A Conversation With the Yoga Teacher for Yoga Teachers, Tiffany Cruikshank

“Every time we run a training, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the work I do and the impact that our thousands of teachers have on their communities. I feel such awe watching the ripple effect of our work touch the lives of so many people all around the world. That’s the exponential power and the beauty of training teachers: every time I help one, I’m helping the thousands of students they will come in contact with as well. My work really feels like such a gift and a privilege.”
I had the pleasure to interview Tiffany Cruikshank. Tiffany is the founder of Yoga Medicine and an internationally renowned yoga instructor, who has spent the past 20 years crafting a methodology for teaching and practicing yoga, wherein the practice is melded with Eastern and Western notions of medicine. Cruikshank’s teaching is held up by her work as a holistic health practitioner, acupuncturist, and sports medicine expert. Based in Seattle, Cruikshank teaches regularly for YogaGlo, and travels extensively around the world. She is also the author of Meditate Your Weight. Her approach has helped thousands of yogis around the world see their practice in a new light as a result of Cruikshank’s innovative thinking and dedication to the practice.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

My journey started as a troublemaker in my early teens. My poor parents! I had so much energy and intensity that desperately needed some direction. I was a competitive tennis player and my dream was to play pro. I was also teased a lot as a kid — awful, unrelenting stuff, and I never really felt like I fit in. Like many teenage girls, I felt lost, lonely, and insecure. At some point, I got sick of being teased. I decided that being a great student or athlete wasn’t as important as the way I was feeling, so I started experimenting and testing out different circles of friends.

After getting in trouble with drugs at school, my parents tried to sending me to rehab — but it backfired. Being in rehab just made me more intrigued by my peers there. Being the overachiever I am, I decided to do it better and ran away. After much experimenting, drugs, living on the street, wanting to grow up and be an adult to escape it all, I hit my end. Luckily my parents were still there for me. After a bit of resistance, I finally agreed to go to a wilderness program for troubled teens (www.Anasazi.org).

Learning to survive, clearing my head in nature and learning how to use plants as medicine changed everything for me. Soon after I returned home, I found yoga. I couldn’t put words to it at the time, but my experience with yoga was like coming home to myself.

With these tools in hand, I finally felt like I had a purpose and a way to direct my energy. Since then, over the past two and a half decades, much has happened, but my mission has stayed the same. Returning home, sick of high school and inspired to study something meaningful, I quickly finished high school and started college at 16. Pursuing my interest in holistic medicine, I completed my Bachelor’s in Medicinal Plant Biology and then went on to Chinese medical school to complete my Master’s in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine with a specialty in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics.

Just before college, I also completed a yoga training and continued teaching yoga classes all through school. When I finished and started seeing patients, I quickly noticed that my patients who were yoga students seemed to get better so much quicker — so I started giving my other patients what I called “yoga prescriptions.” At the time, I was also running yoga teacher trainings. Eventually, all of these threads came together to evolve into what is now Yoga Medicine. As a healthcare provider myself, I saw firsthand the need for this type of program in the medical world; I also knew many healthcare providers looking for methods of using yoga in their medical practice. But because of the huge spectrum of skill and techniques in the yoga industry, you never know what you might encounter in a yoga class or teacher. The challenge was to find a yoga teacher whose classes they could confidently recommend, someone who was skilled enough to be a great yoga teacher but also know enough to care for their patients without creating additional health concerns.

Our training methods teach yoga teachers to understand both the eastern methodologies of yoga and Chinese medicine principles as well as western medicine concepts in anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. Recommending “yoga” for any condition isn’t a panacea — we humans are far too varied and complex for that! But with so many schools of thought and methods, I believe there really is some kind of yoga for everyone.

I think my journey is a good example of how yoga is a wide, welcoming world and there is something for everyone in this practice. My experience also showed me the importance of teaching kids/teens to be able to pause, question their assumptions about the world, and start building an internal self-awareness that is not built upon external comparisons. The space to develop that insight is invaluable and could potentially be life altering, especially in the digital age.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

The most recent one was just a hilarious misunderstanding: our operations manager received an email from a well-known athlete about working with us. Nowhere on the email did it mention what this athlete did except list a couple of non-profits in their signature. Our operations manager was knee deep in projects and didn’t notice the name, so she kindly replied asking which of their businesses they were looking for us to partner with. I laughed so hard when she told me, and her husband still gives her a hard time cause he’s a huge fan. Luckily this person is one of the most kind-hearted athletes I’ve worked with and was very gracious in their reply.

On a more serious note, I remember a Chinese medicine patient I had a few years back who really surprised me. I was working with this woman on an issue she’d had with her hip for several years. Acupuncture was only partially successful, and what had originally seemed like a straightforward case was not responding to the treatment I’d planned. I decided to switch gears and do one-on-one yoga instruction instead, to see if a more movement-based approach would be helpful. Still, we weren’t making the progress I had expected.

One of the things I love about yoga is that you develop a different relationship with your students, and you learn things their healthcare providers don’t usually hear. In this instance, after building a relationship with my student, she mentioned in passing that she’d had a difficult miscarriage. I put two and two together and realized that was the same time her hip pain began.

