Yoga. It is ancient and mysterious. It is evolving here in the Western world. There is wisdom in the practice of yoga. The wisdom of ourselves. Yoga is a mindfulness practice. It helps to balance our mind, body, and spirit, but only if we practice regularly. This is where the healing happens.
There are eight limbs to traditional yoga, and knowing them helps us to understand how regular practice can help us to heal ourselves. The “Yoga Sutra” by Patanjali calls the eightfold path of yoga, ashtanga which means “eight limbs.” The first limb is yama, which is how we conduct ourselves in life. The second limb, Niyama deals with self-discipline and spiritual observances. The third limb is asana, or the postures we practice on our mats. Asanas help us to prepare our bodies for meditation. The fourth limb, pranayama is breath control. The fifth limb, pratyahara is when we direct our attention internally, and away from the external world. The sixth limb is dharana which means concentration. All of the previous limbs together, bring us into extended periods of concentration. The seventh limb is dhyana and is meditation or contemplation. The eighth limb, samadhi is a state of ecstasy. It is where we transcend the Self. We come unto a profound connection with the divine, and interconnectedness with all living things.
A regular practice of the various yogic limbs, or even just one or two of them, is where the healing happens. I cannot overstate the power of a regular yoga practice when the practitioner really wants to create change. Even when we practice solely for the purpose of physical fitness, these deeper results appear whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. We find ourselves better able to handle stress. We are calmer, more focused, and more present. We live our lives with an ease that we simply didn’t have before, stressful situations don’t hold as much power over us as they once did. While stress still happens, we are better equipped to deal with it.
In my personal history, yoga has helped me through three of the most painful and difficult times of my life. When my father’s health was declining before his death, I noticed and was horrified by the realization that he seemed to have lost the connection between his mind and his body. He was so disconnected that he didn’t fully realize he could no longer walk following a fall that broke his hip. Watching him suffer in this way is what led me to my first yoga class in 2007. I was determined to never allow myself to become so disconnected with my own body as I aged.
I used my regular yoga practice to help me overcome an extremely negative thinking pattern while my marriage of 25+ years was falling apart. I used my time on my mat to move my thoughts towards the positive and away from the negative. I had an experience during this time of soul-searching that can only be described as a direct connection with my higher power, my source. I experienced a bright light, a feeling of welcome, of a deep abiding love, acceptance, and a conviction that the only way to handle my dissolving marriage was through complete forgiveness and love. This deeply moving, transcendent experience changed everything about my life from that point on. I am still basking in that light and warmth. It is difficult to describe what I felt, but it was a truly empowering experience, and could only ever be described as a message from or perhaps a connection with, the divine presence.
2013 was another year when yoga was my refuge, my strength. It was a year when my health, my life actually, was in the hands of surgeons and oncologists. It began with a trip to the emergency room with a sharp pain in my lower right side. The emergency appendectomy revealed a large tumor in my appendix that had nearly burst. The tumor had grown four centimeters into my colon, so I required another surgery to remove the rest of the cancer. I had a total of five hospitalizations that year. I had a subsequent small intestinal blockage that was a result of the scar tissue from the two previous surgeries, which was my third hospital stay. During my following chemotherapy, I required two more weeks in the hospital, the first for a clostridium difficile (c-diff) infection, and the second was a result of the toxic chemotherapy itself.
During all of this, I practiced my yoga anytime I was able, which wasn’t nearly as much as I would have liked. I longed for my mat, I knew I would get back to it any time I could, and I did. I used my yoga practice to gage how well I was feeling when I had a good day. When I was on my mat, I felt strong, powerful, and focused, but most importantly, I felt normal. As my body grew stronger, my yoga practice also grew stronger. I do not believe I would have been prepared to deal with all of this illness had I not been practicing yoga; before, during, and after.
I give my examples above, not for sympathy; I do not want my father’s death, the breakup of my marriage or my year of cancer to define who I am; they are simply things that happened to me. I intend for them to be an example of the healing power of yoga. Yoga created my fit and supple body, which allowed me to gracefully deal with all of the challenges it was put through. It helped me to mentally deal with everything that was happening. I never felt out of control or weak. I had the mind of a warrior, and I have yoga to thank for that. It helped me spiritually in the feeling that my higher power, my source, was there full of light, warmth, and love, and would not desert me no matter what. I know deep inside my soul, my yoga practice allowed me to tap into my true self, apart from my ego. Yoga has shown me who I really am.
I know that yoga can help us all heal, as it healed me. It gives us the inner strength and the physical strength that we need when we are navigating life. It helps us to find ourselves, and it helps us to create a strong bond between our minds and our bodies. Both the good and the bad situations in life are better when we practice on a regular basis. Give yoga a try. Participate in many different styles of classes until you find one that speaks to you personally. There are so many options available for us today; we have no valid excuses anymore to not give it a try.
I wish everyone on earth practiced yoga. The world would be a truly glorious place to live if they did.
About Mary Flint:
Mary enjoys yoga as a lifelong practice. She loves learning new yoga poses, and mastering inversions and arm balances. She has found yoga to be much more than just a physical practice, as it has prepared her mind, body and spirit for navigating life. Mary believes that yoga is for everyone, and wants to help others find their own practice.