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Yoga: Physiotherapy for mind
Hyderabad-based yoga instructor Harshita shares new narratives about yoga and its use as therapy...
Hyderabad-based Harshita Soni, the founder of 'Place of Breath, a centre that offers yoga therapy for physical, emotional and mental well-being in the city, considers yoga as physiotherapy for the mind.
Excerpts from an interview
How long have you been practising yoga and why?
Like most yoga teachers, my journey in yoga started as a practitioner and student in 2012 with no intentions of becoming a teacher.
My intentions then were to build strength and flexibility as a Kuchipudi dancer. Over the years, I realised that not many around me had experienced a style of yoga that I was learning.
For example, while dancing on 'Aigiri Nandini', I injured a hip muscle and used yoga therapy for healing. I was amazed at how someone who wasn't a medical doctor could help me heal!
This experience played an instrumental role in my decision to become a yoga 'acharya' (teacher).
After practising in this tradition for seven years, when I look back - I realise that my practice is one of the greatest teaching tools available to me today.
Why do you teach?
I feel compelled to teach yoga today for two reasons -
♦ Yoga therapy for healing - Most people think of yoga for overall physical fitness, an exercise just like running, sports, etc.
But not many have experienced yoga therapy for healing, for managing physical and emotional pain.
Yoga therapy can help manage pain from digestive disorders, neurological conditions, musculoskeletal issues, psychological disorders, women's issues like PCOD, etc. I feel that every hospital should have a cubicle for a yoga therapist!
♦ Yoga beyond just asana- Out of the 195 sutras, just 3 talks of asana. Each sutra gives us an opportunity for self-reflection, to understand ourselves better so we can become better human beings.
According to the yoga sutras, the source of our pain in avidya (our false perceptions) and the goal of yoga practise is to reduce this avidya by identifying our raga, dvesha, asmita, abhinivesa.
Yoga is not just asana, but our yama, niyama - relation with self and society which is often not discussed or spoken of in yoga studios today.
What is yoga to you?
Yoga to me is like a mirror for my body and mind. The asana, pranayama help me examine my body and breathe like a self medical check-up!
While pratyahara, dharana and self-reflection through the yoga sutras bring my attention to what my mind wants to say, helps me identify my patterns.
Each time I read the yoga sutras, I learn something about me. So it's like a mirror for my mind! The biggest challenge for me in yoga is to become aware of my raga (attachments), dvesha (aversions), asmita (ego) and abhinevesa (fear) and to learn to overcome them.
Today I overcome one attachment but develop a new attachment the next day. It takes months to overcome aversion towards someone.
It's always work in progress but my practice has made me more self-aware.
How did you feel after your first yoga class?
As a dancer, I have gotten to experience dance beyond just performance and as a yoga acharya, I have gotten to experience the vastness of yoga beyond just asana.
I hope my students also get to experience all limbs of yoga, not just asana and can integrate all the limbs (asthanga) in their day to day life.
How have you changed, evolved and transformed?
I have learnt a lot about my own patterns and how it brings me pain. So when the pattern of thinking or reacting repeats, I am more aware of it.
We are always encouraged to ask ourselves 'How am I the cause of my problems? And how can I be the solution?' So, I blame others a lot less now.
A very essential quality for a yoga teacher is to do his/her practise every day- asana, pranayama, yama, niyama, pratyahara, dharana, etc. Only if I do my own practice, I qualify to teach!
What style of yoga do you practice and what makes that style most effective?
I practise the Krishnamacharya tradition of yoga. Krishnamacharya was not just a yoga therapist but also an ayurvedic doctor and astrologer.
My teacher Saraswathi Vasudevan, who is based in Chennai trained with Krishnamacharya's son Desikachar for over 20 years. I am extremely fortunate to be trained in this tradition.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?
As a beginner, it's very important to practise every day and to seek the guidance of a teacher.
What have been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice?
My biggest milestone has been my journey from starting as a student in 2012 and becoming a yoga acharya this year.
My or for that matter most people, biggest struggle is yama: relationship with people. It's always work in progress.
What's the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you as a student and as a teacher?
As a teacher, I am sometimes embarrassed as I am not flexible and my students can demonstrate some asanas better than me(laughs)!