I have been a yoga instructor now for a little more than 15 years, and I’m happy to say that yoga has become one of my best all-time teachers.
Sometimes I think that maybe it’s just my 68 years of life that have taught me what I know through friends and faith and knocks and “reachin' landin's.” But each time I throw out the mat, stand tall as a mountain, breathe deeply into my full being, I know there is much more to this ancient form of wisdom than meets the ordinary eye. As the "Bhagavad Gita" was to Gandhi in understanding scientifically the Beatitudes, so is yoga to me in understanding life with its multitude of lessons.
Yoga (Sanskrit, Pāli: योग, /ˈjəʊɡə/, yoga) is a commonly known generic term for physical, mental and spiritual disciplines which originated in ancient India. The discipline basically includes eight rungs of learning among which take the lead are practicing abstention and various postures (asanas), breathing control, concentration and meditation.
I know of no other compilation of ancient wisdom that has endured for over 5,000 years and which continues to develop into many new forms today. Yoga predates even the Bible.
Generally, people will come to my class in order to experience better health in their muscles, their joints, and to give attention to their increasing lack of flexibility.
With just a few classes, these students will notice increased flexibility and an overall feeling of greater wellness. Their breathing, though often still labored, has improved with their better understanding of the breath and with their use of proper breathing techniques.
I am touched when a student remarks that she not only feels differently, but she’s walking straighter, feeling more confident. Whether it’s arthritis, or asthma, or depression, or poor self-image or migraines, yoga, if practiced even for a few minutes regularly, will give much relief.
While one’s physical improvement through yoga can be phenomenal, what I love about yoga the most are the life lessons, the spiritual lessons I am learning through my amazing body.
Years and years of poor self-image plagued me early in my life. Naturally shy at the time, I felt everyone’s attention was on me as I blundered out with unintelligent responses to questions, as I hesitated in and out of the classroom with unsure responses.
Roller coaster emotional feelings were also difficult for me to cope with through many of my religious life years. However, during the last 20 years, daily standing like a mountain, daily opening the spine and balancing all the muscles and bones, daily tending the mind with fuller breathing and the heart with relaxation, I felt freedom entering my spirit about the time I turned 50.
The body kept reassuring me that it is my friend. It wants fullness of health for me. It is on my side in every fearful situation. I formerly took for granted my body with its amazing, intricately designed blood vessels and muscles and joints all depending on each other. I didn’t really know of their scientific dependence on each other.
I didn’t appreciate their workings until I studied the body more in detail and learned “Jeopardy-type” answers like the 3 million breathing pores in the skin, the 60,000 miles of blood vessels which deliver blood to every part of our body, the 1/250,000 inch thickness of each alveoli exchanging gases in the lungs.
Yoga also helps me in my daily work in Project Peace, which is helping to slowly transform our culture into a nonviolent one. During yoga sessions I often breathe into situations that are violent or into areas of my body that are tight, or suffocated from lack of air (like many people in the world). I meditate on ways I can respond better to our violent world. I send the breath out to those who are hurting. Yoga wants to help all the pain in the world disappear. It is indeed a science of compassion.
Every movement in yoga happens easily if alignment with the spine is taken into consideration and if there is no forceful effort or ego play. To move correctly, to give the body every chance to improve health in all its dimensions, it is necessary to do the slow, steady work of MOVING INTO a posture (asana).
There is no quick fix to ailments of the body or of the soul which have taken root in the deep caverns of muscle and spirit. Slowly, calmly, breathing deeply, aware of the muscles, joints, feelings involved, the spirit as well as the body comes to greater health.
It should be said that some people feel they are violating some sacred mandates of our church when they practice yoga. I have never figured out the reasoning of their fears except that yoga comes from the EAST, and often people and religions from the East are feared.
Yoga also opens the mind, the body, the spirit; so, theoretically, people could become much freer and think through things on their own, no longer intimidated by church or civil authorities. Whenever anyone tells me I am doing the work of the devil by teaching yoga, I invite that person to come and see — at least for one session. Experience this ancient art and discipline and feel its healing and calm through and through.
Sister Paulette Schroeder can be reached at 419-447-0435, ext. 136. She teaches yoga at St. Francis, at a charter school and for women who are incarcerated.