Modern Yoga History and Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy

root-cellar-prairie440My grandfather emigrated from Holland and homesteaded in Wyoming. He and my grandma lived in a one-room house next to a root cellar. Over the years the ranch grew, until the original one-room house became a storage shed. As kids, the little shed and especially the cellar, fascinated my brother and me.  The shed was old and weathered. The cellar was dark, musky and contained artifacts hiding in corners and in the bottom of storage bins of a time gone by. When I looked around at our ranch house, garage and mature tree-patch, it was hard to imagine a time when all that existed was the one-room house and root cellar. Both spaces felt so different from our daily lives and yet somehow important, like they held secrets and stories of what had come before that made our current reality possible.

As a child I remember wanting to understand how it all fit together, how this dark hole in the ground and small, dilapidated whitewashed building was connected to what surrounded me now.  I loved my grandma’s stories of the early days on the homestead. How she and my grandpa met when she was a teacher at the country school. How they raised sheep and grew their own food. How the root cellar enabled them to store food longer and thus make it through the long winters. A better understanding of the past made it possible to more fully appreciate our current surroundings and way of life on the ranch; which were much different than one-room buildings and cellars.

It’s been years since I’ve thought of the root cellar and my desire to understand its historical relevance to me, and yet childhood memories flooded my mind as historical curiosity surfaced in relation to my Phoenix Rising Yoga practice. I’ve noticed a strong desire to understand how Phoenix Rising Therapeutic Yoga relates to yoga’s history and that this desire has only become stronger as my practice has become more significant. I want to explore the beginnings, the one-room buildings and root cellars, of PRY in relation to modern day yoga.

Like all yoga in the West, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy emerged from and was influenced by traditions that trace their linage back to T.S. Krishramachaya (1888 – 1989).  Although he never crossed an ocean, it’s difficult to find an asana tradition that he hasn’t influenced, as Krishnamacharya’s yoga has spread through Europe, Asia, and the Americas. He is credited for transforming hatha yoga and his influence is most clearly seen in the emphasis on asana practice that has become the signature of modern yoga.

While Phoenix Rising is a tradition rooted in hatha yoga, the intention of supporting student-centered embodied self-inquiry distinguishes PRY from other types of yoga traditions. According to founder Michael Lee, in the early 1980’s he had a breakthrough while practicing with a senior colleague at Kripalu that lead him to begin developing what would become Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. He realized that he was developing a practice that was significantly different from other types of “yoga therapy” which up to that point had been primarily physical. Although PRY has physical benefits and clearly supported each client’s individual yoga practice, Lee became fascinated by the prospect of using hatha yoga to facilitate a wider range of benefits including: the deep relaxation and sense of well being provided by body-work; the catharsis of therapy; the mindfulness of meditation; and the integration of body, mind and spirit available through yoga.

Another feature that distinguishes PRY from other types of therapeutic yoga was Lee’s commitment to developing a yoga therapy that is founded on client-centered responsibility. In other words, PRY is a tradition that empowers clients to be responsible for their own healing and ultimately, their own transformation.

Phoenix Rising is set apart from other traditions by the intention of supporting student-centered embodied self-inquiry and the belief that students/clients are their own best teachers and capable of generating their own personal transformation. These foundational principles resonate deeply with me. I’ve directly experienced their power in my own life and have the immense privilege of offering yoga experiences based on these principles in my PRY practice to support others in their self-inquiry and personal growth.

I can’t help but feel deep gratitude for the courage of those who have come before me when I think of the one-room house and root cellar, the humble start that reflects the beginning of a vision and belief that something different can be possible. For my grandfather it was the courage to leave his country for a new life in a new country that held the promise of something more. For Phoenix Rising Yoga, it was Michael Lee’s courage to stay with and explore an embodied moment that lead to a breakthrough and the development of a practice that supports the personal courage of self-inquiry and transformation. I’m deeply grateful to call Phoenix Rising Therapeutic Yoga my yoga tradition.


Embodied Insight Yoga  –