by Michael Lee founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy

The greatest gift I received from my father and mother was their listening. As I was listened to — and heard, my ability to listen to my own truth and follow what was in my heart developed. So, when I became aware that I was not happy, although I had a successful academic career, a family, a home, and all the external features of a happy life, I chose to take time out in search of my soul and my Self.

Having practiced daily yoga for several years, I was inspired toward that discipline. So I did the logical thing. I visited several ashrams and spiritual communities, experiencing different teachers and yogic practices, finding that I did indeed discover my self best through the wisdom of my body. Yoga became my path.

I followed my intuition to the Kripalu Ashram in  Lenox, Massachusetts. The wisdom in the teachings of my new  teacher, Yogi Amrit Desai, resonated profoundly with my own inner truth, and I became even more aware of the transformational power of yoga.

With increasing awareness of the physical edge in my body, I began noticing emotions as they surfaced. I was drawn to explore this phenomenon further. I began to experiment. My experience with non-directive approaches to learning, active listening, and the strategic use of appropriate questions inspired me to combine these techniques with assisted yoga postures. I discovered that this powerful combination supports the emotional edge that surfaces when people journey deep within their bodies. The seeds of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy were planted.

In 1985, I was given an opportunity to put this into practice. Adjusting to life in the real world after two years of living in the sanctuary of an ashram was a new challenge. What would I do to support myself? How would I fulfill my desire to do work I love? Along with this transition, I found myself alone and fathering two teenage children when my marriage of seventeen years ended in divorce. All the known constructs upon which I had based my sense of self were no longer there for me. I felt lost, like a piece of me was dying.

Each morning I went into my body on my yoga blanket in search of — what? I let it be unknown. I let the yogic discipline of holding the posture be a metaphor for life. I didn’t look for answers or escape. I allowed myself to fully feel and even embrace the pain, hanging out with the discomfort I felt. Time and time again, often after tears had flowed freely, I found my center and knew with absolute certainty that I was safe; that the circumstances of my life were not only perfect, but indeed a gift from God.

Through the discipline of yoga, my body became my savior. As pain transformed to gratitude, I felt inwardly stronger than I’d ever felt before. The usual struggle was gone. I lost my need to know what was next. I trusted living in the unknown. There was just this moment and the next thing to do. The more I surrendered, the more I felt supported. I compared my process to the mythical story of the Phoenix rising from the ashes. Two things became clear: I wanted to share this work with others, and it would be called Phoenix Rising.

I began to work one-on-one with students from my yoga classes. My intention was to facilitate their empowerment. Typically, in the west, one would use verbal therapeutic techniques to do this, as I had done in my own previous work successfully. But while leading programs at Kripalu, I saw I was also able to facilitate empowerment through the body. I concluded a great deal of power must lay in the combination of these two effective modalities. Now that I knew that, the question arose — how?

I knew I could not plan an unfolding process of self-discovery, so I chose to come to sessions without knowing. I did not, however, come to sessions with nothing. I brought faith in my ability to be present, my education, and my experience. Techniques began to emerge that created a feeling of trust so that clients could surrender, and in doing so, discover their own power. I began to use these techniques in my programs and in time developed a thriving yoga therapy practice.

More and more I was called to teach others. My partner, and now wife, Lori Bashour suggested we start a training program. The first program, held in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1986, was sponsored by Suvarna Hannah, a wonderful being who believed in me and to whom I will forever be grateful.

In 1992, I was on faculty at Omega with Pat Rodegast who channeled and wrote Emmanuel. I was no stranger to Emmanuel, as I read generously from his words of wisdom in my programs. To my delight, Pat asked if we could exchange sessions. I gave her a Phoenix Rising session and then I received a session with Emmanuel. During my session I felt an instant recognition of truth and a profound sense of affirmation. Here is some of what he said to me:

Circumstances certainly announce that the time is very close at hand where humanity will have met the illusion of its own creation; where it will see in the manufactured God, no truth at all, but only the reflection of its own mistrust and fear…each human being, as you know, comes to that moment when they recognize…that within their own being rests the light of eternity. And when that realization comes, and it will, …that is when your work, [Michael], becomes very valuable. There is a calling within you that would say, ‘I know that moment. I know that moment of profound disillusionment and revelation. And it is at that moment that I wish to be the bridge, to take the hand of the desperate human being, and lead them gently into the truth of the greatness of who they really are.’

