September is National Yoga Month!
I knew very little about yoga, except that several years ago there were a bunch of ladies who showed up every week in stretch pants, with water bottles and mats and they all disappeared into a classroom in the facility I was working in for an hour or so and left smiling.
I had been told by my church that I shouldn’t even consider Yoga as it was against my religion and would pull me away from God. So I looked suspiciously on the whole things and ignored it, worried about the poor misguided ladies in the class.
Fast forward several years, much enlightenment on my part, a lot less judgmental attitude (definite growth there!). I learned that Yoga is not a religious pursuit, although it can be very spiritual. It does not take away from any established religion and you can actually integrate your own forms of prayer into the meditative portions of your yoga practice, making it even more personal and effective.
Yoga As A Powerful Healing Support
In 2011-2012 came a personal battle with cancer: during which time I found a ‘pink ribbon yoga’ class that was mostlybreathing and relaxation and a bit of movement to relieve stiffness and help us get in touch with our bodies. That helped me through the worst times of treatment and brought me peace.
I had to stop attending due to work schedules and I fell away from the practice at home. (I am happy to report that I have since returned occasionally and they are still going strong, providing a safe place for those who are in need of peace and a community of acceptance and healing.)
Returning to the Healing – Yoga as a Life Saving Medicine
In 2014 came the slide into the depths of deep depression, anxiety and OCD – brought on by job stress and the PTSD I suffered following my cancer treatment. Yoga surfaced again in my life as one option to DO something, anything to try to help myself cope at a time when I had been termed passively suicidal by several doctors and with the official diagnoses of Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder, Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depression with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Quite a bucket full of crap to carry around!
Well, I decided that Yoga was cheaper than taking painting classes, and I figured it would at least be some exercise. I took the plunge, was generously gifted with a yoga mat and off I went to try some yoga that wasn’t specifically focused on my cancer since I was now considered a ‘survivor’ – whatever that meant, and wanted to do something to challenge myself and needed to stop focusing on the fear and trauma left by the cancer treatments and the aftermath.
What I found in joining a yoga class was a community, akin to the one that I had found in my ‘Pink Ribbon Yoga’ classes, but now I was stronger and could actually attempt Asanas and flow. Being desperate to still my mind and find balance and stability, I threw myself into my practice with a vengeance.
Don’t just take my word for it!
Rajan Narayanan, Ph.D founded the nonprofit Life in Yoga Foundation and Institute says “Any physical exercise done with breath awareness becomes yoga: anything done without the breath is just a physical practice.”
Yoga increases the body’s ability to respond to stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart and lowers blood pressure. That in turn suppresses sympathetic activity, reducing the amount of stress hormones in the body.
“Yoga may help prevent diseases across the board because the root cause of 70 to 90 percent of all disorders is stress”, says Narayanan.
This was exactly what I needed –
I was in the condition I was in mentally and physically due to stress.
What better way to address it than yoga.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Regular practice is essential, whether it is formal classes a couple of times a week or simply a few minutes a day, each day at home. The benefits can be felt within the first week or two and only continue to build. The beauty is, once you start feeling the benefits, you will WANT to keep practicing!
Yoga is not a one size fits all therapy, and there are a myriad of types and styles available. Whether , you are ill or physically limited in some way – like me when I first found it, or whether you are athletic and are looking for something to really challenge your body. There are yoga classes to be found that you can do quietly in a chair if you can’t even get to the floor, or some that will challenge even the most athletic and leave you drained, sweating and panting for breath. There are also many forms in between these two extremes.
The first professional-level medical textbook on yoga therapy is due to be published in 2016. One of the authors states:
“I believe these studies (referring to current studies) are systematically underestimating how powerful yoga can be. Science may tell us that it decreases systolic blood pressure and cortisol secretion and increases lung capacity and serotonin levels, but that doesn’t begin to capture the totality of what yoga is.”
It is not a magic bullet, but the lessons learned in class: focus, forgiveness, patience, silence, acceptance, perseverance – all in an atmosphere of peace, will follow you off the mat and into your daily living. For me, positive affirmations and intentions from the class and the community sustained me and reminded me that I was not worthless, that while I might not look like many of the yoga selfies out there while I practiced, it didn’t matter.
REMINDER: You DO NOT have to be THIN to practice yoga. You can do yoga, no matter what your body size or current level of fitness !!!!
Granted, you might not do a ‘crow pose’ right away, but you can certainly start and not being rail skinny doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do this or any other pose if you patiently allow your body to guide you into it.
YOUR practice is YOUR practice and whatever YOU are capable of is beautiful, and as the weeks and months go on, you will see the growth, physically, mentally and emotionally. I certainly did as I continued my practice and I came from a place of very deep darkness and my yoga practice pulled me back into the light.
Yoga connects your body with your mind in a way that really cannot be explained until you experience it.
What I found was that my body grew stronger, my mind slowed down, my anxiety and OCD lessened, my depression lifted, and I was more able to deal with every day stresses. I no longer carry the weight of those diagnoses with me. Yoga freed my mind and emotions, while my body grew strong and supple.
I also got curvy! I didn’t lose weight, but I gained ‘shape’. For the first time in over 20 years, I had a waist.
As my body became stronger, I became able to do physical things that I was unable to do 30 years earlier as a young woman.
Best of all, I found myself remembering to breathe through stressful things instead of diving into self-loathing and criticism.
YOU can experience the joy and strength that comes from yoga.
Celebrate National Yoga Month!
During September if you go to www.YogaMonth.org you can get a free coupon for a week of free yoga at many local participating studios.
GIVE IT A TRY.. hey, it’s FREE! I have my coupon and will be trying out another studio with it! Each one is as unique.
Translated roughly: “I bow to you”, or “I honor the spirit in you that is also in me”
The real meeting between people is the meeting of their minds. When we greet one another with namaste, it means, ‘may our minds meet’, indicated by the folded palms placed before the chest. The bowing down of the head is a gracious form of extending friendship in love, respect and humility.
Yoga has been know to help – Addiction, Anxiety Spectrum Disorders, back pain, cancer, depression, diabetes, endocrine issues, heart disease, hypertension, various mental health issues, Metabolic Syndrome, muscoloskeletal and neuromuscular complaints, neurological and immune disorders, pregnancy issues, Premenstrual Syndrome, perimenopausal and postmenopausal symptoms, respiratory issues, digestive issues, weight management, fatigue, self image, low-energy.