PYT Graduate Reports on PYT Program and Its Impact
by Teresa Donahue PTA, PYT
Ginger Garner presented Complimentary & Alternative Medicine in Practice: Using Evidence Based Yoga to Evaluate the Athlete at the 2010 National Athletic Trainers' Association Consortium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Zeal to learn and teach prompted me to quickly answer Yes! in response to the invitation to assist Ginger at the 62nd NATA Consortium in Philadelphia.
I have studied with Ginger for nearly four years in the method of Professional Yoga Therapy. I have worked as a Physical therapist Assistant for 13 years. I have been teaching Yoga for 6 years. Gleefully, I press send. My reply is now in cyberspace. No turning back. Then fear creeps in.
I consider myself in the equation of the Athlete, the Certified Athletic Trainer and the Yoga Therapist. Maybe I should have said “No.” My typical ventilator patient simply has the goal of being able to breathe again and walk all the way to the bathroom. My work is subtle. My patients are very delicate. What gives me the right to teach an ATC anything? What do I know about Athletic Training? Maybe someone else would be better qualified.
The Athlete; this is a populous I rarely work with. So, I conjure up my own idea of what an athlete is. I close my eyes and envision bulging shoulders, chiseled abdominals, shapely thighs and massive calves. I see the athletes; eyes ablaze, fixed on a mission and strategy to win. The athlete is perhaps a runner, a biker, a swimmer, a football player, or weight lifter. I imagine the athlete pounding through a power workout, drenching towels with sweat. The athlete is someone proficient in a demanding sport and driven to meet the expectations of a society which greatly values athletic endeavors.
The Certified Athletic Trainer; this is a college I rarely work with. So, I conjure up my own idea of the duties of the ATC. I close my eyes and envision the ATC being very athletic as well. I picture the ATC holding a clipboard, contemplating ways to splint, tape, ice and ACE wrap the athletes’ way back on the field. Qualified by varying degrees of education standards, the ATC faces the challenge of balancing aggressive training, injury prevention and injury recovery. The ATC is obligated to fine tune the athletes’ performance and navigate the way to success. Athletic success is determined by the outcome of competition. The athlete must possess a competitive edge in order to succeed at their chosen sport. Although competition often raises the bar and elevates any being to meet their full potential, it may also excite the ego and give rise to aggression and obsession. Results on the ultimate scoreboard of a game or the scoreboard of Life have the potential to tease out all sorts of injuries and behaviors. However, society and nature would implode without competition. Humans have the honor and privilege to carry out and balance this aspect of nature in the way of sports. The athlete and the ATC play a very important role in maintaining this part of our social structure.
The Professional Yoga Therapist...this is a recognition I am very familiar with. The Yoga therapist is a licensed, practicing health care professional with extensive study and practice of Yoga and Yoga Therapy. Yoga is a non-competitive, non-violent pursuit with intention on dissolving the ego. Yoga Therapy is subtle and holistic in nature. One who studies and practices Yoga Therapy is likely to embody patience and compassion. The Yoga Therapist is also one who believes in the spiritual nature of healing and interaction with the universe. Many people would imagine us sitting cross legged, chanting the ancient language with incense and a medicine bottle by our side.
So, how did we manage to bring together the Athlete, the ATC and the Yogi? Let’s begin with precept number 1.
The PYT (Professional Yoga Therapy) method does not classify people this way. PYT is based on The Pentagon of Wellness. The Pentagon of Wellness treatment method involves consideration of the Doshic Evaluative Model and the 5 facets of the Pentagon of Wellness Conceptual Model. The dosha (individual constitution, cosmic nature or biological temperament) is determined first. The driving force of the determined dosha is the interplay of the three guna’s (three states of mind.)