As I heard these words, they connected to a place within I had never voiced. I had sensed for some time that Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy provided a bridge leading to recognition that when the spiritual alignment of body and mind replaces fear as the motivating force in life, there comes a knowing that the bridge has been crossed. Increasingly I heard from clients, students, and the clients of students how they had discovered a power within; a power that was instantly recognizable as their own. Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapists offer this gift to those they serve.

I am here in this world, in this body AND I AM HOME – home to ME.


Some answers to other questions.

1. What distinguishes Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy from other styles of yoga therapy?

One of the key distinguishing features of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is that it is based on a purely holistic paradigm – in other words it works on the principle that each person is unique, with a unique history, a unique manifestation of energy in body, mind, and spirit. Given this, the healing process is one of exploration and discovery taking into account the unique nature of the individual.

It is client centered and non-prescriptive. This is a very important statement and one that is pivotal in the training of Phoenix Rising Practitioners. In other words we don’t make a diagnosis and then offer a treatment. Instead we help the client determine what is happening for them in their body and in their life and to determine what they might want to change and the ways to go about it. It does take into account physical issues as well as mental, emotional and spiritual – but from the perspective that they are all linked and not separate. So the statement- “you can fix your sciatica by doing this posture three times a day” is NOT what you would ever be likely to hear from a Phoenix Rising practitioner. Its true there might be postures that are good for sciatica – but the underlying question is…. “what unique manifestation of life energy led to the creation of the sciatic condition? And to what extent does this come form a spiritual or mental dissonance as well as the physical” And I would be game to bet that for every person in the world with sciatica the answer to that question is going to be different from anyone else’s answer even though they share the same basic diagnosis – sciatica. And I believe the same applies to many other conditions as well.

Phoenix Rising Yoga therapy is also based on an approach to yoga that focuses on working from the inside out and paying less attention to “form” and more attention to “essence.” Its not about how good you look or how well you can perform an asana. Its more about what happens to you in all aspects of your being while you are engaging the asana and being able to notice and distinguish the subtleties in body, mind and spirit – then using this information as awareness on which to evaluate and possibly change your life.

Phoenix Rising Practitioners around the world have developed successful practices and have used the approach to specialize in working with specific populations/conditions/ and referral sources. Some get referrals primarily from psychiatrists and psychotherapists, others from MD’s, and others from Chiropractors or massage therapists. Some work with conditions like Attention Deficit Disorder in children, some with cancer patients. We have other practitioners who specialize in the treatment of addiction, one who works with pain management, others who work with pre and post natal women, and some who work in the corporate world using the technology to help with the management of stress.

To me what is most exciting is that we can adapt the technology of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy to work in all these different arenas and with different populations. We are able to do it by working with people from the inside out and by honoring them as unique human beings. I believe when this is done, the healing is much more profound, more lasting, and more meaningful in terms of the whole of life, rather than just fixing a symptom.

2. Who are the practitioners?

Yoga teachers, psychotherapists, bodyworkers, holistic health practitioners, and anyone interested in guiding people into the deeper aspects of self through the body. Certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapists have completed a comprehensive 600 hour (or more) program that includes a period of 9 months supervision with a mentor. They have also practiced yoga on a daily basis for that time.

3. What style of Yoga is it based upon?

Phoenix Rising draws its essence from Kripalu Yoga, but also draws inspiration from other traditions and teachers including, Iyengar, Bikram, Yogananda, and Satyananda. It is compatible with all styles of hatha yoga.

4. Who is the Founder and staff?

Phoenix Rising was developed and founded by Michael Lee, MA, a recognized educator, academic,  and social scientist. Michael was a resident and faculty member at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts.

In late 2006 Michael Lee made the decision to focus his time on writing and speaking. He is the author of Turn Stress Into Bliss: The Proven 8-Week Yoga Program for Health, Relaxation and Stress Relief and of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy – Bridge from Body to Soul.

In the early years, Michael travelled extensively giving workshops and sessions.  His assistant was Lee Shinefield who is still with us 30 years later as our enrollment advisor. Karen Hasskarl and Elissa Cobb M.A., . formed the new team of co-directors for Phoenix Rising around 2007 and relocated  the Training Center to Bristol, VT. We also became an IAYT accredited program in 2014.

