness of the pelvis
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog) – with feet wider apart and 3+ degrees of bend in both knees
Step forward to Uttanasana – Neutral spine (in other words, keep the natural curve in the lumbar spine), bent knees
Down to Lunge – I can do any variation I want to here
Bhujangasana (Cobra) / Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Up Dog)
Trikonasana OR Parsvottanasana (Pyramid)
Finish with Setu Bandha (Bridge) push ups with heels up on a ball, pushing downward, feet “super active”
This is my new basic sequence. She also gave me some core work to throw in at appropriate places to spice things up:
Down Dog to Forearm Plank – back and forth
One-legged Plank
Leg lifts – one leg at a time, then both if I can keep my neck out of the equation
The side benefit of this yoga therapy deal is that now I have a daily practice. I have to do it, because Alison said so. It’s working!
It could work for you, too. If you practice yoga, it’s a great idea to practice in front of a physical therapist. She’ll be able to note the little imbalances that can turn into big problems in the long-run. You’ll be empowered to stop those niggling shoulder pains in Side Plank or Chataranga before they knock you off your mat.

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