Yoga: The Path of Holistic Wellness

21 Jul

I am so excited to be a guest blogger for the Center for Holistic Wellness’ Practitioner BlogClick here to check out this new exciting forum for community conversation and sharing …

Below is an excerpt from my answer to the question: What is Holistic Wellness & How do we Achieve it?


 

What is Yoga?

Contrary to what many folks believe, yoga is not about turning yourself Modified_Janu_Sirsasanainto a pretzel (although that can be fun, eventually), or sweating buckets in a 100 degree room (although some modern yoga styles do use a heated space), or only for people who are already “flexible” (although yoga will help you to–among many other things–become more flexible). In fact, limiting a definition of yoga to a mere physical exercise routine fails to recognize the deeper meanings–and benefits–of yoga. Yoga is a systematic path of holistic wellness that brings refinement to the body, mind, and the more subtle–what we call the Inner Self. In Sanskrit–the language of yoga (in class, you may hear instructors name poses like Trikonasana or Virabhadrasana)–the word Yoga means Union. Through a variety of practices, yoga empowers us to unite the body, mind, and Inner Self. Yoga is an ancient system (archaeologists date the physical origins of yoga to somewhere around 3000 BC) developed by Rishis in the Indus Valley Civilization as a way to bring about inner growth and evolution. It was understood, even 5,000 years ago, that if the body is in pain, discomfort, or even just imbalance, the mind is distracted, and a connection to the Inner Self is harder to attain (it’s challenging and sometimes impossible to sit and meditate when your back is in pain, your hip is bugging you, or you can’t sit cross-legged). The asanas–physical postures–that we associate with yoga today were originally designed to bring the body into balance in preparation for sitting in meditation for long periods of time. Today in the West, we have taken the asana practice and run with it (or should I say stretched it?), and for many people who are drawn to yoga in our culture, it all starts with the physical body. In a physical sense, yoga not only increases flexibility but it also–and equally as important–increases strength, stability, and overall balance in the physical body. You don’t have to approach asana with a wish to gain deep spiritual insights (although as you continue to practice, you may find that this inner awareness bubbles up happily on its own); you can start your practice where you’re at. Maybe you have a hope to reduce low back pain; perhaps you’d like to develop core strength; you might be looking for a low-impact, gentle form of exercise. All of these are good, and valid, and will certainly be helped by yoga.

The Path to Wholeness

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोध yogaścittavṛttinirodhaḥ Yoga is the stilling of the thought-waves of the mind.

~Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1:2

I’d like to share a bit about my own yoga journey and how yoga guided me on a path to wholeness. I’d tried yoga a few times growing up and never cared for the “boring stretching classes” I attended occasionally with friends. I wasn’t that flexible and didn’t really care to be. Fast forward a few years, when I found myself in college studying Writing in Chicago. I was struggling pretty badly with a newly-diagnosed Anxiety Disorder and Depression: I was being medicated and told by my doctors that I would be taking pharmaceuticals to help deal with what they called my “chemical imbalance” for the rest of my life. “It’s genetic,” they said. Meanwhile, my writing professor, Michael McColly, started our first class of the semester by asking us to push all the desks to the perimeter of the classroom. He had us gather in a circle on the carpet, on hands and knees (in our skinny jeans and Doc Marten boots!). He instructed us to breathe through some simple yoga postures. Cat/cow, thread the needle–very gentle postures–as he taught us to cultivate an inner awareness. No mats, no stretchy yoga clothes, just our bodies and our breath. After just ten minutes of inhaling and exhaling, moving my body in a mindful way, and observing my thoughts without judgement, I felt better than after I took a Xanax. It was this deeply empowering realization that my mental chatter was not me; that I could take a step back and watch my thoughts without getting caught up in them. That class with Michael was the impetus that set me on my path of yoga. I began a daily home practice and signed up at a yoga studio in my neighborhood. For me, yoga was never about the stretching or getting fit or the way my body looked. Yoga empowered me with the tools I needed to heal my heart and my mind.

Holistic Wellness

Pasture_MeditationTo me, Holistic Wellness is a multifaceted balance between body, mind, and Inner Self. And this type of wellness evolves into a joyful lifestyle. It is not an end result or destination; it is a journey, constantly evolving to help us continue to grow. The practices of yoga, including asana (postures), pranayama (mindful breathing), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation) are all effective tools that gently and persistently guide us toward realizing our true nature–the Inner Self. Most importantly, yoga is empowering. Through the practice and teachings, we learn that we are not victims of illness, injury, or imbalance. These things show up in our lives so we can learn and grow from them, as catalysts toward living more authentically, truthfully, and honestly. I gradually got off the medications my doctors told me I’d be taking for the rest of my life because of yoga. Beyond that, though, yoga has taught me how to cultivate an attitude toward all of life that feels happy, healthy and meaningful.

When we are grounded deeply inside, we realize that we are already whole.

I feel so privileged to continue to grow as a student of yoga, and also to share these life-changing teachings with my community at the Center and beyond. I hope you’ll join me for a class sometime.

The highest potential within me honors the highest potential within you. Namaste

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One Response to “Yoga: The Path of Holistic Wellness”

  1. Sustainable Impact September 11, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

    Reblogged this on Sustainable Impact.

    Like

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