Last week, I was out with a bunch of women to celebrate one of their birthdays. One of them, we’ll call her “J”, practices yoga with me. “J” brought a friend of hers to a yoga class about 16 months ago – a friend who was going through a very difficult time in her life. She came to the yoga mat as an escape, and has been coming regularly ever since. My friend “J” looked at me and said with a very straight face “do you know that what you do, heals people?” I looked at her, with what I’m embarrassed to say was a blank stare. I waited for her to explain. I know all about the therapeutic effects of yoga on the nervous system, and how beneficial it can be in terms of stress reduction. The reason I was staring blankly at her, is that I was super uncomfortable with the notion that anything that “I” did, was healing. On the other hand, I am very comfortable talking about yoga as a vehicle for healing.
People make their way to the yoga mat for so many different reasons, but often, we find that there is a need for space. A safe space where they can choose to leave whatever they’re carrying, off the mat, and for one hour, focus on their own Being. This is not a selfish act, it is an act of self-preservation and of renewal. The relaxation response that we develop in yoga, is also known as the “rest & renew” response. We use our breath, we use movement, and many other tools, to consciously and intentionally let go of tension in the mind and in the body, so that healing can occur. The body is either in a state of ease, or in a state of dis-ease.
When we practice meditation, we are looking to focus and calm the mind somewhat, lessen that “fight or flight” response. At least enough so that when we’re off the mat, we can handle stressful situations in a manner that is more responsive, and less reactive. My experience has shown that some people are very uncomfortable in stillness and in silence. They say that “it” makes them nervous. My response is always the same. “It” is not what makes you nervous. The excess energy (otherwise known as anxiety) is present within you, and is hard to see when you are running and in the midst of chaos. Being still or sitting in silence simply allows this excess energy to be noticed, to be felt. And this can be uncomfortable. It can also be a place of discovery and of development. It is said that it’s in the silence that we hear the answers to our questions. Yoga is an invitation to listen.
And then there are the poses. The physical postures. The stretches, the twists and all the flows; all of these not only help with balance, and muscle strength, core strength and improved body awareness, the postures create space in the body. Where there is space, there can be no tension. The postures serve to increase the circulation of blood flow in the body, which in itself allows healing to take place. It also activates the lymphatic system to keep your immune system strong. The postures improve muscle strength and help to improve range of motion and flexibility, thereby helping to prevent certain forms of arthritis and osteoporosis. The pranayama (breath work) practiced in yoga helps to develop lung capacity; space for more prana/energy to flow.
Above all, yoga encourages us to be present; to be curious; to feel; to acknowledge; to accept. Yoga invites us to pause.
In this pause, there is space for us to make a decision. A decision in how to respond. We can react from an emotional place, or respond from a place of equanimity.
Do I do anything that heals people? Nope. Not at all. That’s why I was so uncomfortable with the statement. Do I share special practices from the yogic traditions that help people (re)connect with their true Self, and help them with their own healing?