Sandra Chaloux

| 10/25/2016

Functional Movement Yoga Therapy with Carolyn Bagdoyan

Functional Movement Yoga Therapy with Carolyn Bagdoyan

I’m so excited to tell you about this new treatment option that I am learning about. It is Functional Movement Yoga Therapy – a type of yoga therapy to remove pain, tightness and tension from stress, injury, or repetitive daily activity. Let’s dive in to this Q & A with Carolyn Bagdoyan.

Q. What is Functional Movement Yoga Therapy?

A. Functional movement yoga therapy is a personalized approach to help you listen to the signals your body sends, find freedom from suffering and move towards more functional movement and improved health and wellbeing. You develop and deepen awareness of compensatory movement, breath-holding, and body-bracing patterns that draw in extraneous tension and trap pain in the body. Using simple tools of breath, movement, and stillness, you discover how to build new healing patterns that better serve the body, helping you alleviate pain and embrace resilience–guiding you towards a new way of “be-ing” and a greater feeling of ease, balance and lightness overall.

Q. Why is it needed?

A. We all have movement and tension holding patterns that are under our level of awareness. Discovering and deepening awareness helps you listen to your body’s signals–allowing you to better honor those whispers. It’s like being aware of yellow lights the body flashes, empowering you for better self-care rather than having the lights turn red and reinjuring yourself. If you don’t change the body’s well-grooved patterns that cause tension and pain, you will continue to have the same tension and pain crop up. Improved awareness helps you retrain and re-pattern your body-mind connections, revealing a new alternative path to enhanced wellness that isn’t merely a short-term fix.

Moving better empowers you to get out of pain and relieve the tightness and tension caused by lifestyle, stress, injury, illness, overuse or just plain repetitive daily activity (anyone sitting in a commute or behind a computer for long hours?) The better you feel, the more energy you have, enabling you to get back to doing things you love or venture into new activities you’ve always wanted to try.

Q. What do you mean by compensatory movement (can you give an example or 2)?

A. Compensatory movement can occur when the body has limited range of motion due to injury, strain, muscle weakness, or fatigue. The body wants to get the job done for us—it wants to do what we ask it to, but sometimes lacks the strength or stability to do so in a functionally optimal way. For example, an individual may have tightness and tension through the shoulder blades, so when they raise their arms into flexion, they also move into spinal extension and their ribs poke out, or they strain through their neck in trying to raise the arms. Or, when moving into hip/leg extension or external rotation, they do a side bend through the spine or twist because of limitations though the hips (say when moving in spinal balance or into tree pose), and end up straining their back. Or perhaps they brace through their torso when moving into bridge pose with hip flexion and extension—and are unable to get the full benefit of the core strengthening that can come with the movement.

Q. What are some examples of body bracing patterns? Why do people develop body bracing patterns?

A. Bracing patterns show up for the same reasons that compensatory movement patterns do–in fact, bracing is a compensatory pattern itself. In some cases, bracing is simply the body’s long-term response to dealing with pain or from having moved through pain and tension for a long period—it happens automatically—as a conditioned response.

How yoga practitioners move into poses can be just as important as where they end up in alignment, because if people are moving outside of their available range of motion, the opportunity for injury arises. So many people move into yoga poses without really feeling what’s happening and without much awareness of what is actually moving in the body to get into the final “aligned” pose. Moreover, depending upon the intention of the practice, if the practitioner is looking for a relaxation response as well as strength and stability in their practice, moving in a manner that is pain free and does not bring in extraneous tension can help them achieve more of the benefits they are seeking from their practice.

Q. How does functional movement yoga therapy work?

A. This yoga therapy uses a gentle and accessible “no-pain=great gains” approach. It incorporates small movement exercises with yoga practices to uncover and quiet down poor movement patterns, release bracing in the body and nurture strength and stability in a new functional way so that strength can be fostered where it is really needed, rather than overworking parts that are overdone already (and likely why the tension is there in the first place!) The therapy cultivates greater, natural core stability and sustainable resilience and ease by fostering optimal movement through the largest joints and spine while working in a range that is pain-free.

