The yoga therapy partnership: 50-50

By Monica Le Baron

In 2018, I was honored to do a practicum in yoga therapy and integrated positional therapy at La Casa de las Abuelitas, a women’s shelter in El Paso, Texas. Working there was challenging yet rewarding at all levels of my being. I learned four significant lessons that I return to over and over—lessons you could apply to your daily life, even if you’re not a yoga therapist.

1. There’s always something else

Being unable to sleep or having pain is just the tip of the iceberg. It usually indicates that something else is going on. Rosa,* the most dedicated client in my practice, came into our session to work on her right knee pain. As the session progressed, more things started to come up that she had been too shy to share or perhaps didn’t think were relevant at the moment.

This was the case for many of the other Abuelitas, or “Grannies.” Chronic pain in all the layers of their being was so normal that they had gotten used to living with it. I realized that there’s always something else that clients aren’t expressing. I noticed a lot of guilt, shame, or trauma they weren’t aware of, and it kept them from living a pain-free life. 

I see this tendency in current clients as well, especially in solo entrepreneurs and mothers. As a yoga therapist, this lesson helps me to stay aware and reminds me of what my mentor, Lee Albert, would recommend: “Give clients a little of what they want and a lot of what they need.”

2. Nobody will do the work for you, AKA the 50-50 partnership 

After a month of working in the shelter twice a week, I left for Europe for a month. When I returned, I didn’t recognize Rosa. She looked happy, radiant, and 10 years younger. I saw that she had been practicing the wellness plan I suggested in week 1—and encouraging the other Abuelitas to do the same. She reported that she slept better, and her knee pain lessened.

Healing is possible, but nobody will do the work for you. That’s why I implemented the 50%-50% partnership. It is hard to see positive results if you don’t do your own work, no matter how expert your therapist or teacher is. 

3. Keep it simple 

When I met Elena for the first time, she cautiously made her way to me using her walker for our 60-minute session. After introducing myself, we started with an intake form, talked about her health struggles, and set a primary goal for our sessions.

Elena was, at the time, the most challenging case I had because I was still learning to apply all of the tools of yoga therapy and it was difficult for her to practice most physical poses. I was nervous, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to help her. Here’s where I learned the importance of keeping things simple. I noticed that the simpler the tools were, the easier it was for clients to follow them and blend them into their daily lives, even if they lived in a shared bedroom in a shelter.

Although Elena dealt with a lot of physical pain, mainly in her knee and hips, she would always have a radiant smile and a positive attitude. Simple tools practiced daily turned into long-term results. Elena made massive progress in the 3 months we worked together. She was able to walk faster and learned to manage her pain without using medicine. 

Elena’s words have stayed with me and inspire me to keep doing the work that I do: My sessions, she said, “helped me realize that I can control my pain differently. Learning a different modality to manage my pain without using medicine was great.”

4. You can’t help people who don’t want your help

A tough, yet funny and kind client who I will call Maria, was resistant to attending our session. She was encouraged by the staff to take part and was promised a reward afterward if she did. 

In yoga therapy training, I learned to meet people where they are and to start with simple tools that won’t overwhelm the client. With this in mind, we first worked with her nervous system to get her out of fight-flight mode, finish the stress cycle, and establish trust. 

Maria taught me the biggest lesson I learned in my practicum: I couldn’t help people if they didn’t want help. Although she left our sessions very relaxed, Maria didn’t want to be there, so she didn’t return for our third session. 

Now, when I meet people who ask me whether I can help a family member to get better sleep, I tell them if their loved one wants my support, I’m happy to help them. If not, unfortunately I can’t. 

Learning to be patient and listen, keep things simple, and meet people where they are–even if that means not meeting–are ways of being present to what is happening in the moment. This is good medicine for most people, and is also a foundational approach to practicing yoga therapy.

Monica Le Baron, C-IAYT, is a sleep coach who specializes in helping women with sleep disorders get a good night’s rest. Monica’s expertise has been featured on Insight Timer, Telemundo, and more. 

*Clients’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.