Recently Oxford University published a study showing that even a little bit of yoga over a short period is beneficial to inmates.
During our first meeting her spiritual inclinations were evident: she had enjoyed a career as a lay pastoral assistant in a large church, and on her living room table was a book compiling wisdom sayings of Ramana Maharshi -- whose ashram in Southern India she had visited.
It is scientifically accepted in the West that depression and emotional stress weaken the immune system -- states into which people are thrust when receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness.
If all of the people I’ve successfully taught privately had together been introduced to yoga in a group “led class," where the series is being called out by the teacher, they would likely have shared the above misconceptions of the practice. Even if it were a beginner oriented “level one” class, and even if I were the teacher, I would not be able to convey the practice effectively to such a disparate group. The typical person over 40, or a person with any health problems (even just a tender back), needs individual assistance in learning to approach the practice gradually, carefully and respectfully.
I will always remember Tim Miller saying, "The first ten years is pre-yoga." At the time, I had been practicing about four years, and I liked this idea. Now I've been practicing about twelve years, and the exploration remains just as fresh; knowing that I will never master constant change, I'm free to practice without heedless ambition; there is nothing to pretend, and everything to tend.
I met Robbie Norris just over 5 years ago. It was 6 weeks after I had a hysterectomy and I was ready to resume normal activity which had included gym weight work, aerobics and gym yoga. It seemed a good idea to begin with yoga but I wanted to reintroduce myself to it with a good teacher who specialized in yoga and a more challenging practice than I had been used to. After reading a flyer describing Robbie’s one-to-one approach, I felt this was the suitable way to begin.
Robbie introduced me to Ashtanga yoga and I began to practice daily and to slowly learn the first series with his help. I also began to attend early morning Mysore self practice. It was a wonderful combination and with perseverance I began to gain more strength and stamina and ability.
How fortunate this was as 6 months later I was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer to the liver. I had surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. In all, I have had 4 different rounds of chemotherapy and a second radiation treatment over the past four years. I am very fortunate and grateful to be here today, managing the disease well both physically and emotionally. And, of course, I have good doctors and nurses to thank for this too.
Though I was in good health when diagnosed, Ashtanga yoga has helped me maintain and increase my muscle strength, balance and flexibility. I am sure it has aided my immune system, my elimination functions, lymphatic drainage and blood oxygenation. All of these are important while having chemotherapy and trying to keep the body free of toxins. It has definitely helped to calm my nervous system in dealing with the cancer and the treatments. My heart muscles have remained strong though one of the continuing treatments I take can damage the heart muscle.
Yoga helps the mind as well as the body. I find Ashtanga yoga which I can do anywhere, anytime to be very meditative. The more one knows the poses the more one can practice them without thinking. This engenders more peace of mind and equanimity as well as more self-awareness and spaciousness in mind and body. Even during my rounds of treatment, I tried to do some part of the practice every day, even if only 15 minutes. I continue to try to do some yoga every day, from 15 minutes to an hour or more. Some practices I do alone and some in a studio and some poses have had to be modified.
For me yoga is also a spiritual practice of opening and surrendering to what is. As I am present to the flow of body movement and breath, there is a sense of well being, an acceptance of reality and healing even if there is no real cure.
I offer a quote which rings true to me, “Whether you are sick or weak, young, old or even very old you can succeed in yoga if you practice diligently.”
Thank you, Ellen! It's such a pleasure to know you and you've been an inspiration to me since the day we met.