As part of my advanced yoga teacher training, I've been working with Gary Kraftsow and reading his book Yoga for Wellness: Healing with the Timeless Teachings of Viniyoga. Kraftsow trained for many years with yoga master T.K.V. Desikachar, son of Sri T. Krishnamacharya, in India. Their approach encourages teachers to focus on the function of each pose rather than on some idealized form and to use breath as the medium for movement instead of randomly linking poses together in a flow that may not serve the body.
In other words, yoga should be adaptable, not prescriptive. Kraftsow stresses that yoga is a living, organic experience that must adjust to the changing needs of aging adults. In this way, teachers can help students understand and eliminate dysfunctional movement patterns that can lead to injury and illness. Adaptations can include varying the breath patterns, the form of the posture, the way in and out of the posture, the speed of the movement, and the range of motion.
"It is not correct to assume that the goal in any asana (the arrangement of movement is a specified sequence) is to move as far into the posture as possible; and sometimes the ability to move fully into a particular posture may even interfere with the ability to truly benefit from it," Kraftsow writes.
The time of day or the season of the year, the activities that precede and follow the practice, the kind of jobs we perform, and our emotional and physical health can all affect the way we practice yoga.
"One morning we may wake up with a stiff neck and another with a pain in our lower back; one afternoon we may have low energy but want to go out for the evening; or after a celebration, we come home with an upset stomach," her writes. "Therefore, by adapting the practice, we are able to work on specific conditions as they arise."
Additionally, Kraftsow shares that "one of the most important reasons to adapt our practice is to keep it from becoming mechanical. Our bodies become habituated by any kind of repetitive activity to move in particular patterns, until we can successfully perform these patterns with little or no conscious attention. We are much more likely to give our full attention to something that is new. Therefore, changing the practice keeps it alive, awakens new interest, keeps familiarity from leading to inattention, and helps us stay present throughout the process.
Kraftsow's beliefs contradict much yoga instruction in the U.S., with its emphasis on power, added heat, and advanced postures. However, Kraftsow's beliefs are consistent with the approach that we take at Holly's Pilates Village. That is, we welcome bodies in all shapes and conditions, and we truly believe that everyone can find healing through precise and knowledgeable instruction, whether in yoga or Pilates. Our classes are never one-size-fits-all. We look to the body and adapt to it.
Kraftsow's book title is instructive. Yoga for wellness is timeless and available for all. Come experience the difference at Holly's Pilates Village.
Book: Yoga for Wellness: Healing with the Timeless Teachings of Viniyoga, October 1, 1999 by Gary Kraftsow. Penguin Books paperback: 352 pages ISBN-13: 978-0140195699