Friday, November 28, 2014

Is yoga like stand-up comedy?

“You’re a yoga teacher? Cool…show me something really impressive!” This is a typical response when I share that I teach yoga (and teach the teachers!).  I think that it must be what stand-up comedians feel when they divulge what they do, and hear the inevitable “Say something funny!” Oh, the pressure!

When I get that response, I have several choices: I could “perform” and do something that takes years to master, I could brush off the request, or I could use the opportunity to talk about what yoga really is (very rarely do I choose either of the first two options!).

It is typical in our society to hear the word “yoga” and think of “asana” (the postures associated with Hatha Yoga—which simply means the physical practice of yoga).  What most people do NOT understand is that asana developed out of a spiritual practice…in essence, the asanas were created so that the ancient masters could sit and meditate for long periods of time. Think about it…when you have to sit for a LONG time (think of work, long meetings, etc.), what is the first thing you do when you stand? You stretch and MOVE AROUND!

 rag-doll-pose

But, I digress…so, back to the spiritual side of things! Recent polls have indicated that over 70% of those who start yoga do so for physical reasons…I cannot stress enough to these folks that yoga is so much more than that.  While it is a fantastic way to stay in good shape, improve cardiovascular function, etc. (the list goes on and on), yoga is quite literally the way that I survived my own physical issues…and not merely by doing asanas.

I began my own practice in 1986, for physical reasons, like most…rehabilitation of a knee injury/surgery.  What I found was so much more…a gift that I had to share with others!  As a young woman, I dealt with anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness surrounding my physical issues (I won’t give you the full list here, but I have had multiple surgeries, accidents resulting in many broken bones, and most notably, three bouts with cancer).  Had I not been introduced to the spiritual side of yoga, I don’t know how I would have gotten through it. Let me explain.

MINDFULNESS:

You’re surely familiar with the phrase “the present is a gift”…how true this is!  We cannot change the past; therefore, to dwell in it and contemplate the “what if’s” is pointless.  We do not know what the future holds for us; therefore, to worry about it only creates anxiety (and, many times, whatever we are worrying about doesn’t even come to fruition!). Being PRESENT for each unfolding moment is what we can control…not the actions of others, or situations we find ourselves in, but our reactions to them. We can choose to be joyful while acknowledging that our situation might not be what we would have chosen.

Due to complications, I was bed-ridden for a good part of my pregnancy, and everyone around me worried.  I took each day as it came, remained present-minded (even though I had moments of frustration, wanting to be up and about!), and the end result was a healthy baby boy! This is not a practice that comes easily to most of us…and that is why it is a PRACTICE!

allie-sitting-back-view

BREATH:

Breath is sometimes referred to as the “bridge” between mind and body.  As soon as you feel your body responding to a situation negatively, notice your breath…chances are it is shallow and fast.  By consciously slowing the breath (and incorporating pranayama—breathing practices—if you know them), there is a physiological response.  By breathing in this way, we become attuned to thoughts and feelings, thus allowing us to see the “cycle”: negative feelings = “restriction” in the body = uneven breath. This cycle can easily be reversed: slow, easy breath = relaxation response in the body = positive feelings. The best part of this? You can practice it anywhere, and you are the only one who has to know!

By the way, my “back-up plan” should this whole yoga gig not work out as planned? Stand-up comedy. And no, I am NOT going to say something funny to prove it.

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Debra Hennesy is the founder and owner of Feel Your Best, LLC, an organization that trains people to become instructors of yoga, Pilates, stress management, as well as yoga therapists.  Colorado is the location of her newest adventures, along with her husband and active 6-year-old son, who both laugh at her goofy jokes.

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