The dosha may be kapha (earth and water), pitta (fire), or vata (air and ether). The dosha may also be a mix of two or all three. The guna may be tamasic (inertia, darkness and heaviness), rajasic (activity, motion and passion) or sattvic (purity, radiating and illuminating). Regardless of being labeled an Athlete, ATC or a Yogi, we are all made of the same matter. We are all influenced and shaped according to the forces or lack thereof on the elements of our constitution. Yoga Therapy treatments are derived from the understanding that like increases like. The goal is to decrease the excess element by adding the opposite while we strive for a sattvic state of mind.
Even if a student doesn’t understand (in a 2 hour lecture) what a dosha or a guna is, we can fall back on a classic group of characters. These characters are brought to life in the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne.
An example of a well balanced individual would be Pooh. Pooh exhibits a kapha dosha with a sattvic guna. Pooh is very grounded, loyal and pure in thought. Eeyore exhibits a kapha dosha with a tamasic guna. Eeyore is excessively grounded, lethargic and negative in thought. Rabbit leans toward pitta dosha with rajasic influence. Piglet may be Pitta with Tamasic influence. Tigger is a Pitta/Vata with rajasic influence. Owl would be Vata with rajasic influence. Whether you are a runner, a jumper, a Pooh or a Piglet, you are an individual with a perfect inner nature. Whether you are an ATC, a MD or a PYT, the ground level of evaluation and treatment would be from the Pentagon of wellness. This means we work from the inside out, not the outside in. The goal is not to change the inner nature, but to restore the inner nature to its’ truest, and purest form. This would also apply to the nature of our profession. The use of Yoga as medicine is intended to compliment the area of medicine in which we are licensed and educated.
The PYT method strives to integrate Eastern and Western rehabilitative and evaluative practices. The wonderful thing about Tigger’s, are Tigger’s are wonderful things!” We don’t want to turn Tigger into Pooh. We just want to remind him that he is not a swimmer, before he drowns himself swimming with Roo. When Tigger tries to prove he is the best tree climber of any climbers in the land, he only ends up falling and taking out everyone in his path. We can treat the injury he sustains from the fall, but that would just be a band-aid on the influences and imbalance that lead to the fall in the first place. This treatment approach will only leave Tigger open to hurting himself again. He may even live a shorter life. Imagine what a better Tigger he would be if he would slow down, become more grounded and practice breathing techniques before he bounces himself into trouble.
Precept number 1 now takes into consideration the Pentagon of Wellness Conceptual Model. The Pentagon of Wellness Conceptual Model refers to the five layers that surround the core of our being, or our true self. The PYT method works to make each layer more efficient, to put each layer into motion, to take care of and nurture each sheath. The treatment plan will grow from this concept as we consider the needs of each layer according to the already determined dosha. Whether we are treating Tigger or Eeyore, the sheaths are always the same. Balance is achieved when each layer is properly addressed.
Address the physical body (sheath) with healthy, organic recommendations and proper exercise or asana prescription. Consider the effect of certain textures and spices on the determined dosha. What is nourishing for one, may be poison to another. Keep in mind that like increases like. Tigger will not benefit from fiery triangle poses. He should also avoid spicy food and aromatherapy with elements of heat. These ingredients will only fuel the fire. Tigger would actually benefit from a roll in the mud with Piglet and a refreshing bowl of peppermint ice-cream.
Address the energetic body (sheath) with breath control, which is covered in precept number 4. Piglet would not always be so nervous and run away squealing if he would practice better breath control. He might even find his inner strength through TATD (transversus abdominis assisted thoraco-diaphragmatic) breath. Piglet would surely be more relaxed if he would practice deep diaphragmatic breathing, instead of being so easily influenced. This tendency often leads him into fear provoking situations. These situations keep him in a state of heightened sympathetic autonomic nervous system activity. The heightened sympathetic activity leads to a myriad of diseases. (Imagine the improved mental alertness and improved spinal alignment that Eeyore would develop with TATD breath.)
