Yoga originated in India and many would say the father of the yoga we know and practice today is B.K.S Iyengar. Osteopathy’s founding father is known as Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, an American Doctor who developed the philosophy and principles behind osteopathic medicine that we follow and continue to learn from today. Since then both disciplines have continued to grow, morph and change from where they began. As I continue down my own path of learning I have started to notice many reasons Yoga and Osteopathy are well suited to compliment each other as alternative holistic therapies.
Yoga has become quite mainstream in western culture even though it was not founded here whereas Osteopathic Manual Therapy is still a new and unusual term for many in North America, especially Canada. Part of that problem comes with the different terms that are used. In Canada we can’t call ourselves Osteopaths, because in the states Osteopaths are also physicians and they train under a whole different category of schooling, taking programs more comparable to a medical degree. We must use the term Manual Osteopathic Practitioner when referring to ourselves in Canada, which I think some people find a bit confusing. When I explain I am in school studying Osteopathy to become an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner most people give me a confused look and say “what’s that? ” or “ oh so that has to do with bones? ”. It is still a relatively unknown term when it comes to alternative hands on therapies. I like to describe it as a combination of techniques that massage therapists, chiropracters and physiotherapist use, some similar and some different. As Manual Osteopaths we use three main techniques; joint mobilizations, muscle energy techniques and soft tissue therapy. Most people have heard of or experienced one of those, so then they have something to go on. From there the next question is “why did you decide to study that”? I then usually explain that I used to dance professionally and that has played a big part in the direction I have moved in since. Throughout my life growing up dancing I always had lots of injuries. It was only within the last few years in the profession as a dancer that I began to experience osteopathic influenced treatments (from an RMT in school for osteopathy). These osteopathic influenced treatments always proved to be the quickest and most effective treatments that I received when it came to my injuries (chronic and acute).
It was around this time in my life that I decided to pursue yoga teaching as a parallel career to dance. I had found it very useful in cross training as a dancer and more and more was drawn to it as a way to relax and de-stress. After completing my teacher training I began to teach yoga and have found since then I have become more intrigued with the human body, anatomy and body mechanics. I have had a hunger since my yoga teacher training to continue to learn. Since beginning my training in osteopathy I have noticed how much my knowledge of yoga compliments osteopathy and vice versa. Both disciplines have a core foundation of the mind-body connection. The first principle of Osteopathy is the body is a unit; the person is a unit of mind, body and spirit. One of the founding purposes of yoga is to practice the asanas (poses) to be able to more comfortably sit for long periods of meditation. The yoga classes I teach are now infused with more anatomy and more knowledge of modifications for students with injuries and limited range of motion. In my practice as an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner I see how important it is not only to be strong and flexible in your body but also to develop mind body awareness, and awareness of breath. This mindfulness is something I have learned through yoga, but it applies in osteopathy. As you treat someone with hands on therapy you can teach them about their body and help them to be more aware through Muscle Energy Techniques (MET) or Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitatons (PNF). The body has an inherent ability to heal itself (one of the four osteopathic principles) so an increased awareness of our own body and proprioceptive skills will help increase our bodies self healing abilities. It would also help us to be more aware when there are injuries/inflammations/ diseases present or manifesting themselves through symptoms in our bodies. With that heightened sense of awareness you might be able to recognize sooner when you need to go see an osteopath, massage therapist, medical doctor, or chiropractor for treatment rather than letting an injury or symptom go to far.
One of the most simple exercises and principles in yoga is becoming aware of ones own breath, letting your breath guide you through postures and through your practice. This concept can be taken off your mat and into your daily life where you might use your breath when a challenging or frustrating situation presents itself. This mindfulness and awareness of breath helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and letting the sympathetic nervous system, which activates in stressful situations. Many osteopathic techniques incorporate breathing and also aim to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and let you leave feeling de-stressed and relaxed after a treatment. This is good not only for your brain but for your health overall, being chronically stressed can cause hypersensitivity and overreaction of the nervous system, the immune system and put many other body systems in overdrive. Staying in fight or flight mode makes it difficult for the body to function properly in rest and digest mode. Losing sleep and improper digestion does not lend to a healthy balanced lifestyle.
So whether you’re hoping to improve your balance standing on one foot or to improve your health and the balance of stress and relaxation in your life Yoga and Osteopathy are both great options and compliments to each other. So through yoga I will spread the word of Osteopathy and through Osteopathy I will spread the word of yoga!
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