Yoga Medicine Therapeutic Specialist Lisa Ash Drackert is the owner and curriculum director of Westport Yoga KC. (Chloe Virginia Photography)
“I don’t like yoga people,” 62-year-old Sharon said when she came into Westport Yoga KC. Lisa Ash Drackert, the Yoga Medicine Therapeutic Specialist who founded the studio in Kansas City 12 years ago, didn’t take the comment personally. When we recently met, Ash Drackert told me that many clients come to her with doubts, not only about yoga, but also about their inherent ability to heal. Westport Yoga welcomes people of all ages, but older clients have been practicing doubt about their inner vitality for longer than others. “By the time they get to me, they’ve been to a lot of doctors.” That, she explained, means they have been looking for solutions outside their own bodies. When Sharon arrived, she was taking eight ibuprofens a day in addition to prescriptions for her blood pressure and bone density. She could hardly climb stairs.
Ash Drackert described an art of self-perception at the core of yoga. She teaches her students to structure their choices of perception, and this brings their thoughts and the very cells of their bodies back to an inherent power to heal. This path toward health and contentment is both a discipline and an art. When Ash Drackert described how the discipline unifies body, mind and breath, I imagined that marvelous breath that a concert pianist takes just before she begins to play, but Ash Drackert had an even better comparison: “Your yoga mat is your national park — your protected area of boundless beauty. You get to create what you want. And when you leave your mat, your practice lets you take that beauty with you everywhere.”
We don’t need to share a belief system to agree that time in Yosemite repairs and restores us; in the same way, the hurting client Sharon didn’t need to “like yoga people” to find what she needed at Westport Yoga. “She’s down to one ibuprofen a day now,” Ash Drackert said, “and she doesn’t need the pills any more for blood pressure and bone density.” Smiling with a teacher’s pride, she added, “Sharon just came back from a two-week tour of Italy, where she walked and walked every day.”
“Any conscious breath connects mind, body, breath and spirit. And with that connection you are in yoga,” she explained. “You don’t have to be lying on a mat . . . We sometimes feel that union when we are in the presence of beautiful music.” Then Ash Drackert reminded me of the 2017 Janet Cardiff sound sculpture, 40 Part Motet, installed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Many of us remember that unique transformation of the Bloch Gallery: We sat within a circle of 40 high-fidelity speakers, and each of them emitted the voice of one singer in a choir performing a 16th-century masterpiece of sacred music. The installation was exquisite, opening the gallery into an expansive vault of white light, and the coordinated voices of the 40 Part Motet placed us inside a rare unity of word and breath. “It was perfect!” Ash Drackert remembers. “How many places in the world let you have your mind and your body in the same place?”
Glancing around her yoga school, Ash Drackert says, “This is a particularly auditory environment.” Indeed, much of her role in the studio is to teach listening. To find the power to heal, students listen to her words and learn to listen inwardly. In the quietly cheerful spaces of the school, she and her associates guide listening and breathing, which are tools of pranayama, the meditative yoga tradition that is her specialty.
She explained to me that by combining pranayama with knowledge of anatomy, bodily mechanics and Western science, Yoga Therapeutic Medicine offers a crucial adjunct to Western medical care. Western doctors are less focused on helping patients to listen to themselves. They turn instead to outward remedies. An unfortunate consequence can be that people lose track of their inherent ability to heal. The broader culture usually worsens this problem. “We are taught to ignore the signals — fatigue, strain, hunger — and just keep going. Over time, it is detrimental to our wholeness.”
While working cooperatively with oncologists, physical therapists and other practitioners, she trains her clients to notice and choose mind-body movements. Her studio is a school with a 12-month curriculum in foundational “strands of wisdom” or sutras found in classical yoga texts. Aparigraha, a key term, instructs people to let go, to stop grasping for
contentment outside themselves. That grasping, the sutras say, separates us from our inner vitality. “The culture we live in today seeks more and more and more . . . This separates the mind from the body,” Ash Drackert told me. I asked her if some people feel overwhelmed by the complicated move from Western science and culture to ancient Eastern philosophy. “It’s simple,” Ash Drackert assured me. “We are all trying to come back to the creative spirit that sparks life in us.”