Q. Who benefits from it?

A. Functional movement yoga therapy can serve anyone, including those with little or no yoga experience. It helps fitness minded individuals or current yoga practitioners who experience reoccurring discomfort or pain in their program by uncovering movement patterns that don’t serve and nurturing ones that do. It helps new yoga practitioners listen to the body’s whispers so they can better honor their body in a group class and avoid injury.

For people in recovery from injury, surgery or illness, it is supportive in regaining strength and stability in a way that starts with where they are at–so that rebuilding can be done in a way that creates strength on top of ease rather than on top of more tension. This yoga therapy can beautifully complement rehabilitative physical therapy–either concurrently or as part of the next stage of regaining health and movement. Functional movement yoga therapy used in conjunction and support of physical therapy nurtures better breath and improved movement awareness (moving without bracing and compensation) while doing prescribed therapy exercises to make recovery more easeful. As a next stage approach, through combined yoga practices it builds on gains made to guide you forward into more supple movement and sustainable strength.

Q. What does a functional movement yoga therapy session consist of? Where do you perform these sessions? What equipment does a client need to have for these sessions?

A. I provide a mobile therapy service so I go to clients’ homes and bring all necessary props, including mats, blankets, bolsters, etc. Sessions typically last an hour. In the initial session, we go over the client’s concerns, including areas of pain, tension, injury etc., as well as any other factors that may be affecting the client’s well-being, such as low energy, stress, depression, or anxiety. This starts the process of developing awareness, because sometimes there are linkages between these other factors and where tension is found in the body. For example, people experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety may exhibit shallow breathing patterns which impact how tension and tightness are held in the body. Based on this initial discussion, we move forward to meet the client’s needs. Since this therapy is guided by movement patterns and the client’s state in each and every session (rather than being condition-based) no two sessions are alike. There is no template to follow in functional movement yoga therapy. It is meeting each client as they are in every session.

Q. How long does it take for a typical client to see improvement?

A. Clients will begin to deepen awareness of their movement and tension holding patterns and receive tools for cultivating better movement and relieving pain and tension from the very first session. Clients typically see gains and growth in movement, function, flexibility, ease and awareness in 5-10 sessions, particularly when they utilize their customized program in between sessions.

Q. How was functional movement yoga therapy developed/derived?

A. Internationally recognized yoga therapist and Canada-based teacher trainer Susi Hately has been a pioneer in this functional movement yoga therapy approach. Individuals are more than their conditions and every individual has a unique pattern of movement. With a background in kinesiology, Hately recognized in her private client yoga therapy practice that yoga therapy that addresses unique movement patterns offers a path to healing that ultimately creates more ease and less pain. Hately’s Principles of Therapeutic Movement guide this therapy approach. She has authored numerous anatomy books, CDs and DVDs and delivered online and in-person training about therapeutic yoga as well as yoga for cancer recovery.

Q. How long has it been in use?

A. Susi Hately has been training and certifying yoga therapists in this approach for 10 years and helped revamp the certification standards for yoga therapists by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, which published new standards in 2012.


 Carolyn Bagdoyan is a certified RYT200 yoga instructor and pursing Susi Hately’s 1000-hour Functional Synergy IAYT Accredited Yoga Therapy Certification Program, after having completed her intensive yoga therapeutics training in Canada in 2015. Carolyn has been in ongoing training with Susi Hately and her mentor group since then. Carolyn is also a certified LifeForce Yoga® Level 1 Practitioner, trained in Amy Weintraub’s protocol for using yoga therapeutics to help balance mood and has assisted Weintraub at mood management workshops both locally and most recently, at Yogaville in October 2016. Carolyn offers specialty workshops to offices and organizations on a range of topics, including stress management, balancing your fitness regime with yoga, and mood management for greater well-being.


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