Before you flip through the photos and judge me for not actually being at a yoga conference, let me explain to you that we made a stopover in one of Southern California’s most beautiful areas along the way. I never knew much about Mt San Jacinto State Park until I heard stories from fellow biologists who had through-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, describing the iconic passage as an alpine oasis. From Palm Springs, Mt San Jacinto rises to 11,000 ft, which can be reached by foot on America’s steepest day-hike route, aptly named the ‘cactus to clouds’ trail. It was a fantasy of mine to graze the meadows above in reprieve from the unforgiving desert floor below. Six weeks post knee surgery and en route to my first yoga conference, fantasy became reality.
When you show up to a massive mountain with disability status, it’s nice to know there is an ADA-compliant mechanism for getting to the top. If you suffer from acrophobia, then I suppose the tram isn’t ADA-compliant, but it’s hard to accommodate everyone. See picture below for the glass paneled tram that climbs roughly 8,000 ft in 8 minutes against a sheer mountain face. What terrifying joy.
From the top, we grabbed camping permits from the Forest Service Station and hiked to Round Valley. I completely trashed my knee on this hike, but good thing I have photos that remind me of dense green meadows and frolicking deer, rather than unrelenting pain that lasted days. Cue stream of peaceful photos and transition to writing about four-day weekend at healing yoga conference.
The Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (aka ‘SYTAR’) is an annual conference for yoga therapists, yoga enthusiasts, health practitioners, and anyone in the therapy and/or rehab field eager to spread the use of yoga and the evidence behind it for practice. After solidifying my decision to incorporate yoga into my capstone project for my doctorate, I knew I could not miss the opportunity to attend this conference.
Part of why it took me so long to write about SYTAR was because I was trying to process and organize all the information I took in. It was less than a year ago when I dove beyond the surface of yoga and what the integration of such a practice meant for rehabilitation and our healthcare system. It has become more than a morning stretching routine for me, and I have finally felt confident enough to speak toward the history and literature.
The workshops were incredibly diverse at SYTAR. I wanted to pick topics most relevant to my studies in occupational therapy, but I also wanted to learn how others were using the practice in unique ways. I attended workshops on yoga for trauma, yoga for racial wounding, yoga as a community practice for cancer patients, yoga for autism and special needs, and chair yoga for adaptive/disabled fitness. There were so many more I wish I could have attended, but there simply wasn’t time. The plenary speakers should also be noted, because they spoke toward the imperative and relevant topic of integrating yoga into the medical model. The first, Sat Bir Khalsa has a powerful presence when he speaks. Dr Khalsa is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and is the director of research for the Kundalini Research Institute and Kripalu Center for Yoga. If you haven’t heard of those entities you can do a quick google search to see that he is a leading force in mind body medicine. His talk had a strong underlying tone of motivation to all of his listeners to be involved in research, because without empirical evidence it will be hard to wholly integrate yoga into the medical model. Those who regularly practice yoga know its value, but insurance companies don’t and neither do unexposed health professionals. It is up to us to build an unwavering foundation. Luckily, research journals have significantly increased yoga-related publications in the past five years, and the fire keeps on burning. Other plenary speakers were equally inspiring. Jenn Turner spoke about trauma-informed yoga and the pharmacological effects of yoga in the cancer community, while Amy Wheeler spoke in depth about integrating yoga into the medical model and how applications of yoga can help patients with recovery and pain management.
It was all such a thrill, and ended too soon. I was especially fortunate to connect with other occupational therapists and hear about how they are integrating yoga into OT. I left feeling hope for the future of our health care, which is a hard thing to spark in the current era. The learning process is a lifetime venture, and my weekend at SYTAR sealed my commitment to keep moving forward and contribute to building a better future in the world of health and wellness.
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.