In our second installment of the Salonpas® “Wellness Warriors” series where we connect with people on the forefront of health and wellness, we meet certified yoga instructor Veronica Zador, director of the first hospital-based teacher training program in the United States, the Beaumont School of Yoga Therapy. Zador, a former yoga school owner and yoga therapist at Beaumont Hospital – Royal Oak, teaches yoga instruction and yoga therapy. As a passionate and articulate expert, she is a reliable and frequent media contributor.
How did you get into yoga?
I fell out of a tree! I was climbing a beautiful old tree in the park near my daughter’s elementary school. Just as I reached the best branch, boom, I fell out like a stone. What happened? I broke or ripped just about everything in my knee. The pain from the surgery was intense. The pain from recovery was even more so. After years of trying to navigate the ever increasing pain, this same daughter talked me into attending my first yoga class! What I discovered as a result of that first class is that the joint and muscle pain diminished. After a bit of time, I noticed a steady increase in strength, comfort, balance and movement — not only in my knee but also in my attitude. I enjoyed the simple efficiency of yoga. It was a system that I could practice in a group or on my own. I also learned that there is emerging research to support yoga as an integrative modality to help reduce pain, manage symptoms of many diseases and help manage the stress and anxiety that many people feel when they are uncomfortable or in pain. Now, 35 years later this daughter is an anesthesiologist specializing in pain management. We share yoga practices together whenever we can. Also, as an MD and yoga teacher, she is a faculty member of the Beaumont School of Yoga Therapy. It was a thrill for us to research and write an article on yoga therapy together and have it published in a peer-reviewed journal.
How did you come to be the director of the first hospital-based teacher training program in the United States?
Following a wonderful experience of founding and directing two yoga studios I was honored to serve as the vice-chair of Yoga Alliance, president of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and responsible for organizing the first three international IAYT symposiums on yoga therapy and research. These organizations provide standards for yoga teacher training and yoga therapy. In this capacity, I was able to appreciate that important advances in the field of yoga teacher training and yoga therapy are dependent upon education and experience at the highest level. These are the aspects that guided me to develop the program format and curriculum.
A key aspect of the curriculum involves yoga therapy in integrative healing research, mentorship and collaboration. Maureen Anderson, MD, medical director of Integrative Medicine for Beaumont Health, along with Gail Elliott-Patricolo, director of Integrative Medicine, Beaumont Health, shared and supported this direction. Now all three levels of the Beaumont School of Yoga Therapy are housed within Beaumont Health, Integrative Medicine.
Do you think more hospitals will roll out training for yoga therapists?
Yes, I do! Students enrolled in the Beaumont School of Yoga Therapy programs are acting as wonderful yoga therapy ambassadors to the representative hospitals, studios and institutions where they work. In addition, we are receiving national interest and are delighted to host site visits for new friends.
How can someone in pain know what type of yoga class or instructor they should look for?
First of all, please consult with your health care management team if you have any concerns about yoga to help you manage pain and discomfort. When considering a yoga class, it’s a good idea to ask the program director or yoga instructor about their professional background, their knowledge of your symptoms and their experience in offering instruction in yoga therapy that helps you manage pain and discomfort. It’s fine to visit a yoga studio or clinic prior to the classes you are interested in taking. Notice if you feel you are in a safe, clean, professional environment. Notice if you feel encouraged to ask questions and, of course, if you feel comfortable and relaxed overall. Yoga is not an alternative to traditional treatments but many who practice it find they need less pharmaceutical intervention to help manage pain.
Tell me about one or more of your success stories who turned to yoga for pain relief? How often do they do yoga and how was it able to help them?
I’ve been very lucky to have helped many people minimize and manage their pain. Yoga therapy for pain management has been shown to help individuals gain coping and adaptation skills. This is especially important when trying to manage pain. How is this accomplished? Yoga therapy is based on healing values that can be customized for each individual, positively influencing state of mind. A more relaxed state of mind can help offset the multi-leveled aspects of pain and discomfort. I am able to help people with back pain, heart related issues, joint pain, cancer recovery and adaptation, headaches and symptoms related to stress and anxiety. I had the pleasure to meet a very nice, very outspoken 68-year-old lady with diabetes. On her first visit she entered the room leaning on her a walker and warned me in no uncertain terms, “I just want to tell you I don’t walk and I don’t stand up because all my joints hurt. I just want to sit here”. Well, now she’s walking around a track every day, she goes fishing with her grandchildren and she just finished painting her living room! I don’t think I could keep up with her!
What type of diet do you personally consume and recommend to your students?
I generally avoid recommending specific foods or special diets. I do recommend people seek nutritional counseling to make sure they are absorbing nutrients and enjoy a balanced diet that best suits their needs. I am a vegetarian.
For someone with mild to moderate pain, how many sessions of yoga should they do weekly? How long until they start feeling pain relief?
I completely agree with the Salonpas blog when considering ways to relieve or reverse pain; “American consumers have a growing concern about what they are putting into their bodies and are looking for other options in pain relief. They are realizing that it may not be a great idea to pop a pill at the first twinge of pain whether it is muscle and joint pain, back and knee pain or arthritis aches.”
I usually see people over the course of four, one-hour sessions. That’s about all the time it takes before a person starts to feel consistently better and, most importantly, feels confident about self-managing their symptoms. If you notice you can help yourself feel better, have less pain and find greater joy in the normal things you want to do every-day then yoga therapy works for you!