Address the emotional and psychological body (sheath) with relaxation and meditation techniques. Just picture Rabbit slowing down, having a massage and learning to practice the yamas and niyamas (do’s and don’ts of Yoga). Rabbit would be a much better Rabbit if he learned to practice this in addition to the other 8 limbs of Yoga (moral restraints, moral commitments, physical Yoga postures, breath, liberation, concentration, meditation, unity.) Rabbit would have never placed himself in dangerous situations, had he not attempted to run Kanga and Roo out of town for being different, or Tigger into the deep forest for being so bouncy.
Address the intellectual body (sheath) with deeper internal reflection. Rabbit is clever, but has poor understanding and lacks the willingness to avoid being judgmental and reactive. Rabbit should instead, practice acceptance and true knowledge. Owl likes to obtain knowledge for the sake of knowledge and self promotion. Both would benefit from seeking understanding and studying more meaningful information that may be used for the greater good. Owl likes to read the encyclopedia, but when others come to him seeking knowledge- like how to spell Tuesday and why doesn’t Thirdsday come after Twosday- he has nothing to offer. The community would be better served by Owl if he would spend more time reading the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and contemplating Samkhya Philosophy.
Address the bliss body (sheath) through prayer and meditation, without attachment to personal gains. Practice prayer and meditation in order to be the best one can be for the sake of others, for the sake of dharma or according to the will of the Devine. My favorite quote: “My life is my gift from God, what I do with it is my gift back to him.” leaves a welcome impression on my mind and a bumper guard on my intended path.
Pooh decided to bring Eeyore a jar of honey for his birthday. On his way over, Pooh “accidently” ate all the honey. Piglet wanted to be the first to deliver his present. In his race to be the first to arrive, he tripped over a hole in the ground. The bright, shiny balloon intended for Eeyore burst into pieces. Even in giving, Pooh and Piglet were a little selfish and ego driven. Eeyore was still very thankful that he had a jar to place the balloon fragments in. Consider the outcome if Pooh and Piglet had a more sound bliss body in their approach to Eeyors’ birthday occasion.
Eeyore would best demonstrate precept number 7 and 11. Now that we have evaluated and developed a plan for Eeyore he is ready for the lab portion of the presentation. Eeyore has already realized his improved posture with TATD breath. He has also realized how his mood affects his posture as well as how his posture affects his mood. We are going to put that into motion beginning with precept number 7.
Precept number 7 involves lumbopelvic stabilization and the concept of stability before mobility. Eeyore reluctantly takes a supine position and settles in with deep diaphragmatic breathing. He is then instructed to practice arm floats while maintaining spinal neutral with TATD breath and lumbopelvic stability. Scapulohumeral rhythm is assessed while he performs arm floats. He performs very well with this and is ready to slowly transition to his favorite 4 point position. Eeyore resumes pelvic stability and TATD breath then finds spinal neutral.
Eeyore is now introduced to precept number 11 which involves support and brings our focus to scapular stabilization with use of arm spirals. Eeyore is also instructed to practice just a slight smile in 4 point position. Everything falls into place. He contemplates this position and realizes he never would have been bounced into the river by Tigger if he had this knowledge prior to that fateful day. Eeyore is ready to move into downward dog prep, then downward facing dog, plank and reverse plank. He is then amazed that with proper breath, stability and form, he can actually perform dolphin dive.
Eeyore is ready for savasana (the final posture of every Yoga practice). He is instructed into a supported supine position. He is guided to relax every part of his body. While the body is at rest, the mind is awake and alert. This allows him a few moments of clarity and peace. The mental clutter that came with him to the mat is no longer present. He has moved into a place of stillness.
Once Eeyors’ Yoga Therapy evaluation and treatment are over, he feels like a new Donkey. Eeyore is ready to begin practicing this new knowledge. He is also motivated to embrace lifestyle changes that will make his life more joyful, more healthy and more fulfilling. He makes his first stop at a bookstore and purchases Light on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar and Hatha Yoga Illustrated by Martin Kirk and Brooke Boon. This book selection will help him to further investigate and gain better understanding of the 8 limbs of Yoga. Eeyore is pleased. He draws a Lotus flower in the sand and reflects on his desire to continue unfolding and reaching his full potential. Safe to say, all who live in Pooh Corner will benefit from the new Eeyore and will be inspired to follow his example.
