The Ebb and Flow of Pain: Finding relief through yoga therapyThe Ebb and Flow of Pain:

Finding relief through yoga therapy

An Interview with Felicia Pavlovic


Conducted by Barbara Bryan for
Your Health Source Magazine
April 2007







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In the east, a guru means coming from the darkness into the light. Acharya, or teacher, is one who has gone through the experience, and imparts the knowledge based on what they know. They are considered higher than a guru -- a higher form of a teacher. It is teaching what we know. It is only from embodiment of knowledge that one can impart that knowledge.

When Felicia Pavlovic first began practicing yoga, she was 19. Amidst the deities, chants and incense, it meant nothing more to her than the ambient winds of her faith in Catholicism and prayer. Until 'knowledge' led her to her own embodiment as a yoga therapist.

For almost two decades, Pavlovic at 37, practices her asanas, (postures) while taking annual treks to India in pursuit of being the best yoga therapist she can be. In 2003, it was all nearly obliterated when a near fatal car accident left her with a herniated disc, a broken mandible (jaw) and still to this day, a body that can no longer do the postures she was once so capable of.

The body, breath and mind all had changed as she hobbled around. Eventually, an excruciatingly painful, slipped disc sent her to a neurosurgeon, who told her painkillers and perhaps surgery were her best options. Putting modern medicine aside, Pavlovic relied on her holistic yoga therapy, and after ten days of intermittent postures and bed rest, she slipped her disc back into place. Four years later, from her Bloor St, West office, Pavlovic plays ambient sounds of ocean waves, assuring me that the ebb and flow sounds calm the breath -- and it did, as I spoke to her.

BB: What made you start yoga?

FP: Initially, I came to yoga because of pain management ... I am a certified yoga instructor, which is different from a teacher. In the West, we use those two interchangeably, but in the east, you are an instructor and you work towards becoming a teacher. ...For me it is all yoga because we are working with the mind.

BB: Why do you like this approach?

FP: I think there is something to be said for years of working through things and being able to impart that knowledge. ... For me it was psychotherapy and then you have yoga therapy; it is the tandem of the two elements that brings about the healing process for the individual.

The Ebb and Flow of Pain: Finding relief through yoga therapyBB: You said you came to yoga for pain management; Is that a really important aspect of yoga for you?

FP: I went through a very traditional system of Catholicism, and I was in alter service. The body was never used as a prayer to God, or as spiritual understanding of self. ... It was very ethereal. My ability to have faith stems from that. ....When I did my first sun salute, I remember having a complete and emotional release because it was the first time I was bowing and praying through my body. I think what I was searching for was an expression of my body as a healing tool for my soul and that's what yoga gave me."

BB: When you are teaching a person who is suffering from persistent pain, how do you process that? How would you deal with that person's stress to overcome the pain in yoga therapy?

FP: In yoga therapy there are four parts. The first is to tell me what the symptoms are, and from there I try to establish what the cause of the problem is, (which may not be on a physical layer). This is a holistic practice so it means we look at all the layers: the physical, the breath layer, the mental and psychological layers, the path to the emotional layer and the spiritual layer. Once I establish what the problem is, then what are the steps to achieve that goal? There are four main steps. What are your symptoms today and what are the causes of those symptoms. From there, we establish a goal and then a means to achieving that goal. We need to alleviate some of the symptoms before we get to the cause, so by the time we get to the cause, we may come from a very different place.

The Ebb and Flow of Pain: Finding relief through yoga therapyBB: Is pain isolated in yoga therapy?

FP: Yoga therapy is not about isolated pain. In yoga therapy nothing is standardized. So what might give you pain in the stomach, might give someone else pain in the shoulder. ... So the cause of the problem is different. All yoga is therapy. So much of who you are and what your lifestyle is creates what's happening with-in...Never once have I given the same practice to an individual. It is always very specific to the needs of the individual.

BB: Does a person need to bring faith in themselves and the instructor to yoga therapy in order for it to be successful for them?

FP: Sometimes there's not a lot of faith in the self in the beginning. There's a lot of confusion, a lot of walls and a lot of fear because of what's going on in the system, so you don't trust your system anymore. Initially having faith in the person you are working with, allows someone else to hold that faith while you work through the symptoms. Yoga is defined as a relationship and the faith in the relationship. Faith and an open mind plays a very big part in the process of yoga. It doesn't mean not being discerning. It means staying with it.

BB: Why are Westerners so mystified by yoga?

FP: When I was in India, I observed teachers seeing people who were Indian and who were in practice everyday for themselves for their own healing. It was a huge part. Sometimes it is the idea of taking your own healing into your own hands. That process in of itself is very radical here in the West -- the notion that I am not going to do anything to you. I'm going to give you something so you can work on it. It's a very different system.

The Ebb and Flow of Pain: Finding relief through yoga therapyBB: Do you believe that those of us who live in a Westernized culture suffer from unnecessary pain, such as stress?

FP: Pain is an interesting phenomenon because it can be a healer and a teacher for us. I look at pain as part of the process to healing. If pain is there, it is there for a reason. So it is best to work with or through it. ...In the West like everywhere else, states of mind create some pain. It's not just common here -- it's all over the world. People have pain, maybe different kinds of stress but they have pain because the mind fluctuates. So the definition in yoga is the ability to sustain focus and over time sustaining your focus, you can become the object. The reality of you and duality doesn't exist.

BB: How does pain work with that?

FP: If you believe you are attached to your pain fully, it's very hard to understand it. Yoga, for example, says focus on one thing and stay with that focus. You will start to establish one with yoga. That's what practicing is about. We worry about it is never going to leave us -- that creates pain. If you are here right now, that pain becomes more of something you can witness from a present place. The focus is then the here and now--not your lower back pain. ...It is establishing a pattern in you of being. So this is how pain goes away.

The Ebb and Flow of Pain: Finding relief through yoga therapyBB: What about the flow and ebb of relationships and their reality? Does yoga help to improve relationships?

FP: When we are establishing a relationship to yoga within ourselves, it requires discipline; discipline comes from the word disciple, so you are the 'disciple' to yourself. When you take that leap of faith in yourself, you don't think about I have to go park the car, you think about how you are going to feel afterwards. If you keep that feeling in mind, you establish a relationship with yourself. When your coming from that embodied place, it reflects in your external relationships... All I'm doing is replacing an old pattern with a new one. It's all very individual. It's a leap of faith that helps in bringing this altogether. It's all the same work for thousands of years – being present for yourself.


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