A teacher of Yoga and Vedic Chant for over twenty-five years, Sonia Nelson has been a student of T.K.V. Desikachar since 1975 and serves as Director of the Vedic Chant Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sonia gives seminars and workshops nationwide and has released a number of CDs, including tutorials for learning Vedic Chant and the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. She will be one of the keynote speakers in at the fifth Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR) held in Boston, Massachusetts in June, 2013.
LA YOGA: In your opinion, what makes yoga therapeutic?
Sonia Nelson: When the tools of yoga are applied to a situation where healing is the primary goal, yoga becomes therapy.
LA YOGA: Chanting can be a powerful form of sound therapy. What are some of the most recognizable health benefits from this kind of practice?
SN: Mental focus, lengthening of the breath, pacifying emotions, stimulating or calming energy, and confident communication are some of the benefits.
Chanting can be taught as a primary tool, or using asana or pranayama that supports chanting–especially Vedic chanting–as its own discipline and art. In a group yoga class, I would introduce more pure sounds, and very gradually introduce sounds from the Sanskrit language or sounds that come from the Vedas. We can also introduce the sound through movement; I often combine some asana practice with sound.
LA YOGA: What is the largest change you have seen related to the increased acceptance in the medical community of yoga’s therapeutic value? And what is the greatest change that you have seen in yoga therapy?
SN: As more individuals have turned to practices such as yoga to deal with chronic conditions that were not relieved through Western medicine, the medical community has become aware of the validity of yoga–not to supplant allopathic medicine, but to complement it. However, at this stage of acceptance, they need to see a certain level of education implemented in the training of yoga therapists before they will have confidence and whole-hearted acceptance of yoga as a complementary tool.
LA YOGA: There has been more and more evidence of yoga’s positive health effects, and people are also noticing the healthful benefits…do you agree?
SN: People who practice yoga over time have always noticed the benefits. Now that more people are using yoga as a therapeutic tool, there is the possibility for evidence-based research to provide the documentation that the medical, educational, and business communities will require before yoga therapy can truly become integrated into those areas.
LA YOGA: What are the three must-have qualities that a yoga teacher or yoga therapist should cultivate in order to create the right atmosphere for healing and developing a positive student/teacher relationship?
SN: An ability to listen and observe, an interest in the student/client, and an awareness of the possibilities and limitations of yoga practice in our culture. I believe there needs to be a real distinction between group classes and private work. I also think a lot more education is required than a 200-hour program if one is going to really devote themselves to being a yoga therapist.
LA YOGA: Are there any other things that you feel are important qualities of a good yoga therapist?
SN: Care for the student/client, the ability to approach the student without an agenda, to know when you can and cannot help someone, and an ability to refer the care seeker to another practitioner.
LA YOGA: Do you think that it’s important to have a certification process to become yoga therapists?
SN: In order to use the term “yoga therapist,” it will soon become a necessity to be certified by an accredited program. This is why IAYT is currently using a significant amount of energy and resources to address this question.
LA YOGA: Where do you think yoga is most beneficial in a person’s healing process?
SN: Actually, I feel yoga is most beneficial as a preventive tool, applied to healing the small discomforts that arise in the course of a day. This is best expressed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.16 Heyam duhkham anagatam: The pain which is to come, can and should be anticipated, and avoided.
LA YOGA: What do you do in your own practice to help stay in balance?
SN: I do a practice that includes some form of asana, pranayama, meditation, and chanting.The content, sequence, and initial instruction were given to me by my teacher. Over the years, they have been adapted and refined by him and by me to remain effective and respectful of the changes and events that occur in my life.
LA YOGA: If someone wants to begin using yoga therapeutically, where would be a good place to begin?
SN: The practice of yoga helps cultivate awareness. When students have that awareness they will start noticing when they feel out of balance and can use that as a reference point. When the practitioner becomes aware that some change needs to happen, they act on it. Without that, we are teachers without students. We are therapists without clients. The orientation is the self-empowerment of the person so that they can carry on their lives in a balanced way, but that motivation has to come from them.
For more infomration about Sonia Nelson, please visit: vedicchantcenter.org.
For more information about the Symposium on Yoga Research (SYR) June 11-13, and the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR), June 13-16, both held in Boston, Massachusetts, visit: sytar.org.
Rita Trieger is a contributing editor of Find Bliss, and the author of Yoga Heals Your Back (Fairwinds, 2005). She teaches yoga therapy for both cancer and heart patients at Stamford Hospital, in Stamford, Connecticut. Ritatude.blogspot.com