by Kimberly Flyr
As I write this, it’s the start of a new session at Yoga Center of Columbia. As I was planning my classes for the session, I started to think about why I teach yoga - what has yoga taught me that is so important that I want to share it with others? Here was my initial list of what I’ve learned and why I’m so grateful to yoga:
It’s not a bad list, really…I’ll enjoy sharing all of these themes with my students. But something happened this week that reminded me in a more personal way how I’ve benefited from yoga.
I was having a difficult day. I was arguing with not one, but two, family members, and I could feel all my old habits kicking in: shoulders tightening, stomach clenching, breath shortening, defensiveness building, etc. I wish I could say that my years of yoga allowed me to find nothing but peace and wellbeing and sail through this day with goodwill to all.
Suffice to say that was not my experience.
Still, something interesting did happen. I found myself able to be more aware of my habits, to witness myself, even as I fell into old patterns. I was still defensive, still worked up, but I could see it from some distance and even breathe into it a little. There was a part of me that could help the rest of me get through a difficult day.
While that didn’t fix everything, it was enough. It felt like a little miracle, actually, this ability to access a new form of self-care. I see so many of the benefits of yoga that I had listed as the seeds that flowered into this new way of being with myself, showing up unexpectedly just when most needed.
And so, I will be adding a #13 to my list: Help getting through difficult days. No small benefit… and well worth sharing.
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Kimberly Flyr, a member of the Board of Directors of Retreat Center of Maryland, is a Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher, RYT300, as well as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. She also writes, and her reflections have been published in several local and national publications.
by Elizabeth Manne
The human body is an amazing vehicle, and we get to choose how we use it.
The answers to these questions are all based on the choices we make. As with all things, finding balance in the way we use our bodies is advisable. When I set out to explore the ways that the athletic energy we use when we run compares to the energy we use when we do yoga, I was surprised to learn that research shows many similarities between the two, physically as well as mentally and spiritually.
Both yoga and running help to build strong bones, strengthen muscles, improve cardiovascular fitness, improve self-esteem, fight depression, sharpen focus, improve mental stamina and boost the immune system. Yoga is union of body, mind and spirit. Running, swimming, bicycling, hiking and dancing also bring this kind of union.
There is a different kind of exertion used in yoga as opposed to running. Maybe one takes more mental effort to get you to commit to doing it. Maybe one of these activities causes you to sweat more. Once you make a commitment to exerting either kind of energy, however, the benefits will show up in your life. Each is useful in its own time and in moderation, each can bring joy and lasting good health.
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Elizabeth Manne, vice president of Retreat Center of Maryland, is a devoted runner. A Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher, RYT500, she has been teaching yoga for four of the 10 years she has been studying yoga.
by Nancy Kochuk
Yoga can be most effective in places that you might consider the least friendly environments for a such a practice - in prisons, for example. But if you are a yoga student, yoga in prison makes perfect sense. In your yoga practice, you’ve already experienced that shift from a ramped-up, vigilant state (that's our sympathetic nervous system responding to stress) to a calmer, less reactive state (the parasympathetic nervous system controls our rest-and-digest functions). That state of equilibrium in both the body and the mind that yoga produces can be enormously helpful to the men and women incarcerated in our prisons and jails. So many of them have already experienced trauma (think homelessness, domestic violence, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and more) in their lives, then they experience even more trauma and stress living in harsh, overcrowded prison environments.
Research studies confirm the positive impact that yoga can have on the men and women who participate in prison yoga classes. But for an up-close and personal view, all you need to do is listen to what incarcerated students tell their yoga teachers:
When prisoners are released back into our communities, we want them to be healthier people, in body, mind and spirit. Yoga is a tool that can help people become their best selves.
In any yoga class, when we focus on the experience we are having on our mat and in our body in that moment, we give ourselves permission to let go, breathe and create those little moments of peace, clarity and empowered choice that are essential to our wellbeing. That’s a practice all of us - incarcerated or not - can use in our daily lives.
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NOTE: Retreat Center of Maryland sponsored a daylong “Replenish the Well” retreat in early July 2018 at no cost for yoga teachers and meditators who volunteer in Maryland prisons.
Nancy Kochuk is a volunteer teacher and coordinator for the Maryland Prison Yoga Project. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Retreat Center of Maryland and editor of the RCM newsletter, Moving Forward Together.