Interdisciplinary Teaching: the rewards of sharing my learning and 'my' Yoga with movement professionals
I have been a follower of Thomas Myers and his theories for many years, but saying that I could also say that I didn’t even know about Thomas Myers when I started doing this job and I intuitively found my way to this material. It wasn’t until I started taking different courses that I came into contact with his theories and his work really resonated with me. This is because, outside of the standard and traditional approaches to Yoga and Pilates I felt there was something more to explore and so it became my quest to know more and more about how people move, at what level they move, what the impact it has on their body when they move in a particular way, what the movement does to them or why we should move in certain places by doing certain actions rather than others, how we should lift, carry, pick things up.
This was long the trend started moving towards this approach, long before these questions and considerations became common in the movement industry. Now saying I am a pioneer is probably wrong because although I was practising these things, instead of writing books I was doing as I do now; teaching about 40-50 hours a week, helping people with any injuries, any emotional issues, any level of disease and these experiences have been my best teachers. I have learned more from my teaching than I could ever have learned from attending courses or reading books. That is not to say that these are not invaluable means of learning but rather that I learned primarily from hands-on practice and the reading and the courses I have undertaken have enriched this practical knowledge. This is a good example of theory in action, sometimes we read and engage with so many theories and we get so many qualifications and yet when we are faced with the reality of having to treat and train someone we are scared, we don’t know what to do, how to act. So I have been acting, not in the sense of being an actress obviously, but I have been moving and teaching and embracing and experimenting and studying and getting more qualifications just to take myself and my knowledge one step further and then to use what I learn to enrich my own way of connecting to people, my own way of bringing them to a level of health and connection, and at times the outcomes of this is like a miracle happening.
There has been much talk over the last 5 to 10 years of taking Yoga into the NHS and helping people through prevention rather than cure. I have been a part of that process, most particularly in creating the Inspirer program with the aim of getting Yoga into schools through the Inspirer program because I think the real prevention should start early, with kids. I’m not saying that an adult shouldn’t find themselves through Yoga and use Yoga as a preventative strategy but I think by the time we reach adulthood we already have set expectations, set judgements, we lack belief, we have confidence issues, bigger and deeper injuries, more scar tissue, tighter fascia and so on, so the earlier we start the more successful preventative strategies would be.
So it is my belief that to speed up this journey we should really educate the professionals already out there, we should teach the teachers but we should also work with the body and movement professionals. When injured we can go to see a GP but doctors are not usually masters of movement, the doctors I train are the first to say that this is not their specialisation, to say that whilst they remember the muscles they studied for exams they have no practical application for this knowledge or sometimes they have a specialisation in the heart or paediatrics which is not directly linked to movement and movement-related injuries. These are the observations I get directly from incredibly talented professionals with an enormous amount of knowledge, and it is through working closely with them and, when I am lucky enough to be training them, that I have confirmed my belief that a more integrative approach is required.
What I’ve noticed over the last 10 years has been a growing approach to interdisciplinary movement work. First with Pilates, there’s been a big growth in the number of physiotherapists and some osteopaths interested in becoming Pilates teachers. Their interest stemmed largely from the realisation that there is a great need to help people to learn how to build up their core and gradually what I have seen is how these body-based professions and how these professionals like physiotherapists and body practitioners have developed a true sense of knowledge of how to move themselves and have been looking for ways to help others to move. And when you spend time with these movement professionals in a learning environment they are full of incredible potential, incredible knowledge and that they have so much willingness to really help other people. But sadly you also realise how incapable they feel, they are very insightful but despite this it is not always in the most helpful way for the movement practices they are facing. I’ve often been told that there is a sense that despite their years of training they were not given enough instruments to adequately address movement practice in the people they see.
I’ve spoken to many physiotherapists and asked them what the situation is like in the NHS, how they feel as practitioners, whether they are given enough possibility and enough time to put their knowledge into action and the feedback has been very enlightening. They sometimes are only given 25 minutes to help someone who has been waiting for up to 6 months for their appointment! So they face a situation where they have to give help to someone who may be desperate with chronic pain and they have to attempt to find a ‘quick’ solution due to time constraints and limited resources. So as a result there is no time allocated to educate their patients; to teach them how to do preventative work, to teach them body awareness or even to adequately teach them the movement exercises they suggest. Given that the people referred on the NHS or through Medical Insurance are usually given between 4 and 6 sessions this means that these practitioners only have 2 or 3 hours in total to basically create a connection with this person, to offer manipulation or ultrasound or x-ray and then they just have time to get some exercises from their physio tool box and there is not much time left for them to describe what needs to be done.
