Every single time that I think, okay, nooooow I understand this yoga therapy stuff a bit, I've got the really important rules of what to do and not to do inscribed on my brain, and I think that I just might be getting the hang of this, they go and change the rules on me.
Today, after many months of having it drilled, I mean emphasized, that all movements should be moving movements instead of static, held positions, I observed three classes in which the student was instructed to hold her leg in a certain position for several breaths. I have never seen this given before. And though I am a newbie in the world of yoga therapy, I thought that I'd been taught, up and down the block, that the system is grounded on gentle movement in coordination with the breath.
When I asked my teacher the purpose of this pose, she gave me what felt like the "where have you been?" look (I was probably imagining this, because I feel that I should know this stuff and not be asking, even though why should I know this and how will I learn if I don't? maybe I can work on mind-reading, and then dabble in some Tarot in my free time) and explained that the students were in such severe back pain that we could only give them very very mild poses and almost no movement, because even the slightest movement was jarring.
Occasionally, I ruminate on the possibility that my mind is being played with, in an effort to show me that there are no rules. (Barely can I bear to write that. No rules? How will I ever learn this?) For example, another steadfast principle I've been drawing on is that nyasam, or very nice, small gestures that you make with the fingers while coordinating the movement with your breathing, is a good technique for creating a focus for the mind, improving concentration, and providing relaxation. Yesterday, a teacher told me no, nyasam are used for conditions such as stroke, tremors, or arthritis: as a way to get circulation and coordination to the hands. Today, another teacher used it for, yep, focus and relaxation. When I mentioned yesterday's conversation, she gave me the "where have you been look" and said no, nyasam are very useful for relaxation, particularly when the student is in such pain (see above regarding dynamic versus static movement) that she can do very little physical movement but needs a way to calm down an agitated mind.
And that rule about always applying oil (a theraputic oil used to improve the flow of prana and to ease muscle tension) in the direction of the heart toward the feet or hands, which is also in the direction of the flow of prana? Today, my teacher recommended that the student apply oil from ankle to knee instead of the reverse. Huh? I thought oil was always applied in the opposite direction, I suggested. No, that's when you want to improve circulation; this is for...honestly, now I can't even remember, because I was thinking, HUH?????
I wouln't mind all this back-and-forth, except that...no, I do mind this back-and-forth because I am a person who learns things best when they make a tad of sense. Perhaps it's foolish of me to expect that something as complicated as healing someone's body or mind or spirit would come with a book of instructions. But there is so much to learn and I'm just wanting a little something to hang on to, every once in a while, so that I begin to feel that yep, I'm beginning to get this stuff. Instead, just when you think that you know that the world is turning clockwise, it reverses and turns in the opposite direction. My husband's take on this frustration is that I'm supposed to be learning that there are no hard and fast rules, and that each case is unique and must be approached in that spirit. I'm with him to a certain point on this. At the same time, handouts and tests and homework and the 75 observation sheets that I've completed in the last month give me the feeling that there must be some system at play. Or I'm not ready to completely give up the hope that maybe there is a teeny, weeny, tiny rule book that'll at least provide a starting block for the novice yoga therapist.