By Nina Priya Ma David
I originally founded Creative Yoga Therapy to provide inspiring, therapeutic services for a wide variety of needy populations. As a result, I have had the honor of sharing Yoga with a multi-cultural elderly population.
While some of my elderly students are ambulatory, alert, responsive and agreeable, others are not. Many are physically disabled. Some are de-conditioned and extremely weak. Some take medication that makes them drowsy or irritable. Some are mentally impaired. Others are so anxious or depressed that, no matter what you say or do, they resist the very opportunities that can help them feel better. Many come from diverse cultural backgrounds, speak languages in which I am not fluent, and are uncomfortable with behaviors that are unfamiliar. What to do?
How Yoga Can Help
One Yoga practice that helps me better connect with elders who are experiencing mild, moderate and even severe physical and psychosocial challenges is tratak or “fixed gazing.” To the layperson, tratak may seem to be simply making eye contact. This is a legitimate observation and often provides a good start therapeutically. However, tratak is more than good people skills via eye contact. Tratak is an extremely simple yet powerful Yoga practice that offers many physical, mental and spiritual benefits for both the client and the caregiver.
Recently, while conducting a staff training, I was asked to provide Yoga tools for addressing the needs of an especially challenging dementia group. I was warned about a particular client with a reputation for becoming extremely agitated if touched or even approached. During the practice portion of the training, I greeted each client as I usually do, with a friendly handshake and the following greeting: “Hello (person’s name), thank you for coming to Yoga today.” As I came around the circle to this particular man, I kept my distance, yet practiced tratak by gazing gently into his eyes. He returned the gaze and surprised everyone by quietly remaining in the circle throughout the entire session. A week later, I received feedback from the staff saying that just by practicing tratak with him, this client was much less verbally abusive and had even begun conversing with staff. He stayed seated in group activities during which he had previously paced in the back or wandered off. The staff thought this rather amazing. However, with guided, consistent and dedicated practice, tradak can help one experience peace of mind, get rid of unwanted thoughts, improve confidence, intelligence and patience, increase work efficiency, relieve mental disorders and improve motivational power and foresight.
Tips for Using Tradak
There are various approaches to tradak practice, all of which, ultimately, should be studied with a qualified teacher. However, not everyone is in a situation to train in this manner. As the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” In the meantime, do not touch loved ones who are not receptive to touch or physical proximity. Instead, practice making respectful, kind eye contact, at eye level, and at a safe distance. Without staring, take notice of inhalations and exhalations and synchronize your breathing with theirs. Gently smile. Focus on your heart’s most loving, healing intentions coming through your eyes –and you and your loved one will experience some of the easeful, peaceful, useful benefits of tratak.
About the Author
Nina Priya Ma David, MA E-RYT 500 has created programs for needy populations and their caregivers in hospitals, schools, spiritual and community organizations for more than 20 years. She is the founder/director of Creative Clinics/Creative Yoga Therapy, an annual guest teacher at Fordham University, and a frequent presenter at Integral Yoga Institute and national conferences. One of her goals is to train enough Creative Clinics therapists so that this exceptionally effective modality can be utilized in day, residential and home care in each and every US state.
I think if VNS Choice cares so much about the elderly, mind and body they should have more humane policies. When I disenrolled, the case manager and nurse misinformed me by advising me my mother’s medicaid would be inactive and closed. That is Medicaid fraud to me, being dishonest and trying to bully me not to disenroll by giving me misleading information that was not unfounded. I went to the Medicaid office to check if it was the truth and found out they were being dishonest and lying to patients and their caregivers.— Art / June 8th, 2012 at 8:57 am