Tiffany Cruikshank has a prescription for pretty much whatever is ailing you, and it doesn’t come in a little orange bottle.
This year, the 35-year-old, uber-educated yogi created Yoga Medicine, a yoga method and teacher training program that combines yoga with holistic health practices to treat common problems like your pounding stress headaches, insomnia, or back pain. Of course, she’s not trying to replace your PCP.
“We’re not diagnosing anything,” says Cruikshank, who lives in Los Angeles but is almost always traveling. “It’s a natural way to help people optimize their health,” with side effects that are actually good, she says, like sleeping better, the ability to chill out, and increased energy (as opposed to the ones like “convulsions” and “sudden loss of consciousness” you’re used to hearing on commercials).
And while yoga asanas are part of it, it’s the practices she taps from her seriously comprehensive schooling in holistic medicine that she says really take things up a notch. Cruikshank has degrees in Medicinal Plant Biology and Nutrition from the University of Arizona, a masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, and a specialty degree in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics from McMaster University Medical School in Toronto—although she says her yoga and holistic health education really began in Phoenix when she was just 14 years old.
“I was a troublemaker,” she admits. “So my parents sent me on a wilderness program, and there was this herbalist there who took me on plant walks and taught me how to use plants as medicine. I fell in love and back at home I filled my room with jars of herbs I’d collected, and natural shampoos, lotions, and teas I’d made.” She began practicing yoga at the same time, got certified, and began teaching when she started at the University of Arizona—choosing headstands over keg stands.
Later, as an acupuncturist in Portland, Oregon, Cruikshank began seeing patients and was swooped up by Nike headquarters to be the in-house acupuncturist and yoga teacher, where she saw employees and professional athletes for seven years. The ah-ha moment for Yoga Medicine came to her then. “I realized how my patients who did yoga got better so much more quickly,” she explains. “I started giving them yoga ‘prescriptions’ along with the acupuncture, and the progression of their recovery really increased.”
Now on the schedule at Exhale Venice when she’s not leading workshops in New Zealand or Dubai, Cruikshank is pushing the boundaries of what yoga can be and showing others how to follow her lead. “The most important part of Yoga Medicine is teaching the general public that yoga can be a form of medicine,” she explains, “and the other side of it is training yoga teachers to provide that.”
With 200-, 500-, and 1,000-hour teacher trainings, she hopes to give instructors the skills to work more deeply with individuals on their health goals. “We’re teaching instructors how to think, and how to see bodies so that they can understand what’s happening when something is wrong with someone—rather than [just show them] a cookie cutter sequence of yoga poses,” she says.
Of course, while the Yoga Medicine mission may sound like a heady, serious one, Cruikshank’s students see her as more of a lovable nerd, says fellow Los Angeles-based yoga teacher Emilie Perz, who met Cruikshank in Portland more than five years ago and has been practicing (and friends) with her ever since. “Yes, Tiffany is a very bright, intelligent person,” she says, “but what also makes her a great leader is that she’s thoughtful and genuine. She’s the first person to tell you how much she loves Star Wars.”
Not to mention the fact that her dog, a Teacup Maltese named Lulu, comes to almost all of her classes. “Lulu definitely gives a lot of adjustments,” Perz says. Which sounds like something that would boost anyone’s happiness, no matter what ailment they came to the mat to address. —Jamie McKillop