Writing My Book

In 2001 I produced a long overdue companion video to Yoga: Freedom from Back Pain, called Yoga: Relief from Neck & Shoulder Pain. By 2005 both videos, having been converted to DVDs, could be found in libraries all across the country, including live streaming of both DVDs on Netflix.

While I had experienced a level of success, I found in myself a deep drive to do more. Clearly there was more Yoga had to offer for back pain relief than the condensed 12 pose series found in each DVD! I thought that one day I should write a book.

From 2001 to 2010, there was simply no time for any additional creative projects. During this period; I continued to manage and promote my studio, Lighten Up Yoga, offer yoga teacher training at the 200- and 500-hour levels as the primary trainer, raise and care for my family of three, as well as care for the needs of my aging mother.

In the hope that I might find the time to write the book someday, I decided to start backwards. I knew what sequences and poses I wanted to include, so I hired a photographer and we started taking pictures in 2009.

With the Help of my Students

Over my years of teaching my students had presented me with their needs and given me the opportunity to distill the fundamental categories of yoga into step-by-step anatomical progressions that would help them build strength and maintain mobility safely over time. These sequences were intended to help my students reduce and manage their back pain, as well as keep their spines healthy and functional. The grouping of poses had been tested and had consistently delivered the satisfying results my students were seeking.

However, the book itself was still in my head. Writing a book and putting myself out there was a scary proposition. If it had not been for my good friend, author, and healer, Catherine Carrigan, I might never have found the courage to go forward. I was struggling with how to take the experiential knowledge, which runs deep in yoga, and put it into the written word. I knew the book had to be simple and uncomplicated if readers were to really use it and benefit. Catherine was my inspiration.

Selling My Studio

Unfortunately, I was still short on time. So after 33 years of running my yoga studio I decided to pass the baton.

Yoga had become very popular by now, with studios cranking out Yoga Alliance registered yoga teachers over a weekend or in three weeks, rather than the necessary 2 to 3 years time to become an effective and valuable teacher. Because of my extensive training and mentoring in the Iyengar method, and my own conscience, I was concerned for the quality and safety of instruction my student population would receive.

What to do? The next best thing.

I crafted an agreement with Cindy Dollar, my very first teaching assistant. Her studio, One Center Yoga, was in its 8th year of full-time operation. In 2013, Lighten Up Yoga folded into and was absorbed by One Center Yoga, students and teachers combined.

The Time to Write

At long last it was time to write Healing Our Backs with Yoga: An Essential Guide to Back Pain Relief. Writing a book is definitely a process, requiring many minds to reach completion. I am forever grateful to the other three talented women, contact editor, technical editor, and layout design artist, who helped me bring my book to completion in 2016.

Having departed from the Iyengar Association fold, and being a trailblazer for yoga as a therapeutic art, I found a new home with IAYT, the International Association of Yoga Therapy.

In 2018 my book was reviewed by IAYT and I was selected to give a class at that year‘s convention on the topic. My book had become a recommended resource for yoga teachers and therapists.

Teaching Other Yoga Teachers at the IAYT Conference

After presenting a mini PowerPoint presentation on the goals and principles behind yoga as it applies to back care, it was time for my class to practice. My class contained 35 students, all women, over half of who had grandfathered into IAYT as a yoga therapist. Their experience in yoga and their yoga backgrounds were diverse.

The peer pressure was on. After a short five or 10 minutes of my teaching, I was dismayed to discover how uninformed the students were about how to align their bodies for a safe and effective yoga pose.

Following the model of my Iyengar teachers, I adopted the “stop – come watch” technique. One truth that endures through time is that it is always easier for us to see someone else’s blind spot, but difficult to see our own.

When a student watches a teacher correct/help another student with kindness and compassion, it awakens a certain intelligence within us to reflect and make a better pose for ourselves.

The Missing Information

Classical forms sometimes need to be modified, while still honoring the physiological goals of alignment. Something I clearly understood from my mentorships with Felicity Green, and Eric Small.

I will never forget teaching the Warrior 1 pose. One particular woman stood out as she scrunched and distorted her face attempting to follow the instructions I had given. She was struggling, and by the look on her face, she was in a fair amount of discomfort as well.

I asked if she was willing to be a model for the class so I could help her and everyone else through her. She agreed. As always I adjusted her pose verbally from the base up: first the foot position, the length of her stride, her hip position, the tilt of her pelvis, and lastly her arm position.

Once in her modified yet aligned position, I asked her to extend her limbs. A broad smile began to take over her face as she found herself experiencing the pose fully without any pain. Spiritual and physical energy was flowing through her body. Yoga Sutra II.46, Sthira Sukham Asanam—firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence, and benevolence of spirit in asana had been reached.

The proof is in the pudding. After my presentation a record-breaking 165 copies of my book were purchased at the convention bookstore.

Making New Partnerships

Evolution is a process. Whether you are on a yoga journey for personal growth, a yoga teacher who desires to know more to be more effective, or have been confused by how yoga is “consumed” in this country, you can’t avoid the personal change and evolution at the heart of the practice of yoga.

To continue to fulfill my mission of helping as many yoga students and teachers as possible to discover their healing path through Yoga, I chose to reach out to Eva Norfolk-Smith, Director of YogaU Online and a supporter of IAYT.

I gifted her a copy of my book and expressed my interest in being a presenter for her platform. When she invited me to offer a three-hour course on yoga for back pain relief, I felt honored and excited to be on my first national platform that was dedicated to supporting yoga teachers to improve their skills. Over the next three years I created and produced five courses for YogaU Online.

The things I learned during these years:

1. That courage is something you develop as you face your fears of the unknown, trusting in your intention as well as the support and friendship of others who have gone before you.

2. That self-discipline goes a long way to creating positive change as demonstrated by the way my language around teaching yoga gained a new focus during the three years it took to write my book.

3. While Yoga‘s popularity grew quickly in a few short years, the practice lost its depth of understanding. There was great confusion about how to integrate various approaches to reach the intended goal of the practice. Yoga in the U.S. was in its adolescent phase.

The popular metaphor is that Yoga is a tree with many branches. How do you imagine the practice will need to evolve so we can begin to see the forest through the trees and embody the ideals of yoga?

Coming in January 2022 ~ the Final Chapter ~ Covid and Beyond

More About Lillah Schwartz

Read Previous Chapters 1 thru 6 Here.

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