Yoga and Body Tuning

Many yoga teachers come to me to help them with the body discomfort and pain they experience as they advance their practices. As one of them said to me: “Yoga is supposed to be good for the body but I’m finding that yoga injuries are far more frequent than I think they should be…both for myself and my students.”

To this I say: Yes, yoga can be very good for the body, and to derive satisfaction from our yoga practice we need to do some things for the body to make it ready. First of all, we need to watch how our bodies react to what we are doing. But this is not always easy for us to do by ourselves. That is why we need to have a private lesson with a good yoga practitioner who will see if we are moving correctly. And then, even more importantly, we need to have a body tuner who can check our bodies at a deeper level, that is, someone who can go deeper in the body to see what kinds of changes are taking place. And if the body tuner finds something wrong, it may be necessary to slow down the yoga practice.

Another yoga practitioner came to see me with an injured hamstring and psoas muscle pain which caused her right leg to rotate externally in a painful manner that disturbed her yoga practice and teaching. She also had old injuries from dancing that were exacerbated rather then helped by her yoga practice. She was frustrated that she couldn’t figure out how to heal herself. She told me that she was aware that challenging the body with advanced asanas (postures) can be beneficial to the body and mind, but occasionally, moving the body past its expected limits to more extreme positions can strain the body and even cause injury.

In yoga practice we are trying to go to the maximum of mobility. As a body tuner, I have to look at the attachment of the psoas muscle and the hamstring. In many cases the tendon attached to the bone is inflamed and I need to work manually and use some modalities to cure the inflammation. It is also very important to check how the spine is moving, mechanically. I often discover that some segment of the spine does not have enough flexibility and also that the tendon of the hamstring is being overworked which causes inflammation. First I teach how not to irritate the tendon, and second, I use a specific treatment for this problem.

In her yoga practice the teacher needs to avoid any pain and discomfort. Sometimes this means doing only half of the maximum.

For every hour of yoga practice one needs ten minutes of Body Tuning. If you practice weekly, say 6-8 hours per week, you need to have weekly Body Tuning sessions. If you drive your car to the Hamptons once a week, you take your car to a mechanic once a year. If you drive it every day you will need to see the mechanic more often for a tune-up. 

A yoga teacher who has benefited greatly from Body Tuning in our studio addressed the idea that Body Tuning is like a ‘set of tools’ that can be used to help yoga students learn more about their own bodies, to help them understand their restrictions and to heal the pains that their yoga practices don’t heal. She expressed it very well when she said that she thought of Body Tuning as ‘a supplemental practice that helps clarify movement, range of motion and mobility so the asana practice can better serve us.’

Indeed, Body Tuning can and should be a supplemental practice in a yoga teacher’s studio. It is very important for a yoga teacher, after studying yoga for few hundred hours, and practicing it for several years, to add a second step: To study Body Tuning and add it to their practice. The reason is that not every yoga student has the time and the financial means to see a body tuner. But, once trained, yoga teachers can do Body Tuning either before or after their yoga sessions to help their students understand more about their bodies and how not to overdo. Spending 5-10 minutes or more, depending on the condition of their students, would be extremely beneficial.

A fourth yoga teacher, trying to define Body Tuning and its value to her, said the following: ‘Body Tuning is not massage, although there is massage involved in it; it is not physical therapy, although it is therapeutic; it’s not chiropractic, although there are elements of chiropractic in it. It is of specific benefit to yoga teachers as it makes us think differently about alignment in the body. Body Tuning is not standardized. There is no formula to it. It is personal and intuitive and it heals.’

Massage Therapy: Every body tuner needs to be highly skilled in different techniques including Swedish, deep tissue, soft tissue, trigger point, and so on. A body tuner needs to know how to manipulate soft tissue with different massage techniques, both Eastern and Western. Yoga teachers often go for massage therapy. This is good. Massage is relaxing and relieves stress, but ultimately the yoga teacher needs more and deeper therapy, such as Body Tuning, to discover what is happening in the skeletal system.

Physical Therapy: In terms of the physical therapy component of Body Tuning, each body tuner is supposed to know conventional physical therapy techniques, to have the ability to evaluate the musculo/skeletal system, and to know different movement techniques from Alexander, Tai Chi, Fendenkrais, Kung Fu  and Trager. Practitioners of Body Tuning need to know how to use different modalities, including ice, laser, electro-stimulation, magnets, ultrasound and more. And they must have the ability to apply the proper modality for each condition. Some patients react badly to electro-vibration but do well with lasers. Some patients feel discomfort from magnets but respond well to ultrasound. Some like heat, some cold…some more intense modalities. The knowledge of the therapist in understanding the patient is important in deciding on the correct modalities in each situation.

Chiropractic: Chiropractors talk about ‘adjustment.’ In physical therapy we talk of ‘manipulation.’ They mean the same thing. Experienced body tuners need to know when to adjust and when NOT to adjust the skeletal system. It is more important to know when not to manipulate. Manipulation is strong medicine, and like every strong medicine it can help or hurt. This is why the body tuner needs to be experienced. But the patient has a responsibility as well. And that is to be aware of what they are feeling while the body tuner is working. The pain that one feels is supposed to feel like good pain, therapeutic pain. It is like being able to tell if a soup is too salty or a drink is too sweet. The patient experiences what is happening and decides if what they are feeling is good or not good. If the patient feels better when the Body Tuning session is over, that is good. But the real question is: how much better and for how long will the patient feel better? That will determine how good the body tuner is.

In terms of Body Tuning being ‘intuition.’ My ‘intuition’ about the body and its problems is the result of many, many years of experience. No one body worker can develop ‘intuition’ after only a few years of working on the body. Just like a musician who must practice many years before he is ready for a recital, a body tuner needs to have a minimum of 10-15 years of experience in order to become a good body listener and helper. I worked many hours learning how to do preventive physical therapy; I read much literature about the body and I visited and observed experienced therapists. I also had other physical therapists work on my body. There again, like a musician who learns a great deal from his own practice, taking lessons and listening to other performers, I learned from studying, working on my own, and getting experience from others working on me.

Some people have had good results from Body Tuning in only a few sessions. But, I don’t do miracles. And, as far as fast, quick fixes go, usually people who feel better after one or two sessions will return in a few months, with a bigger problem. The human body has memories. When I change the physical mechanics, the body responds well, but we have a brain and to change our habits in the brain takes much longer.

So, to sum up the value of Body Tuning in conjunction with the practice of yoga, I’d like to express it this way, using again the analogy of an automobile. If I have a car and only drive it on weekends, I can take it to my local mechanic. But if I have a race car, I will need perhaps four or five mechanics with special expertise. If, as a yoga practitioner I do gentle yoga twice a week, Body Tuning will only be needed once a month. If I take or teach intense, advanced yoga, and do it every day for an hour or more, I will need one day every week for rehabilitation with a body tuner. Saunas and hot tubs are excellent therapy for body aches and pains. However, the serious yoga teacher and practitioner will need more. They will need deeper Body Tuning to discover what is going on in the skeletal system so they can be more effective in their practice and remain pain free.