Meet the practitioner: Yoga teacher Kirsten Mackintosh (Gippsland, Victoria)

Yoga teacher, Paynesville and Bairnsdale in Gippsland Victoria
Life! Facilitator for Diabetes Australia Victoria

How did you come to teach yoga to people with pain?
My husband and I initially trained in Power Yoga. We started teaching it in Gippsland (a regional area of Victoria Australia) but being in the country we were the only yoga teachers in the area and we found ourselves with students of all ages and capacities. Power Yoga as you can imagine just isn’t appropriate for everyone so we had to adapt our classes to suit all these diverse bodies.

Most of our students are now over 50, with about a dozen over 70. I trained in chair yoga to offer more options for people with limited movement.

How did Yoga for Pain Training change your teaching?
Yoga for Pain Foundations Training reinforced that a lot of what I was doing could help people with long term pain. With some tweaking I was able to make the classes more suitable for those with movement challenges due to pain from things like cancer, arthritis and fibromyalgia. I learned the importance of helping students practice yoga without creating a pain flare and to use smooth, soft movements.

How have you seen yoga help with pain?

Something interesting happened for me personally when I recently did the Yoga for Pain course as a student. I have arthritis and the focus on small, fluid movements helped me learn to write without pain.

What can students expect in your classes?
You’ll usually get two teachers in our classes. One leads, and the other helps you adjust your postures, fetches props and offers other support. Our classes focus a lot on breath awareness and they are not fast paced.

What have you learned about pain that surprised you?
In Yoga for Pain Training I learned that it’s actually the brain that “decides” whether something is dangerous (and therefore painful). This means you can feel a lot of pain without any tissue damage. The upside to this is that because the brain is plastic (change-able) you can to some extent change your brain’s response to pain.

Tell us about a yoga teacher who has influenced your teaching
Shimon from Hawthorn Yoga in Melbourne used a lot of props (he follows the Iyengar method). As a result I was able to move my body through limitations I thought were impossible.

What difference do you hope to make in your community?
I want to create movement opportunities for people with pain that they thought weren’t available to them.

What advice would you offer people with pain who want to start yoga?

Learn to tune into into your intuition to find your edge, so that you can progress physically without a pain flare. I also find that people who see their teacher for a one-on-one session are more likely to continue with yoga long enough to see the true benefits.

Where can we find you?
Bairnsdale Community Hub and Paynesville Community Hall in Gippsland. I teach flow vinyasa, yin and restore yoga. I also deliver the evidence-based Life! program for Diabetes Australia Victoria several times a year where we cover diet and nutrition, physical activity, and meditation.

Kirsten Mackintosh is a registered Level 1 yoga teacher with Yoga Australia.  Get in touch via her on 0438526933 or visit the website Swancove.

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