Why is it called “Phoenix Rising” Yoga Therapy?

by Melissa West on May 17, 2011

Why is it called “Phoenix Rising” Yoga Therapy?

The term, phoenix rising, comes from the mythical story of rebirth and resurrection. According to the parable the Phoenix is a one of a kind bird dressed in a plumage of yellows, oranges, red and gold, corresponding to the colours of a fire. The bird itself lives a 500-1000 year life cycle. At the end of its life the phoenix builds nest of aromatic branches and spices, uses the sun to ignite the fire and his own wings to fan the fire. The mythical phoenix marks its death; plunges itself into the fire, is consumed by the flames and burns into a pile of ashes. Out of the ashes a new phoenix is born with renewed youth to live through another life-span.  The story is one of death and rebirth.

So what does this have to do with yoga, or yoga therapy? As it turns out, a lot.

More About the Phoenix

One of a Kind 

The phoenix is a mythical bird, there is only one of its kind and it is a bird that never dies. It is symbolic of life, death and rebirth, often viewed as a symbol of immortality. This notion of an immortal, ever present essence of our Self lies at the heart of yoga philosophy. The Upanishads speak of an immortal and infinite Self as our inner Self, a light that shines throughout infinity.

Different experiences and challenges in our lives may cause us to lose sight of our inner light, much as it is difficult to see through a dirty window. Through a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session you have the opportunity to clean your window, to connect to the archetypal brilliant, one of a kind characteristics of the phoenix that always exists within you. Each one of us is unique like the phoenix, a beautiful being of power and beauty. Through the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy process we honor that beauty and power.

Like the one of a kind phoenix, each Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session is unique and defined by the individual and their process. Just as no two people are ever the same, no two sessions are ever alike.


As the phoenix flies it continually scans its landscape; as such the phoenix represents our ability to collect sensory information about our environment and the events unfolding within it. In a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session this scanning and collecting of information happens through the question, “What’s happening now?” and moving your body in assisted yoga postures. This question along with physical  movement encourages each client to scan their embodied experience including their physical body and sensations, thoughts, emotions, and spiritual essence much in the same way that the Phoenix views its landscape as it flies. When you close your eyes in a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session you shut out the distractions of your day to day life and open to your own internal landscape and the events unfolding within it. Like the flying phoenix, a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session can give us a more expansive and extended view of our life.

Building the Fire

It is said that the phoenix knows when it is time for its death. Just like the phoenix, we know when things aren’t working, when a certain aspects of ourselves that might have worked at one point, no longer serves us. There is always a deep inner knowing when some aspect of yourself is ready to let go, move on, and plan its funeral.

When the phoenix recognizes the time for ending has come, it creates the ritual fire. A ritual is a set of actions performed for their symbolic value, set apart from everyday life-tasks. Generally rituals are powerful and beautiful. The ritual of a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session can be a useful tool to navigate that period of transition.

Fear of Death

The question arises, who would actually want to plunge themselves into the fire, inviting their own death? That does sound pretty scary. The fear of death, of endings runs deep in our North American, Western, culture. The death process is nothing to be feared. It is something we do each time we finish our yoga practice with savasana (corpse pose) and each time we exhale or breathe out. In each of these situations there is a letting go and we are reborn, or take our next breath entering into life a little differently.

So too many people fear fire, afraid of being burned (please excuse the pun). Throughout history fires have caused great devastation, death, and suffering. In our Judeo-Christian culture fire is linked with hell and damnation. In certain societies, female witches were unjustifiably burned at the stake.

There are however, many positive aspects of fire. The fire of the sun, for example, gives life, light and warmth. In the context of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, the fire invites transformation. Forest fires are a case in point. Forest fires are necessary for the well-being of the environment, because they burn off old, dead material and stimulate new growth. Forest fires cleanse and purify and without them the forest would become stagnant and die. Fire is alchemical as it separates the dross from gold. Fire offers the embers of awareness.

Many people fear this firey process of endings, cleansing, purification wanting to avoid struggle, choosing instead stability. Better the devil that you know than the devil you don’t, as the saying goes. Most would rather deal with the familiar, even if it is not ideal, than to risk the unknown.

Regardless, our personal fires are times of transition: an illness, an injury, a troubled relationship, discontent in the workplace, financial difficulties, death of a loved one, starting a new endeavor, or relocating to name just a few. The good news is, there is a resurrection; life after death. If the dying phoenix symbolizes the setting sun, the phoenix rising symbolizes the dawning of a new and brighter day. We rise wiser, better, stronger, more focused on our life’s mission. And we’ll get to that, but not just yet.

Honouring the Time in the Ashes

My teacher and director of the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training center, Elissa Cobb,  speaks of the importance of honouring the time in the ashes – the time of transition. Elissa describes this time in the ashes as a moment of pause, a moment of note quite yet being sure of when or where the new growth will occur. She admits that this time of “being in the ashes” can be challenging, confusing and messy. In the ashes we might sometimes find ourselves wandering, lost, not sure of what action to take – if any at all.

According to Elissa Cobb, “Arriving on the other side of the ashes allows for another moment to pause and reflect back on the process of growth and change.” It is a time to honor how that part of ourselves that we are saying goodbye to once served us. It is healthy to have a period  in the ashes  in order for new growth to begin. A Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session can support you in navigating the ashes of transformation and growth. The time in the ashes is a time to care for the person you are ever becoming.


Ultimately the phoenix represents an enduring sense of hope and redemption. Because the phoenix is reborn from its death, the phoenix represents the archetypal regeneration. There is life after death, a resurrection from the ashes. Through the transformational process we are reborn anew to live again, and thus Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is a process of renewal. The renewal stage is important because it represents a recycling and an interruption of the status quo. The purifying fire burns the path for the renewing process to take place.

Just as yoga is a process of personal transformation, the myth of the phoenix rising and the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy process is about that metamorphic renewal and birth of Self.  In a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session there is the potential for something new to be brought to life, for the first time.

To book a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Session e-mail Dr. Melissa West: [email protected] , click here for more information, or phone 416-737-0999.
This article is dedicated to my colleague, friend, and Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Practitioner in New York City, Renee Claire. 

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