In my work I have often found that I am treating the same patients as physiotherapists and there is a strange scenario that comes up when I am teaching to what I call students and they call patients, and how these students experience the different approaches. The students experience essentially the same movements very differently in the two treatment contexts. For example when I am teaching a pelvic tilt, or pelvic floor exercises or movements to address some shoulder/rotator cuff/frozen shoulder issue, I teach the same exercises that the physios give (the standard physio tools) but with my method the students are not experiencing any pain. This is interesting because whilst doing the same exercises with the physio or copying the pictures that the physio gave them they experienced pain but did not when working with me. This was an eye opener for me because the exercises are great so I had to ask myself what is different, what is missing? And the answer is that what the physio was not in a position to give was a time; time to explain and be specific about the exercises, time to explain the embodiment of the exercises. So many times I have received phone calls directly from the physios themselves asking what I was doing so that the clients weren’t experiencing pain when doing the exercises with me. I always say that there isn’t anything magical in what I’m doing, I’m just expanding and exploring all the potential of that particular body, all the resources of that body, the resources of that person and teaching them how to access this potential and work with what they have available.
The main difference is in approach, because although theses students have a specific problem they usually also have a whole lot of other related issues coming up as a result of having that problem for 6 or 8 months. What needs to be recognised is that there is so much potential in that person and that is what I bring out; I work to make them feel their body as fast as I can for them to realise the limitations the injury creates in their body and the effects of this on the body as a whole. I identify what works well and then I can help the surrounding areas which are working well to support the area that doesn’t actually work so well. This is a simplistic way to describe what I do with my students, but essentially I aim to teach them to use the resources that are working and the alignment that is working and see what these parts can do to help the parts that are not in alignment or are not working well. And once you get the body into that sort of magical balance where things are actually feeling together and connected then there is so much more potential and the journey towards health is so much faster, and it is possible to heal what is not working so much quicker. So that’s the kind of scenario that I was describing to my physiotherapist friends. There is plenty of research to show that the energy in the body is not just airy-fairy and self-created, so I am not a witch and I don’t have any magic powers, I focus on moving the energy of our bodies and trying to make the energy of the body work better as a whole system. As I have such a broad variety of students I have the advantage of seeing a wide variety of postures, body positions, mis/alignments and any level of pain or scoliosis so I get to really understand how things are working and how things are experienced in the body. If you know me a little bit you’ll know that I’m pretty strong-minded but I’m also very humble in relation to learning, experiencing new things, and developing and embracing new ideas. I have always liked to read a lot, to learn a lot and I take this learning and work with this in conjunction to my experiential learning and create individualised approaches which work for me and my students.
So that’s the history of how I came to the way of thinking and working in relation to physiotherapy and related disciplines. Then over the last 5 years I have had the pleasure of having a few body practitioners on the Yoga Teacher Training which has been a very enriching experience. The physiotherapists who have joined the Teacher Training and have proved to be very insightful and so easy to work with, and overall I would say that those that come to the Teacher Training are looking for ways to expand their motor sense and understand how what they teach feels in an embodied way. So they are already so open to new ideas, they are motivated and accepting, and it an absolute pleasure to share knowledge. I am beyond honoured to have physiotherapists, osteopaths and GPs coming to the Teacher Training, especially as the initial Teacher Training is at a fairly basic level for those already trained in bodies and movement. On the Teacher Training they will meet and work together with a general population who come from very different professions and lives and who all contribute in their unique way but I’ve found the movement professionals to be open to working with anybody and willing to learn and pick up more and more. The majority of the time they come and sign up to the basic level course and within a few months they change their registration from the shorter Yoga Alliance Teacher Training to the longer, more in-depth British Wheel of Yoga Teacher Training course.
The feedback I get is that they find the learning fascinating and insightful, because they don’t see it or learn it out of a book but rather because they feel it. After 5 or 6 months they tell me that they’re in trouble because it’s taking their work within the NHS in a totally new direction which creates friction because they are describing movement rather than just massaging, manipulating and giving the patients photocopied exercises to do. As a result I feel like I’m supporting a bigger group than just the teachers I teach. What I love about being a teacher to teachers is that what happens in my small home studio where I’m training 15 students expands to feel like my knowledge and my experience I’ve developed over so many years gets to be shared, enjoyed, spread to so many other people and this is particularly pronounced with the physios as they have such a broad reach and influence, so there are so many more people who are helped and hopefully healed. And as a result many people are made aware of what is happening in themselves, and in their bodies, and that is really fantastic! So it is my ultimate wish to encourage more physios and body/movement professionals to embrace a deeper learning of what movement through Yoga is.