August 11, 2012

Yoga Was Waiting for My Attention. ~ Karen Byers

It amuses me to imagine you sitting in the waiting room of Waukegan Medical and Rehabilitation, idly leafing through periodicals until it is your turn to see a doctor or therapist.

You may be startled to see the clinic’s name in the first sentence, and I may be walking past you toting my yoga mat as you ask, “There’s yoga here?” You have no idea that there is a magical room just yards from where you are sitting, a place that could change your life. It did mine.

There are as many different motives for coming to a first yoga practice as there are people.

And each person finds reasons to leave or return. We bring our own flaws and succumb to them, or we bring our strengths and apply them. Eighteen months ago sciatica brought me to my first class with no small amount of reluctance, but remaining has brought me far beyond release from pain.

I am profoundly changed and deeply grateful.

Sciatica is nasty. Back, hip and leg pain made most postures uncomfortable. I had to walk upstairs like a toddler, putting my “good” leg on a step and then dragging the “bad” one up to join it. Articles I read said that sciatica would soon “go away by itself.”

Five weeks of being unable to sit or sleep was sufficient waiting time for me; I hobbled through the clinic door to meet Dr. Ivan Bracic, D.C.

Very early in my chiropractic care, Dr. Bracic mentioned, “You know—we have yoga classes here.”

What?! Who could these yoga classes be for? I couldn’t even sit on my couch.

After I was feeling a bit better and less distracted by pain, my usual curiosity and open-mindedness toward learning demanded attention, and I asked myself what did I know about yoga? I believed it to be very personal and respectful of individual differences and that you only do what you can do. The following week I thought I could maybe be friends with that philosophy.

I am an insatiable student (and teacher) and set new challenges for myself all the time. However, my strengths have been intuitive and intellectual, my weaknesses most certainly the physical.

Unless my body was malfunctioning, I rarely paid attention to it. I did not care for my first yoga session at all. Of course, I felt sore and completely awkward, and the clinic’s studio was crowded that day.

I’m an introvert; I like my people in small doses. I was such a hard sell, I persuaded the office receptionist (also a fellow classmate and now very dear friend) to call me before each evening class if, and only if, she could assure me there were so few people that it was unlikely my foot would land in a potted plant or someone’s ear, then, and only then, would I agree to run over and join in.

It took me two weeks to realize that if I just passively accepted chiropractic care, I would not achieve maximum healing.

Besides the home exercise program Dr. Bracic set for me, I began to set one goal after another for myself. I didn’t advertise how I was “setting my

Yoga in the author’s beautiful space.

intentions.” For the next 10 months I changed my eating habits, walked at least six miles a day, attended four yoga classes a week at the clinic, in addition to practicing daily at home.

The clinic’s studio (I later learned as I expanded my practice to other studios in other cities) is uniquely beautiful.

I will be forever spoiled and demanding in my standards when I practice in new places. You, the magazine reader in the waiting room? If you’ll just walk past the traction table cubicles, turn left and walk through the brown, velvet curtains, you’ll see what I mean.

Black fabrics with silver and gold, sparkling embellishments hang on each of the walls. The studio has only one outside wall, so it’s very quiet. A separate thermostat keeps it cozy warm, although I am now embarrassed to remember early on whining in a class survey that it didn’t seem necessary to me that it should “have to be so bloody hot.”

See, I can learn and change.

Dr. Bracic believes in yoga’s value in healing more than just the body and wanted to offer classes as a gift to the community, in gratitude for people welcoming his practice in Waukegan.

That means that although everyone in the neighborhood is invited, on any given day probably there will be at least one novice, very likely a patient in a certain amount of pain.

Instructor Jacquelyn Cotey is very compassionate and encouraging, never failing to inquire about comfort, and caution about pushing too far. She is very experienced and well-respected in Lake County and achieves quite the balancing act (yes, sorry, a pun) in a group of diverse ages, levels of fitness, yoga experience and often languages.

Here may be the place to confess that I have some times taken aside especially timid beginners and whispered to them, “Nobody’s going to be watching you but the teacher. And guess what? Nobody can do everything. Not even Jacquelyn. Let me show you something Jacquelyn cannot do.” (Sorry, Jacquelyn; it can be an affective teaching tool with some students more reluctant even than me).

Most of all, Jacquelyn teahces that yoga is a lifelong process of awareness, of learning about our bodies and our spirits growing together.

My epiphany came in January, 2011, after four months of practicing yoga. I understood for the first time in my life that I am an integrated being. My body, mind, and spirit are not separate, nor could the parts of my healing be separated.

I am a new person; skilled chiropractic care, diet, exercise therapy and yoga have all worked together. In four months I was relieved of three chronic medical conditions that had plagued me for eight years. In 10 months’ time I was also 100 pounds lighter.

Yoga has helped me to be strong, flexible, calmer and healthy. It has helped to heighten my senses and makes awkward me feel even occasionally somewhat graceful. More graceful body and perhaps more gracious behavior awareness of others.

Why else do I embrace it? I am a learner, and yoga is a philosophy whose learning has no end.

How about you in the waiting room? Are you still reading? Could you be my new yoga classmate?

You just missed Jacquelyn dimming the track lighting at the end of practice. You could have been, like me, stretching myself in all the ways I could imagine for an hour—mind and body—and then preparing to rest.

In this special place the last thing I saw before I closed my eyes in savasana was the sequined fabric of the ceiling—a twinkling, purple sky. Maybe you’ll join me next time.


Karen Byers is a retired teacher of high school English and German. Now she devotes her time to health and fitness, most recently rock wall climbing. Karen and a teaching colleague continue to teach informally. They choose a subject that they would like to learn more about; pick a time, place, and potential students; and see who shows up. Their latest success was Exploring World Religions, Part II, Hinduism (to which Karen eagerly contributed a yoga component). Traveling is another of Karen’s great passions. She may be reached at [email protected] .


Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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