I now realize that I fit perfectly into the equation. Although I am not an Athletic Trainer, the PYT method (built on the ancient principles of Yoga and Ayurveda) has given me an amazing knowledge base to be able to work with any population of people. We often know we have something amazing at our finger tips, yet are not able to truly understand until we put it to the test. Presenting the principles of PYT to ATC’s was way out of my comfort zone. This provided an excellent opportunity for expansion of my boundaries. Fear nearly prevented me from answering the call to participate and relish in my zeal to learn and teach.
Time, as well as opportunity for growth and understanding, passes so quickly. My reflections on Pooh have spanned the course of 19 years. The inspirations from Winnie-The-Pooh are credited to a book given to me by my sister, Dr. Elizabeth Caspian. The title of the book is The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff. (Perhaps I should write the “Eeyorveda” of Pooh.) Inside the cover of the yellowed pages is the date 3/15/91. Under the date, a prayer from my sister reads, “May you find (the way).” On the next page, my then brother-in-law, Dr. Arthur J. Strauss, ends a poem with the question “Is there a reason that someday we all shall see, or is being grateful the eternal key?” I am “grateful” to have arrived at a point in my life where I am able to practice living and to carry out my work as a Healthcare Professional in “the way” of Yoga and PYT.
Teresa Donahue PTA, PYT has been practicing and studying Yoga since 2006 and been working in the field of Physical Therapy since 1995. These two sciences so naturally collided and propelled her interest and extensive study and practice into the realm of Professional Yoga Therapy. Her very first Yoga class brought to light the undeniable merging of her work and new found love for Yoga. Her heart began to open in ways she did not think were possible. With no option but to move forward she has embraced this opportunity to give and receive the level of compassion, healing and understanding she had always longed for by becoming a Professional Yoga Therapist. Since graduating from Professional Yoga Therapy, she has joined the PYT staff as Lab Assistant and looks forward to sharing the journey with future PYT students. Teresa has also become very involved in teaching Yoga at the Morton Plant Hospital based Cheek- Powell Wellness Center in Clearwater, Florida. Teresa also teaches free Yoga classes for employees of the Morton Plant Hospital system through the grant funded SMILE (Stress Management Initiative Life Enhancement) Yoga program developed by Faith Allen- coordinator of Faith Community Nursing.
Teresa has the opportunity to work as a Physical Therapist Assistant for Baycare Alliant Long Term Acute Care Hospital’s ventilator unit. Through her work on the ventilator unit she is able to integrate the many aspects of Yoga Therapy. Yoga Therapy serves as a crucial tool for helping her patients through the process of weaning from life support systems and on to eventual discharge or community re-entry.
In addition to her work within the hospital system, Teresa has the ongoing interest in research of Yoga Therapy for Alzheimer’s. She is finding great joy in providing group Yoga Therapy for Alzheimer’s residents of Manor Care’s Arden Courts in Seminole Florida. The profound perception, intuition and intelligence of the participants is astounding. Their faces are purely radiant as they so clearly articulate expressions of joy, peace and clarity gained during Yoga practice. Teresa strongly believes in the therapeutic effects of Yoga Therapy for all stages of Alzheimer’s and intends to make it more accessible for people with Alzheimer’s or memory loss disorders.
Compassion is her mission. She is now more able to provide compassion and healing through practicing, studying and integrating Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Medicine in the method of PYT. Teresa shares her life and Yoga practice with her husband and two dogs in Belleair Bluffs, Florida. Her family is greatly inspired by life near the sea and share their happiest moments when practicing Yoga and listening to music by Snatam Kaur Khalsa and Guru Ganesha Singh Khalsa.