Sunday, April 25, 2010

Efficient, not Cool: Yoga and Me

Today my Sunday yoga instructor opened her class with a brief discussion of this article in the New York Times:

The article is entitled "A Yoga Manifesto."  Apparently the spirituality of yoga is becoming more chic and pricey.  The instructors are turning into high profile "rock stars" with attitudes.  Students are paying $125 per month for memberships to reputable studios.  A really good mat can set you back $100.  There are designer lines of yoga wear.  I have seen these phenomena and the article is good reporting.  Of course, these elements exist in the yoga climate.  Nonetheless, I am oblivious to the "cool" aspects of yoga. 

Here is why I do yoga: I don't have time to do cardio, lift weights and go to church regularly.  I feel like yoga gives me more bang for my buck and greater satisfaction for time spent.  Yoga does have a spiritual aspect, even if people hate the word "spiritual."  If letting go of everyday preoccupations and quieting your mind so that you can balance for longer in eagle pose does not appear spiritual on the surface, then ask yourself if reciting a liturgy while thinking about your grocery list is spiritual.  Is it?  What the hell is spirituality, anyway?  I have nothing against going to churches, temples or making a pilgrimage to mecca.  I think those are all commendable uses of time.  Personally, with my two toddlers, I'm not going.  I'll take a rain check. 

I hear people tell me they don't like yoga because they need to run on the treadmill and lift weights after class just to get a good workout.  For other people, this may be true.  Personally, I get physically spent enough in a good yoga class that I don't need extra cardio and weight training.  When I used to work out in the traditional gym fashion, I spent twice the amount of time at the gym as I do now in yoga classes.  After thirty minutes of cardio I would go to the machines and do repetitions.  I never lasted long in this routine because I find cardio machines and weights incredibly boring.  In addition, I never got the muscle definition and postural benefits that I see now. 

Another thing I keep hearing about yoga is that it has become a sort of bandwagon for middle aged women.  Now this I can see.  I am approaching middle age, at 38.  I can't imagine that I would be anyone's definition of cool, living in the suburbs with my two kids and my crossover SUV.  I don't have any celebrity contacts.  I don't frequent trendy restaurants.  I never see live theater anymore.  I barely get a chance to see a movie (note that I don't call it a film).  I do yoga to maintain physical, mental and yes, spiritual balance, without circuit training at the gym or attending Bible studies.  I find yoga to be an efficient use of my time. 

Does it work?  Absolutely.  When I started yoga I didn't expect to drop to a size 4 without dieting 22 months after the birth of my second child.  I didn't know that my sleeping patterns would become almost as predictable as those of my children.  I didn't plan on synchronizing my meditation practice with a physical routine.  I never saw myself as a spiritual chanting type, but now I truly enjoy maintaining a steady "om" in the right key.  I feel reconnected to my childhood roots in dance class, music lessons and church.  I really do.  As far as I can remember, those things were never trendy. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Acceptance of Dis-ease

What is your first thought when you or a loved one gets sick? How do you feel about illness? Take a moment and answer that question for yourself. Then ask yourself how you feel about your body right now. Are you aware of it? Are you indifferent, pleased, concerned or annoyed? Do you accept your body as it is? There are no incorrect answers. These questions are subjective and individual.

Many spiritual teachers and alternative healers tell us that we create the conditions in our body with our thoughts. Do you agree with this, and if so, to what extent?

I recently watched a recorded speech given by Eckhart Tolle. He spoke about the death of human bodies. He said “bodies dissolve.” He did not limit talk of death to the elderly, but he did mention that as we get older we start to look around and notice more and more bodies dissolving. I liked the terms he used to speak of illness and death. I listen to Eckhart because he is accepting of the human condition and he radiates compassion.

I like my body. I accept it. I take care of it by eating well, avoiding most toxins and exercising regularly.

I do not consciously fear death. In the past I was afraid of illness. My attitude with respect to illness has changed dramatically in recent years. I was fortunate enough to be extremely healthy for 34 years. To this day, I consider myself healthy.

At the age of 35, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. My diagnosis came months after I contracted Lyme. Initially I experienced a painful nerve injury which paralyzed the left side of my face. I partially recovered from this injury. I also experienced back and neck pain, insomnia, fatigue, mental fog and a heart arrhythmia with a partial block. After a month of treatment with antibiotics, most of those symptoms subsided. I forgot about Lyme for the most part.

In recent weeks I am experiencing some of my initial symptoms again. I am looking into Lyme disease recurrence or what some people call “chronic Lyme.” I am not sure if it applies to me or if my symptoms can be explained by something else. I am amazed once again by how great I felt before the Lyme and also after receiving the antibiotic treatment. I don’t even feel all that bad now. I doubt that the Lyme and the ensuing symptoms are the result of my thoughts. I am not saying this is impossible. I simply doubt the theory.

Illness can be psychosomatic. Illnesses are often brought on by stress. Negative thinking patterns are certainly unhealthy. At the same time, all of us experience illness. We show love to ourselves and others by responding to illness with compassion. As we progress spiritually, we learn to accept phenomena rather than resisting. I love acceptance and what it can do for me. I feel better when I accept temporary and even permanent discomfort rather than resisting with my will, my feelings and my thoughts. I don’t like the dualistic view that puts illness and death at odds with wellness and life.

Most likely you have heard of or read Louise Hay. She is a revolutionary healer, teacher and writer. Metaphysicians, alternative healers and holistic minded people everywhere respect her work. She has authored multiple best sellers. In her books, You Can Heal Your Body and You Can Heal Your Life, she has a fairly comprehensive List of physical ailments followed by their probable mental causes and recommended affirmations for overcoming the ailments. Like many alternative healers, she refers to illness as “dis-ease,” a condition that disrupts the natural state of ease. She does not have a cause listed for Lyme dis-ease, but she does address malaria, a related illness. The probable cause of malaria in Hay’s List is, “Out of balance with nature and with life.” On an unrelated note, her listed probable cause for fistula is, “Fear. A blockage in the letting-go process.” If you have not heard of fistula, you may want to google it. I donate to a wonderful charity for this dis-ease:

The term “dis-ease” calls to mind the Four Noble Truths of Dukkha in Buddhist teachings. The philosophical meaning of dukkha is analogous to “disquietude,” as in the condition of being disturbed. The term is usually translated as suffering. Here is a definition from Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dharma in Motion: “Now this, monks, is the Noble Truth of dukkha: Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.”

My approach to overcoming disquietude of any form is to accept it and find peace through meditation, prayer, yoga and other spiritual practices. I also try to pinpoint any thoughts that may contribute to disquietude, but I don’t have a set of affirmations or a plan to combat bodily discomfort through changing my thoughts. I accept some of my negative thoughts and feelings. I don’t particularly like dualism so I try not to spend too much time parsing out the good and bad in my mind. I feel that this could lead to obsessive thoughts and behaviors. I like the idea of letting go of thoughts, even if I am rarely able to do so.

I accept dis-ease as part of life. I am grateful for the opportunity that illness provides to care for myself and my loved ones with more love and diligence.