In 2014, Michael Lee and Lori Bashour stepped back into the picture after Karen’s premature death.  Since then Michael has worked with the faculty team to shape Phoenix Rising for today’s world. Our faculty practice and teach around the globe. Learn more about our current team on the Faculty page.

5. How long is the Training and what is the format?

The program is divided into three levels. Phoenix Rising Essentials  is four days, Level 2 is five days, and both are held in several locations around North America and Japan each year. The Level 3 certification program is a nine-month program with two 6-day residential sessions as part of a practicum that students can complete mostly from home; weekly telephone coaching sessions with a Mentor are required.  Additional courses are also required and depend upon the track chosen.

6. What is covered in the training and what teaching methods are used?

The program is primarily experiential and based on the belief that we learn best by engaging action and sometimes making mistakes along the way. Essentials of the Phoenix Rising method are taught during Level 1 and 2. Students learn assisted postures, appropriate body mechanics, the metaphysical aspects of body psychology, verbal techniques, breathing techniques, integration techniques, elements of professional practice, and contraindications and variations for working with specific clients.

In Level 3 the work is fine-tuned and deepened. Students receive one-to-one coaching from a personal Mentor. The personal as well as the professional development of the student is a fundamental part of the entire program.

7. Who are the clients and what can students expect after graduation?

Phoenix Rising offers a reliable, safe, body-oriented process for personal transformation to those wishing to live their lives more fully. Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapists enjoy a life of empowering others while continuing their own growth. Anyone can benefit from this work. Our graduates work in many different settings.  Some have their own private practice working in collaboration with other health care professionals from the medical and psychotherapy professions, and educational and social support organizations.  Many graduates combine their Phoenix Rising practice with teaching yoga. Others create a full Phoenix Rising practice and make it their sole profession.

8. Can I get college credit and/or CEU’s?

Yes. Several graduates of the Phoenix Rising training have received credit for all or part of their training in both graduate and undergraduate college courses. Requirements for external credit vary by institution; please check with your college or university of choice. CEUs are available for Yoga Alliance and in California for CAMFT members.

9. What support can I expect after graduating? What further opportunities exist?

Phoenix Rising offers an extensive short course graduate training program which includes further training in working with specific populations such as survivors of early childhood abuse, those in recovery from addiction, and those with touch sensitivity. Free marketing workshops are also available to help graduates support the work. Opportunities also exist for selected graduates to become Mentors, assist at programs and to be trained to lead workshops.

Phoenix Rising meets the requirements for schools registered in the State of Massachusetts and several other states.

10. What is the difference between Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy and psychotherapy?

Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy’s fundamental principles and theories are rooted in the ancient science of yoga. It is primarily a body-oriented modality as the  port of entry  as opposed to a mind-oriented modality such as psychotherapy, however in Patanjali’s yoga sutras the purpose of yoga is defined “overcoming the fluctuations of the mind”. Phoenix Rising uses body based experiences to engage the 8 limbs of yoga and support the transformational process.  The Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy practitioner guides the client using a specific set of carefully developed techniques to access sensory, emotional, spiritual and historical personal data which is believed to be stored in the body/mind.  To this day much contemporary psychotherapy does not fully accept the premise of the body/mind/spirit triad although this is changing and about 30% of our students are therapists in the mental health arena who desire to “bring the body to therapy”.

The practitioner of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy uses open-ended, non-directive somatic  techniques including dialog and profound presence along with techniques of pranayama (breath control) to support the client’s exploration of the inner experience. Additional techniques of body-scanning, use of witness consciousness ( a yogic concept of self-observation) as well as techniques of centering and meditation are integral aspects of each Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session. These techniques, which are the fundamentals of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, are not techniques which are ordinarily utilized in the practice of psychotherapy, nor are these techniques taught in professional schools of psychiatry, social work or psychology

The practitioner of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is trained to “hold the space” for the client to self-inform the direction of  the session, whereas in psychotherapy the therapist usually plays more directive role utilizing protocol based interventions. There is no diagnosis in Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, whereas clear, accurate diagnosis of psychopathology is the lynch pin of successful treatment in psychotherapy.

11. How does Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy work with more traditional healthcare services?

Students of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy are encouraged to recruit allied mental health professionals as a source of referrals for their clients who may need to seek professional therapy. Practitioners are encouraged to network with all health care providers in their local community. The training includes case examples related to when and how to make appropriate health referrals.