As a Yoga Instructor I receive a lot of questions from friends, students, and people that I meet on a day-to-day basis. Despite Yoga’s increasing popularity and the tremendous amount of media attention it has been receiving, there is still a great deal of mystery surrounding this ancient practice. I decided that I wanted to reach out to people I admire in their respective fields to dig a little deeper, find some new answers, and new information about yoga. I conducted this first interview with Chris Pierce from Balance Physical Therapy. Chris Pierce is a Physical Therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy and has completed a residency in Orthopaedic Manual Therapy from the Institute of Orhopaedic Manual Therapy, an affiliate of Mass General and Boston University. At Balance Physical Therapy, Chris works with a variety of people, including children with physical challenges, competitive athletes who have experienced injuries, as well as healthy adults seeking to enhance their strength and conditioning. He gains tremendous satisfaction from helping his clients help themselves get better. His goal is to help every client perform at his or her highest ability, both in sports and in their overall lives. His ability to motivate people is legendary.
Over the past four years, Chris and I have worked together to tap into some of the therapeutic aspects of Yoga and to develop variations that are safe and accessible to many different types of practitioners.
Here are the questions that I had for Chris:
AS: Please tell me a little bit about your first introduction to yoga and how that practice has evolved for you?
CP: I first started to practice Yoga about five years ago, soon after we opened Balance Physical Therapy. I was introduced to the concept and some of the movements a couple of years prior to that, while living in Montana , and knew that it was something that would be helpful for me and that I wanted to explore more in the future.
Once I started to practice regularly with you, I learned some interesting things about myself and Yoga. I am a competitive person, but Yoga is NOT a competition. It is a very personal experience that requires tuning in to your own body and tuning out the distractions around you. Once I let go of the competition (Lord knows I am not going to win any flexibility contests anyway), I was able to improve my strength, flexibility, awareness of my body, and reduce my stress level. It was also a great way to recover from Rugby matches.
Although I am not formally practicing, I continue to include Yoga movements into my daily workouts as well as in my Physical Therapy practice. Certain Yoga movements are fantastic for reducing muscular tension and alleviating compression forces on some of the body’s structures (for certain people).
AS: What advice do you have for practitioners of yoga that would enable them to get the most out of their practice and help them prevent injury?
1) Listen to your body: if it hurts, DON’T DO IT.
2) Learn from a well educated, experienced Yoga teacher.
3) If you have injuries that are troubling you, but want to try Yoga, consider one on one training, as this will allow you to share your issues and help you develop a practice that suits you.
AS: What are you thoughts about how important the education and experience of the instructor is? How necessary do you believe it is for the instructor to have a yoga practice of their own?
CP: At many health clubs, you can find “Yoga” instructors that received a certification from a weekend course. Having been an instructor of Anatomy and Physiology in a Yoga Teacher Training, I can tell you that one cannot even begin to scratch the surface, of the depth of knowledge requisite to teach Yoga, in a weekend. Ask the question “How many hours was your certification class?” and “where did you receive that certification?”. Do you really want to learn Yoga from someone who has little more experience than you?
It seems to me that no matter what activity, sport, etc. I am trying to learn, I would like my teacher to have fairly extensive experience doing before they teach me. With Yoga, this is especially important. In order to teach you movements and keep you safe, the teacher must know what each pose feels like, what tricks-of-the-trade may be helpful and understand the potential for injury, so as to protect the learner.
AS: What are your thoughts about the complimentary benefits of physical therapy and yoga when applied to rehabilitation and healing; as well as performance enhancement and injury prevention for athletes?
CP: I mentioned earlier that I use certain Yoga movements with some of my P.T. clients. I also refer certain “graduated” patients on to Yoga instructors like yourself, who have experience and understanding of injury and ways to avoid potentially harmful movements. Yoga can be very beneficial when performed properly, at the right pace and with proper guidance. It can have negative consequences when done without care and without a properly trained teacher.
ALL athletes will benefit from Yoga! As a way to build core strength and stability, Yoga is hard to beat. The improvements in flexibility can be tremendous and this, combined with strong movements found in Yoga, can translate into significant injury reduction. I find it very helpful in bouncing back from the hard knocks I take on the rugby pitch. I have seen improved performance in a variety of athletes across a range of sports.
AS: You and I spoke about our goals as facilitators of these modalities. We talked about creating a sustainable routine/practice that leaves our clients feeling like the best version of themselves when they are finished. What are your thoughts about the best way to make this scenario a reality for both provider and client?
CP: The provider must foster an environment that allows each person to experience Yoga at their own pace. It is essential that the student fully understand that this is a personal journey (not a competition) and that the road is long and twisty. What I mean to say, is that although there are positive physiologic changes that occur during and after each session, many of the benefits of Yoga occur over time with continued practice.
Did this interview answer some questions for you? Is there additional information that would like to know? Please let me know.