Jen is a wonderful Kripalu trained Yoga teacher who also practices Reiki. I have had some fantastic individual yoga sessions with Jen that have helped me to feel healthier and more flexible.
Jen, first I want to say that yoga is the #1 exercise that I recommend to my patients because it is so good for flexibility, for balance and for helping the body to de-stress. STRESS, be it physical (and we all have LOTS of physical stresses in our lives, think sitting on a computer 8 hours a day, carrying heavy groceries every week, having a car accident…), chemical (what we are eating or breathing in, some we have control over and some we don’t) or mental/emotional (don’t know anyone free of these!), is what causes nerve interference or subluxation in the body. This is what Chiropractors detect and correct. Nerve interference not only can cause us pain, tingling or numbness, but it affects our overall state of health since EVERY organ, muscle and gland needs a good nerve supply to function properly. When you have nerve interference the message from brain to body comes out like static on your cell phone so the organ, muscle or gland can’t get the correct message. It can be compared to trying to run your car without gas! Without good nerve supply, over time, organs, muscles, glands can begin to malfunction which can become disease. I find that my patients who do yoga tend to hold their adjustments better and longer. Which is a HUGE help in keeping a healthier body.
1. Jen, can you tell us how the combination of yoga and chiropractic makes sense to you?
Because we all have bodies created by unique life experiences, each student experiences physical yoga postures differently. Even when students modify poses using props like blocks and straps, or they are more conservative and compassionate in their movements, ingrained physical limitations may cause frustrations in the mind, which if not met with acceptance, lead to stress. And stress, as you know, is the exact opposite of what helps a person heal. Chiropractic adjustments can help bring a yoga student’s physical body into a better base alignment, which allows them to experience the postures more fully: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
2. Jen, please tell us more about you (what brought you to yoga?) and your practice.
I started dabbling in yoga and meditation back in 1998, my first fast-paced, high-tech job (which also required sitting at a computer all day) started causing me stress. I looked at yoga solely for its physical benefits (flexibility and strength), and viewed meditation as a possible way to calm my mind.It wasn’t until almost 15 years later, while doing my first Ayurvedic cleanse, that it really clicked for me how integrated asana (the physical postures of yoga), meditation, and good nutrition were, and that together they had great power to positively affect my entire life. At that time I made the decision to pursue teacher training at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, specifically to deepen my own understanding. There, I learned that yoga is an even broader system of healthy living, incorporating ethical practices, breathing techniques, concentration practices, and so on. After completing just half of my training, I knew I was being called to teach.
I practice yoga in a group at least once a week in a nearby studio, and each morning I start my day with some yoga postures. I also model most of the poses whenever I teach.
3. If someone has an injury for which they need chiropractic care, such as low back pain, sciatica, neck pain, headaches, how can yoga help in their recovery?
I have many students who do gentle Kripalu yoga (and Reiki sessions) with me specifically because they have physical issues such as back pain or stress-induced pain. There are several ways yoga can help in their recovery.
First, yoga helps reconnect people with their breath and their body wisdom. We spend a lot of time living in our minds, and therefore we ignore signals from our breath and body all the time. For example, when we can’t breathe deeply, it may be a signal we need to slow down. When we feel pain rather than sensation, we need to move with more care or back off. Our bodies know what to do; we just need to stop and listen.
Second, it is very difficult to heal the physical body when one is in a state of chronic mental stress. Stress results from demands of daily life, by actual physical aches and pains, and by thoughts that arise about both. Yoga’s focus on coordinating breathing and movement helps reduce stress naturally, and this signals to the body that it’s safe to release whatever it’s holding onto.
4. Are yoga teachers trained in how to modify poses for folks with injuries?
Absolutely. Every posture has what are known as “contraindications”, meaning that if a student has a particular condition or injury, they shouldn’t do it. Also, every yoga pose has numerous modifications–these may include simple adjustments (such as allowing a knee to be bent rather than straight), or use props such as blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters, and even the mat itself (for example, rolling the back of the mat and placing it under the ankles for more support). Kripalu teachers experience and learn these modifications as part of their extensive training.
It’s important to note that modifications aren’t just for people with injuries; sometimes experiences of the day can cause issues (for example, having slept in a funny position); one can never expect a day to be like yesterday, at least where the body is concerned. I also often suggest props to help students deepen into a stretch in a way they wouldn’t be able experience without them. Props support the body so that it is encouraged to relax and open gently, which is much more effective than forcing.
5. If someone is brand new to yoga, what would you recommend to them?
First, I would recommend a few minutes of yoga done consistently each day:
Take a few moments to sit in a comfortable upright position, still yourself physically, and connect with your breath. Just notice your inhalations and exhalations as exactly they are.
Then, begin to gently and slowly lengthen the breath. If it’s difficult to focus, you can count 1-2-3 during the inhales, and 3-2-1 during the exhales, gradually adding a few numbers as the breath deepens. Then, maintaining the breath, mindfully move the spine six ways: forward/back (as in cow/cat pose), side to side (as in seated lateral stretch), and twists (on each side). My videos page has simple yet detailed instructions for each of these.
Even 10 minutes can make a huge difference in body, mind, and spirit!
Second, I’d encourage them to explore the vast world of yoga with curiosity and openness. I often hear people say they “can’t do yoga” or that they’ve have had a bad experience once in a class. It’s important to remember that yoga styles vary, and that there are many different teachers. Don’t let one class or teacher discourage you from all yoga–there are just too many benefits to be gained by finding the one that suits you!
Jen Hocko is a gentle (Kripalu) yoga instructor, meditation leader, Reiki master, and nutrition coach. To learn more about her services, please visit www.ajourneyintohealth.com. You can also keep up to date with her blog posts by liking her page on Facebook.