What Is Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy: An Interview With Michael Lee

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This year marks the 27th anniversary since Michael Lee founded Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. As we touched on in the last issue of the Journal, this is an incredibly exciting time for Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. We are a vibrant professional organization, continuing to grow and facing a bright future as both a supportive modality and a professional community.

As the modality of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy continues to grow, we at the Journal thought it important to remain clear about Phoenix Rising’s history, intention, and even some of its core theory. For this important conversation, we asked Phoenix Rising’s director of programs Beth Triano to sit down with founder Michael Lee and explore in detail a most fundamental question: What is Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy?

Beth Triano: Michael, you founded Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy with a very clear intention. Let’s begin our conversation with your working definition of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy.

Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy founder  Michael Lee

Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy founder
Michael Lee

Michael Lee:  Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy offers a yoga-based, mind-body, educational process to help people live  their lives more effectively. Phoenix Rising was born from my direct experience of deep yoga practice, inner self-presence, and self-inquiry processes. All human beings are in a constant state of change, and yoga and education both acknowledge and support the process of change. At the inception of Phoenix Rising, I was trying to better understand myself and how I showed up in life. It wasn’t until I engaged my body and experienced what it had to say that I discovered that there are better ways to understand one’s life than trying to “think it out”. The first clue that I was on to something good was when my oldest daughter said, “When you practice yoga, you’re happier.” She was right! This inspired me to go further, to take the physical experience of yoga and somehow integrate it into my life.

The question became: How to offer in a simple and effective way what I was discovering? I realized that first and foremost there must be access to the body; it always tells the truth. Second, there must be a way to support bringing an open and loving presence to the process of listening to what my body is telling me. This is the kind of open and loving presence Carl Rogers spoke about – unconditional positive regard. It’s a way to be present to others without judgment or agenda. And third, there needs to be a way of integrating and connecting what I learn through my body’s wisdom with my life experience.

BT: Speak more about Carl Rogers’ influence.

ML: As a pioneer in humanistic psychology and education, I greatly admired Carl Rogers in the way he related to others. Its essence was very yogic. He could be present without needing to do anything or make anything happen. He could create the space for people to do their own learning from their own unique experience of themselves. This approach fit with many of my own deep yoga experiences during which I was able to connect back to my life experience.

Another humanistic educator who greatly influenced my work was Malcolm Knowles. His educational approach was based on a model (andragogy) similar to the inner guru concept in yoga. I believe the most significant contribution to the application of yoga that stems from Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is this andragogical approach to therapy. It totally recognizes the innate wisdom that dwells within all beings. Phoenix Rising doesn’t tell clients how to “fix” things. We help them discover their own unique solutions to their own unique situations.

BT: So what we end up with in Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is a modality that is traditionally yogic yet uses compatible modern educational processes.

ML: That’s right. Our focus with Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is on education from the inside out. We help people use their bodies to bring awareness to areas in their lives that they might want to change. Then we support them as they learn to listen to their own inner wisdom in order to effect that change.

BT: There is a lot of talk right now about what constitutes yoga therapy. How do you define yoga therapy?

ML: Yoga therapy is a broad and inclusive term. Within its scope are modalities ranging from those that focus more on the physical body to therapies whose intention is to offer a holistic approach to life enhancement. Some yoga therapies will diagnose or offer to fix a specific problem. And that’s great. Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, on the other hand, facilitates a process that supports people in becoming aware of the changes they need to make in order to create the life that they want.

What is unique about Phoenix Rising is that we don’t tell people how to do this. We create – through body awareness, through simple dialogue, witnessing, and validation – an opportunity for people to connect with and hear their own wisdom and guidance.

BT: So given that most therapies exist to treat or fix a specific condition or problem, you don’t see Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy as serving that role in a person’s life.

ML: We are a therapy. What we do, does affect people. They do change as a result of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. We don’t promise a specific change, though. We don’t diagnose a condition or a problem and treat it specifically. But we do know from experience that Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy offers the client the potential – the opportunity – for change. And we see those changes happen. In short, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy doesn’t offer a panacea. Instead, it offers a process. That process often leads to change in all aspects of one’s being – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

We are very proud of what we do and the way we go about it. And we are not discrediting any other form of treatment. In fact, we are saying there is a synergy between many of the forms of therapy available today. Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy has its place, as do all other modalities. We are a results-oriented and pragmatic therapeutic modality, and our clients are very happy with the results they get.

About the Author

Beth Triano

Beth Triano is the director of programs for Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. She also has a private practice in Vancouver, British Columbia. Beth holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education and Kinesiology, and she specializes in teaching pre- and post-natal hatha yoga.

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