“Breathe in as though it is your very first Breath.
Breathe out as though it is your very last Breath”.
I sometimes say, “Yoga saved my life”. In 1997 my husband was beginning to have memory loss and I was overwhelmed with fear. The locus of sanity I found was through yoga- the mindfulness of the breath and the body.
It was 1996, I was living in the Berkshires, and took a Yoga Class. I was on my back, on the floor, knees bent and feet on the floor as the teacher guided us into bridge pose. She said to slowly press into the feet and legs and lift the hips toward the ceiling and breathe. I felt an opening and spaciousness in my body and breath that I had never known.
I was drawn to Yoga in retirement, after 20 years of being a Public Health Nurse. I had begun studying Holistic Nursing and Yoga complemented and deepened my awareness of the mind-body connection.
In December of 1997, at age 57, after over 200 hours of intensive training, I received Basic Certification as a Kripalu Yoga Teacher. The training was taught over a 6 month period, with 3 intense and exhilarating ten-day residencies at Kripalu.
After Certification, I began teaching and experienced the joy of teaching students to be aware of and appreciate the mind/body/breath connection which has sustained me through the years.
I continue to take Yoga classes and study although my practice has changed as I have aged (I am now 81), I know and appreciate my body and understand the relationship between my mind and body. I know if sit at my computer or watch TV for 2 hours, I completely forget I have a body.
The benefits of Yoga, especially in a culture that values warp speed, are available to everybody, regardless of physical limitations or age. Many of us unknowingly live disconnected from our body.
In our Chair Yoga class, we begin by bringing awareness to the breath in the body. We practice easy in-breaths, offering all the cells in our bodies freshly oxygenated blood and “the energy of prana”, or life force. Our out-breaths release Co2, and tension and during a mindful out-breath, there is a gentle gathering in and up of the belly towards the front of spine as we engage our abdominal muscles to strengthen our core. I offer a guided meditation: “Energy flows where the mind goes,” reclaiming the connection with our mind and body.
While seated, we do gentle warm-ups of the major joints, to liquefy the lubricant in the joints called synovial fluid. We move into the 6 movements of the spine: flexion, rounding into “cat stretch”, extension, lifting the head and chest into a slight backbend, followed by side-bending to the left and right, and a seated spinal twist, to the right and left. We notice our breaths throughout the flow.
During the standing part of the class, the chair is beside us for support. We explore some of the traditional standing poses: Mountain pose, Warrior I, Warrior II, Half Moon, and Tree pose. All the standing poses are balancing poses. Muscles move against bone to stimulate bone growth. We strengthen the muscles and bones of the body in relation to the ground we stand on
The last part of class is seated guided relaxation and meditation. Noticing the breath brings us back to the present moment. As our practice deepens, we gain insight.
I practice Yoga every day. I breathe mindfully before a meal or beginning an activity as way of centering myself. When I can’t find my keys or glasses or forget why I opened the refrigerator door, I see those moments as signs that I need to stop and center. I breathe, offer myself compassion and do not linger on negative thoughts that often accompany such moments.
Yoga nourished me through the years of my husband’s illness, helping me to meet him in the present moment and accompany him on his journey with compassion. To practice Yoga is to practice mindfulness and to notice our judgments and negative thoughts. These thoughts become self-limiting and solidify over time. The benefits of Yoga and Meditation are feelings of well-being and a continued deepening awareness of the connection of the mind, body and breath.