After a long holiday hiatus, yoga classes picked up again at my local community center. I never thought I would be so excited about an exercise class. But, as I learned during the past few months, yoga is so much more than exercise. For me, it’s been an adventure. Aside from the physical benefits practicing yoga is aiding my transition from emotionally, mentally burned out caregiver widow to calm, strong, resilient me. I am no longer carrying darkness. Instead, I’m restoring the light.
This revelation began on a sunny late August day when I decided (on a whim, of course) to turn onto the road leading to the Richland Area Community Center (RACC). A pleasant friendly woman named Jody greeted me at the front desk. Soon Jody was showing me around as she described the activities offered by RACC. We peeked through a windowed door at a yoga class in session. Shhhh. A sign posted outside the room asked for quiet. Something about the women, and it was mostly women, lying on their colorful mats in silent repose called out to me to join them.
With a six week instructional class starting in September I enrolled on the spot. No time like the present to feed another whim. There were also three drop-in classes offered every week. I decided to take a wait and see approach before jumping into one of those. However, it wasn’t long after starting the formal class that I began dropping in on Mondays as well. As a friend who is a long time practitioner said, “How can you not love something that ends with everyone wrapped up in warm blankets?” Indeed.
On my first day of class any trepidation I felt soon melted away as our instructor approached me. She asked my name and announced she was also Cathy, “with a C”, as she flashed a captivating smile and said a soul warming “welcome to the group”. Cathy also took care to ask if I had any physical constraints. I did. A knee was giving me pain to the point where I thought I should take my orthopedist’s advice to have cortisone shots. Handing me knee pads I soon learned to adopt Cathy’s mantra of “listen to your body”. There was no pressure ever to move beyond my personal scope of abilities. Mostly of a more mature age, including a few octogenarians, we all seemed to have some limitation or another.
As week after week I stretched and balanced and strengthened and groaned my knee pain disappeared along with the knee support, painkillers and topical treatments. I still listen to my body (and my doctor) and use knee pads, but to say I’m amazed at this result would be an understatement. Oh, yes, I do get a tinge of discomfort now and again, which is when I back off from whatever I’m doing with ‘listen to your body’ echoing in my ears.
However, the most significant surprise wasn’t the physical benefits. Like a benediction following each session savasana delivered a deep far-reaching spiritual calm in the midst of my personal storm. You may be asking what exactly is a savasana. If so, you can see that learning the vocabulary of yoga is one of the good for your brain challenges. To put it in simple terms, savasana is also known as the corpse pose. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? It actually is delightful and difficult all at once.
Twenty minutes before the end of my first class, as we readied ourselves for savasana out came blankets and sweat shirts, socks and eye masks, small pillows. It was as if we were preparing for adult nap time. Then, we adopted the corpse pose, lying flat on our backs, eyes closed, hands open-palmed facing the ceiling. Now for the hard part…totally relaxing, not just your fresh-from-a-workout body, but your mind. Despite soft meditative music playing in the otherwise extreme quiet my ever busy mind worked against my efforts to calm.
Never able to meditate for more than five minutes, thoughts materialized in my hamster wheel of gray matter faster than it emptied them out. Oh, busy busy mind. Relax. Relax. Around my third or fourth class we were introduced to the Sa Ta Na Ma meditation. Coincidentally, the next day my grief counselor introduced it to me as well. Ask and ye shall receive. The universe knew I needed a crutch to lean on. With this method I now meditate during savasana to the point of nearly falling asleep!
As the handout Cathy gave us says, “Sa Ta Na Ma is intended to bring mental balance clearing your subconscious for a fresh start. It improves concentration and brain function, increases intuitive abilities, and brings peace and understanding to the practitioner.” And, so it does.
Again the vocabulary. Here is the meaning of each word as each finger is touched in a pressure point to the thumb. This is done slowly with inhales and exhales as each finger presses the thumb and each word is silently, mindfully said.
Sa = birth = index finger pressure point
Ta = life = middle finger pressure point
Na = death = ring finger pressure point
Ma = rebirth = pinky finger pressure point
As I practiced this at home my ability to meditate grew to ten minutes of keeping my busy mind at bay. I’d even venture to say meditation has calmed not only my mind, but my spirit as it allowed much needed rest, peace and mental space to blossom. After savasana, each session ends with an inspirational or poetic reading by Cathy. Then, we all place our hands at heart center and say, “namaste”, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “I bow to you”. The word never fails to leave me with a peaceful feeling of being here and now and part of a larger community.
According to John Hopkins Medicine (hopkinsmedicine.org) yoga improves balance, strength and flexibility, can help with back pain and arthritis symptoms and supports heart health. Managing stress, better sleep, more energy and brighter moods and connecting with a supportive community are other benefits cited. Yoga has provided that and much more for me. As I sit here looking out my window at snow floating softly to the frozen earth, I’m grateful for this adventure in yoga and its many rewards.