In the midst of everything that has been going on in my life (transformation, transition, deconstruction, etc.), I have been utilizing a handful of what I like to call healing practices to help my soul recalibrate and find center again. These healing practices, or centering rituals, or whatever you want to call them, are the activities that I am building into my life in this season in order to maintain balance and sanity. I will share each one in a different post and they will be part of a series that I’m calling “Healing Practices”. This one is about my path to participating in the practice of yoga.
My journey with yoga hasn’t always been a fond one. Growing up as a charismatic-evangelical-pentecostal-Christian kid, and my parents being Indian, yoga was strictly frowned upon as being derived from Hindu and New Age religious practices that would invite demons into our lives if we ever tried it. (I’m not even joking.) This (mis)information has kept a lot of people missing out on a valuable practice.
When I started working in the field of mental health five years ago, I learned that yoga is incredibly effective in treating trauma. Trauma is held in the muscles, bones, joints and sinews of our physical bodies. Traumatic experiences literally live in the body’s implicit memories, and is often experienced as chronic pain or other chronic conditions. The focus on body work, breathing, balance, etc. are all effective techniques for healing the damage of trauma and alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and a number of other mental health related problems. But I was skeptical. My fundamental Christian worldview stood as a giant barrier to considering otherwise.
Eventually, I started hearing stories about people’s experience with yoga and noticed that none of them appeared to be demon possessed. And in fact, it was a great addition to their fitness routine and useful for coping with stress. So I considered trying it.
My first experience with yoga was joining a giant Sunday morning class a couple years ago at the Lulu Lemon store in the Yorkville area of Toronto. It was enjoyable in general, but my wrists (still weak from an old Starbucks injury) simply couldn’t handle all the downward dog poses. And, quite honestly, it seemed like white, young adult, hipster females had hijacked the practice, and I wasn’t too interested in joining the trend.
My second experience with yoga was when my sister invited me to go to a class with her. She had taken up the practice and found it calming and rejuvenating. I wasn’t convinced. But I went with her anyway because I had read and heard about all the theoretical benefits to yoga, and I trust my sister. This yoga class was less hipster but I couldn’t keep up with its pace and my wrists still hurt. I also didn’t feel very connected to the practice and mostly just felt like an imposter. At that point, I decided that yoga wasn’t for me and didn’t bother with it for another six months. Even after I took up meditation as a regular practice, I kept yoga at a distance.
About a month ago, I purchased a fitness membership at my local community centre. My plan was to swim, work out in the gym, and maybe take a couple group exercise classes when I was feeling brave and up to it. The first class I signed up for was half and half of low impact cardio and yoga. I will write about my experience in some of these classes in another post, but the ½ hour yoga practice was truly sublime. It connected with me in such a profound way that I had to seek out more. I found another yoga class the next morning and went to it. Even with a different instructor, it was soothing to my soul. So basically, I’ve attended a yoga session four out of the last six days. And my plan for this week includes a yoga class almost every day.
The most intriguing part of the process for me has been how it flushes out pent up emotion from my system. It helps me unwind from work and sleep better. It helps me process my thoughts in effective and positive ways. And it helps to clear and calm my mind. Sometimes, the slowing down and breathing process as I enter into a practice period is enough to move me emotionally. And as the session continues, I literally work and stretch and squeeze those emotions out of my body and out of my mind. Sometimes, at the end of practice, as I’m driving home, I’m overcome with tears. But they are tears of cleansing and renewal and healing. It’s beautiful and I am now a believer in the power of this ancient practice.
If you’re looking for something to work your body and mind, to promote balance and strength, and bring healing to places of pain or bad memories, I highly recommend trying a basic yoga practice. Sometimes, you need a few introductions before you get to know someone, and few roadsigns pointing to the path before you get to walking along it. I hope this can be a sign along your path. And I hope to keep yoga in my repertoire of healing practices for as long as it serves me.
Grace and peace.