I switched gears completely to address the mental and emotional aspects of her pain, rather than just the mechanical issues, and we finally started making progress. After a little while, we were eventually able to resolve her pain. That experience was such a wonderful reminder that, even though I’ve seen thousands of bodies, every body is so, so unique. As yoga teachers we must keep studying and maintain an open mind because every body has its own story.

So what exactly does a Yoga teacher like you do?

We train yoga teachers to a higher level of proficiency in anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology as it relates to yoga. We prepare them to be able to individualize the practice for each client, as well as to work in healthcare settings as an adjunct to that person’s medical care. We bridge the gap between yoga and healthcare providers, both to enhance patient recovery and health outcomes as well as to help support the overworked, overwhelmed medical system. With pain and stress at epidemic levels and our understanding of pain changing significantly, I believe there’s a really important place for yoga in our healthcare system.

In our work with yoga teachers, we offer deeper studies that include everything from orthopedic and internal medicine modules, to Chinese medicine, to all sorts of specialized studies, such as meditation, myofascial release, and restorative yoga. We are the only training that offers cadaver dissections for our teachers, so they to get to see and experience every layer of the body firsthand, and we are the only training I know of that offers research opportunities for our teachers. We provide a higher standard and a transparent certification process that allows everyone to see exactly which trainings and modules our teachers have completed with us. With over 1500 hours of trainings, we raise the bar for yoga teachers and the yoga industry.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Well, for starters, every time we run a training, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the work I do and the impact that our thousands of teachers have on their communities. I feel such awe watching the ripple effect of our work touch the lives of so many people all around the world. That’s the exponential power and the beauty of training teachers: every time I help one, I’m helping the thousands of students they will come in contact with as well. My work really feels like such a gift and a privilege.

We also have two non-profits associated with Yoga Medicine: one focused on research to help support the growth of yoga in the medical world; and another that gives back to the culture that gave us this practice, by empowering girls rescued from trafficking in India. As an educated and empowered woman in our modern world, it means so much to me to be able to offer this program to women without such opportunities. One of the things I think is special about our program is that we not only provide food, shelter, and yoga, we match each girl up with a meaningful vocational skill of her choice, so she can have economic power for her lifetime. This program (@Yoga_Medicine_Seva) and these girls have literally changed my life; seeing their struggles and triumphs really helps me keep my life in perspective.

I feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many incredible people in our community. One such person, Valerie Knopik, senior researcher and professor at Purdue, runs our research non-profit Yoga Medicine Research Institute. It’s very important to me that we keep contributing to the overall growth of our profession by doing good quality research that helps inform the medical community about how yoga can be a helpful, healing adjunct to their care.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why?

1) Just get sh*t done. Yes, there’s value in thinking through different possibilities — but don’t let the decisions paralyze you, becoming a habit of delay or source of self-doubt. Choose a path and get started even if you don’t have every single answer at the get-go. The critical part is generating momentum and just getting started.

2) Delegate. Take time to hire and don’t be afraid to invest in a team you can really rely on. Then trust them to get their end done and enable them to take charge of their own work realm. Touch base to make sure you have a pulse on what’s happening. If they feel supported and included in the process, you’ll avoid the time drain of micromanaging. At first, you may find people willing to help but eventually you need to invest — a business is only as strong as the people who work for you and everyone needs to feel valued. Having great people is worth every penny and will save you time and money in the end.

3) Build a workflow to maintain creativity. Find your prime time of day and preserve it; don’t schedule other things during that time. Block out distractions and technology to enable your most productive concentration and creative energy.

4) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Mistakes are unavoidable, so don’t waste energy second-guessing the decisions you’ve made. If a mistake happens, take note of what you learned from it and take the next steps to move on.

5) Seek outside perspectives when needed. As a business owner, you have the final say. Yet, occasionally, you will benefit from another’s expertise. Identify one or two people whom you respect for their work in similar areas. I frequently bounce ideas off my fiancé, Forrest Hobbs. I’m incredibly lucky — not only does he know my business well, he has a wealth of business knowledge as a startup guru and provides a great outsider’s perspective. For yoga-specific feedback, I refer to my team, who know the industry well.

Also key for me is meditation. My meditation practice does so much for me, but in the context of running a business, it helps me start my day with some clarity and focus to be more efficient. Meditation is my daily non-negotiable.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

Honestly, I’d say Arianna Huffington and Melinda Gates. I really admire women who have made an impact in the business world but have been able to cultivate depth and meaning both in the world and in their lives. Ours is a tricky world to live in right now as a strong woman. I’d love to ask about carving our path and still nourishing our lives. Being strong without being rigid. Creating big things without losing sight of the small things. Having a powerful positive impact on the world through nonprofit work. I really admire Arianna Huffington’s drive, her work in the wellness space, and her strong spiritual ties. I have so much respect for all the nonprofit endeavors Melinda Gates has pushed forward, specifically the work she does for children, healthcare, women, equality, India — she inspires, educates, empowers so many! As female CEO’s, I believe we have a duty to pass down the wisdom we have accrued, and I would love to hear their words of wisdom in business and nonprofit work as female leaders.

Yitzi: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on January 4, 2018.

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