YOGA! It’s Not Just Stretching

Yoga is a 5000 year old discipline that has numerous benefits for both your physical health and especially your mind. In fact, most yoga teachers are very aware that they are helping you to use the activity of the body to still and focus the mind.

I started yoga about two years ago at the urging of my boss and my partner. I’d worked for too many years in a job that brought me into daily contact with crazy people, homeless people, drug addicts and general psychopaths of all sorts. And, as is the case with many people in such occupations, I found myself in danger of turning into one of my clients. My job was driving me nuts and I was becoming increasingly unbearable at home. And it was getting worse. It wasn’t pretty.

My boss suggested I try yoga. She is eight years my senior and clearly in better health with a remarkably even temperament and foolishly optimistic (or so I thought) outlook on life. But to look at her, it was clear that she was on to something. I started practicing with David Nelson at Yoga Garden near Haight and Divisadero

I’d hoped to find mental improvements and I found them. I am anxious by nature and I tend to worry constantly. I actively ruminate about my work – the stresses and upsets of dealing with nuts all day. I would take it home with me and whine at my partner in the evenings, I’d lose sleep.

Yoga provided immediate relief.

Many people think of yoga as something like the warm up exercises they did in Physical Education classes in High School. Nothing could be further from the truth. For me, yoga has as much relationship to stretching as a house cat does to a lion. There’s a lot of stretching in yoga. But, the similarity ends there.

In the Iyengar tradition practiced at Yoga Garden, emphasis is placed on holding poses that bring BOTH your body and your mind into a healthier alignment. In addition to stimulating the brain and internal organs (or calming them down depending on the pose), yoga balances the flow of energy throughout the neurophysiology of your body. Yoga practice helped me reduce my anxiety level and stop the flow of negative thinking and constant rumination. When I practice, my mind becomes more focused in the present. Time slows way down. Past and future drop away. I generally leave practice in a good or at least better mood and the effects last for several hours afterwards. Daily problems either go away or seem much more manageable. As I started telling people at work, “It’s better than valium and cheaper than therapy.”

There are poses I have found particularly helpful for shoulder and back problems. And there are poses that relieve anxiety and depression. (It’s hard to be depressed while you’re standing on your head.) There are poses that give you energy when you haven’t slept and poses that calm you down when you’re too wired. One of my teachers even uses particular poses for her hyperthyroidism.

Many people practice yoga at home where they can focus on the poses most helpful to them. I tend to come to class a lot. I like the energy and camaraderie of working on myself with other people. Yoga is not, by any means, a yak fest. But, in my experience, it is extremely beneficial to be around pleasant and civil people who share the common goals of enhancing their mental and physical well-being. When on my own, I’m also little lazy ( all right, I’m very lazy!) I find that I try harder with the support of my fellow students and David’s (and all my teachers) – uhhh, ferocious encouragement.

I’ve practiced with most of the teachers at Yoga Garden. They are dedicated to their art. They all bring unique skills, interests, and talents to the art of teaching and practice, yet they all share a common understanding that yoga is both a physical, mental and a spiritual discipline. The body – any body – your body can become a vehicle for expanding, calming and focusing your awareness. Simply put, I just began to feel better.

Shortly after I started practicing, I came home one day and my partner said, “What’s wrong?”. I said, “Nothing’s wrong. Why?”. He said, “You’re smiling”.