Why the My Healing Space Teachers’ Course “Yoga For People Living With Cancer” is a course worth doing

For a while now I have wanted to write a reflective piece on how this teacher training course came to be such an important inspiration and influence on my teaching, practice and self. Recently through becoming more involved with the course in an assistant administrative capacity I’ve been spurred on to write this reflection that is specifically aimed at my fellow yoga teachers and therapists looking for a course with a healing focus and with a difference. The importance and impact this course and teaching methodology has had ties in with my own personal history and story; this approach that has touched and infiltrated all my teaching; specifically what it really means to hold space and how I can do that more effectively, so that all students, all health issues, all bodies, all souls are held in that space.

On the home page of Healing Space[1] it says that it is ‘heart led’ training course. This training opens us up to leading, teaching, living from the heart. I believe we need more teachers taking trainings like this whether or not it is their ultimate desire to work with people living with cancer or other long term or life-limiting illnesses. As teachers we need to look deeply at how we hold space, how our language can be permissive in that space to be allowing and forgiving, how to offer gentle therapeutic touch in class, how we can offer our teaching from the heart, what healing is and how on a deeper level we can be with being. The main course book is in fact entitled ‘Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death’, by Joan Halifax[2]; written from the Buddhist approach to death it is an essential contemplation both on life and death, on compassion, on empathy, on the holding of that space not only for those who are dying but for those who are suffering. Working with people living with cancer we may be being with dying. For those of us holding a regular yoga class there may not be dying but I am quite convinced there will be some spectrum of suffering, on our own personal scale of suffering, this book opens up conversations on compassion, empathy and holding space and makes it the perfect companion to the course.

As an already qualified teacher and long-time yoga student I came to seek out the Healing Space course following a personally challenging period health wise which ultimately involved major surgery and a deep rethink on how I was practicing yoga and teaching it. After the surgery all I could do in my yoga practice was sit on my yoga mat breathing into the very raw surgical sites; I was consciously breathing deep love and healing into my body, directing it toward the scars and pain and allowing tears to flow. I did start to move but differently, I was practising my own healing yoga, it was profound for me; I was listening more deeply and taking more care of myself. “Healing” as a process has different interpretations and characteristics and the need for it can catch us unaware; physical, emotional, mental or psychological. To be drawn to work in a more healing way it may not be our own experiences but more the experiences of those around us, someone close who is suffering or it may simply be a natural inclination; we are called and drawn to it.

The longer we are students of yoga the more probable that our practices or teachings will change over the years injury, inquiry, life circumstances, body changes and many other considerations bring with them a heightened sense of listening to what feels more right. Maybe this happens, maybe it doesn’t and maybe nothing needs to change. One of the beauties of yoga is that it is very hard to make hard and fast rules. Your story and experiences will be different especially if you are interested in this kind of work. As yoga teachers we are students, we are also human and we arrive where we are from our experiences and body-soul stories. When I was ready I started to seek out a special kind of teaching course. I had a much clearer idea of where my teaching had to come from and what I was being called to offer. I was then very lucky to find the Healing Space.

The structure of the Healing Space course differs depending on whether you complete the online or the intensive course but the content is the same. The online format is of course highly versatile as it permits you to complete the work at your own pace handing in the relevant coursework for each module once you’ve completed the work and meaning that you don’t have to take time off to do it. There are three modules with three separate assessments to be completed before proceeding to the next module and a fourth section entitled Self-Internship Requirements which centres on the final practical assessments which allow students to pull all the skills that have been studied together to plan and offer healing space two healing spaces classes to separate case studies. It’s very rewarding at this point just to see how much you have developed as a teacher throughout the course. There is equal focus and importance given to the range of topics covered which include looking at how to create a healing environment, offering presence, love and compassion, working from the heart and looking after yourself, looking at cancer, how it is commonly viewed and spoken about along with contemplations to view through it a different lens, looking at describing cancer from a yoga point of view (the pancha kosha system) and being aware of different treatments and side effects and how they might affect class approaches, great care is taken to understand that yoga is not a cure for cancer and that we are not offering an alternative treatment but due treatment is given to the scientific evidence that shows yoga’s effectiveness in people living with cancer citing relevant studies, there is a one whole module covering suggested and adaptable breathing and asana practices (including yin and restorative yoga suggestions) along with mindfulness, relaxation, yoga nidra and the use of mantra and mudra, how these practices are offered and whether they are suitable is considered deeply and always from a healing perspective. For me personally one of the most important parts and the part which has changed how I approach all my teaching covers reconsidering language we use in class – how we offer, invite and suggest leaving an open space for exploration on the part of the student, there are no assumptions or direct directions, this trauma-sensitive language is a big part of a healing space. The online option also offers videos with yoga nidras and led meditations. Support is offered in the way of a skype tutorial and a facebook group. The intensive course covers the same content and consists of five days of intensive training in a non-residential setting in Brighton, UK. This is followed by a further six months internship and self-study including the final assessment.

One of the first questions we were asked to contemplate on the course was ‘What is healing?’ The course attempts to answer this question fully, to uncover and explore healing whilst learning about working and offering compassion through yoga to people living with cancer, undergoing treatment for cancer or in the post-treatment place in an authentic and heart let way. We need more authenticity in our offerings; we need more teachers with an awareness of trauma sensitive language and the ability to hold a space which is permissive and open, caring and allowing. We may then discover unique subtle skills inside ourselves, and a less is more approach that will benefit not just people living with cancer but others in need. There is so much there and I do encourage you to have a look especially at the online study option, details below:

For more information on Healing Space visit https://myhealingspace.org.uk/. Courses are listed at https://myhealingspace.org.uk/our-courses/ where there are opportunities for yoga teachers and therapists to study online or intensively. More information on Yoga for Cancer can be found at https://myhealingspace.org.uk/yoga-for-cancer/. And for all further information email us at  healingspacecourse@gmail.com.

Lastly, do follow us at https://www.facebook.com/healingspacecourse/

 

[1] https://myhealingspace.org.uk/

[2] Halifax, Joan. (2009). ‘Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death’. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc.

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