Harnessing Yoga for Healing: A Conversation with Gary Kraftsow
Gary Kraftsow, MA, E-RYT 500, has been a pioneer in the transmission of yoga for health, healing, and personal transformation for more than 30 years. He studied the teaching of Saiva Siddhanta with well-known mystic and scholar V.A. Devasenapathi and the science of yoga with T.K.V. Desikachar, son of Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga. Gary is the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute (AVI) and is the author of Yoga for Wellness and Yoga for Transformation. He has created DVDs including Viniyoga Therapy for Low Back, Sacrum, and Hips and Viniyoga Therapy for Anxiety.
1440: What inspired you to pursue the study of yoga therapy as a way to heal physical and psychological ailments?
Gary Kraftsow: I went to India in 1974 to purse the study of yoga. My teachers—Sri Krishnamacharya and his son Desikachar—were both accomplished yoga therapists.
Though at that time I was more interested in the mystical and spiritual aspects of yoga, my teachers told me that my future would involve bringing yoga therapy into the context of Western health.
They encouraged me to study Western health sciences and trained me as a yoga therapist beginning in 1976.
1440: In an age of digital abundance, people can feel over-stimulated and over-stressed. What do you advise to someone looking for a moment (or many moments) of detox in a go-go-go culture?
Perhaps the simplest and most important tool for stress management is the conscious regulation of the breath.
No matter the interest or orientation of a student, we can strategize a way for them to utilize the breath to help them create a conscious relationship with their autonomic nervous system (ANS); and through that, bring their ANS back into sympathetic/parasympathetic balance, balance their emotions, and clarify and calm the mind.
1440: Yoga has been shown to have a host of medical benefits. Why do you think there has been reluctance on the part of Western medical and scientific establishments to accept these benefits?
Gary Kraftsow: There is a growing interest in and acceptance of yoga and yoga therapy in Western health care. This is because of a growing body of evidence-based research documenting its effectiveness in helping patients manage symptoms of a broad variety of conditions. The American Viniyoga Institute, my organization, has been involved in successful research studies with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Wayne State University, and Aetna insurance company, whose yoga protocols have been successful in alleviating the symptoms of a variety of conditions including: low back pain, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), symptoms secondary to lung cancer, and stress management.
1440: What are some of the most immediate and eye-opening ways yoga and yoga therapy can change people’s lives on a day-to-day basis?
The most amazing thing about this work is how quickly people become more able to influence their condition and improve their function—at every level.
Through this work, individuals are able to:
- Create a conscious relationship with their spine, and through their spine the rest of their functional anatomy to quickly improve a wide variety of structural aches and pains
- Create a conscious relationship with their breath, and through their breath with their ANS and other physiological processes, to quickly reduce stress, increase energy, balance cardiovascular rhythms, improve digestion, and improve sleep
- Understand how to balance their emotions, clarify their minds, re-access priorities, and establish a direction for their future.
1440: Potent, transformative: why have these adjectives been applied to Viniyoga? What makes it different from other kinds of yoga?
Gary Kraftsow: Viniyoga is not formulaic, nor limited to one aspect of the human system.
Viniyoga recognizes that human beings are multidimensional and provides tools to help us understand and transform each of the dimensions of who we are. In Viniyoga, it is never about the practices, but rather always about the practitioner.
Viniyoga has evolved a sophisticated science of adaptation—for all of the tools of yoga practice, from asana to pranayama to meditation—to suit the needs and interests of each practitioner. We uniquely help individuals develop a truly integrated practice that weaves together all of these tools to suit each individual in their own healing and transformation.