Why do you practice yoga? Do you come to the practice to help heal an injury, support spinal health, or perhaps, release some stress? Maybe yoga is your spiritual practice, and the physical benefits are an afterthought. A fusion of all these things. For Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine®, the magic of yoga -- and what had her create a yoga school -- is an appreciation for how yoga can support the whole person.
We spoke with her about how her approach fuses Eastern and Western medicine and why this might just be the future of yoga as a healing modality.
“I think the beauty of both, yoga and Chinese medicine is looking at who this person is,” she says. “I love teaching our teachers… not, ‘here’s this pose for headaches’ or ‘here’s this pose for hypertension’, but really understanding: who is this person? And, what is it that unlocks the mystery of their health journey? It’s not necessarily that I can just look at someone and know that it’s not a magical thing, it’s not a clear-cut approach but really learning how to understand the human being, both from a physiological standpoint and an anatomical standpoint. What makes sense to me is the Chinese medicine context as well. Because for me, that’s where it starts to tie in the whole person. It starts to bring together the psychological aspects, the physical aspects, and the physiological aspects.”
Her experience forms the philosophical foundation for her Yoga Medicine® approach to movement and health. It’s not about creating a one-size-fits-all program, Tiffany says, but answering a broader question: what does it mean to be healthy.
“I think there is a healthy concurrent to enjoying your exercise, but there’s always the sense that we have to beat ourselves up to be healthy and I really believe to be healthy is about supporting your body’s natural capacities. Yes, we get lazy and at times have to push ourselves to get out and do something, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to beat ourselves up. I’m not saying there’s no place for intensive intervals and things like that, I think there’s a place for everything. For me, [it’s about] questioning what it means to be healthy and where these ideas come from... What drives it... and how that feeds my priorities. And I think the beauty of yoga is the lifestyle that it creates, the mindfulness that it creates for us to look at and examine and take ownership of our health, of our lives. And as I get older, for me it’s also just recognizing that you only have so much time in this world, you only have so much time in this life. How should we use that time? For some people that might be running, and for others that might be with their families or doing yoga. You know, the beauty of yoga is that it can fit seamlessly into that. It can just be a few minutes of meditation, it can just be a few minutes a day, and be something that really supports everything else that you’re doing. I think that’s why it has caught on fire all around the world.”
Interested in herbalism from the young age of 14, Tiffany now has a breadth of training that bridges both classical Eastern medicine, in the forms of yoga and acupuncture and oriental medicine, with Western medicine in the form of rigorous anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. As an aspiring pro tennis player, she also was naturally drawn to a sports medicine focus in her schooling -- a foundation that has set her up well to be the link between the traditional practices of yoga and oriental medicine. Tiffany explains that doctors and practitioners are wanting to increase the inclusion of yoga in their work.
“I feel that a lot of the desire for doctors wanting to use it is there, they just really don’t know how to. And fair enough, the reality as a healthcare provider is if you refer your patient to go to yoga, you might get in a lot of trouble because they can end up in an Ashtanga class, they might end up in a Yin Yoga class or anything in between, all of which could be fantastic, any one of those could be the cure to all their problems - or potentially not. It could potentially make things worse.” And this is where Tiffany and her school are raising the bar on teacher trainings. Although she doesn’t believe yoga teachers are meant to be diagnosing students’ ailments or injuries, she does believe her students can be prepared to better interact with the medical world.
“My purpose was really just to train teachers on a deeper level, to be a resource of teachers to serve the medical providers. My school, Yoga Medicine® is not a style of yoga but a school that trains teachers to think for themselves and apply the appropriate style and techniques for the individual. I really believe that there’s a place for every style of yoga out there. It’s just knowing how and when to use them and in what context it would be most helpful for people. Especially if you are talking about people who are injured or sick for whatever reason.”
If that means she can get medical professionals into her trainings, whether to gain perspective for themselves or to learn how to better use yoga in their practices, she’s thrilled. “For doctors, I think it’s changed a lot. Nowadays it’s not uncommon for us to see in a training of 70 people that 20 of them are healthcare providers of some sort. From surgeons to anaesthesiologists to radiologists, and obviously, there’s been physiotherapists coming into the yoga world for a while, massage therapists, but the doctors I think is a new thing, at least for me in the past few years. Surgeons and doctors who are already set up in the medical world, in hospitals, are wanting to come in and learn how to teach yoga in those facilities, which is crazy.”
Crazy amazing, in our opinion.
Tiffany Cruikshank is the founder of Yoga Medicine®. She is passionate about fusing the two worlds of eastern & western medicine together & applying it to the practice of yoga. You can check out her Retreat Guru teacher profile and upcoming trainings here.