October 9, 2013

Take 5 Downward Dogs & Call Me in the Morning. ~ Kathryn E. Livingston

I admit I’m a bit of a yoga zealot.

When a friend tells me she has a physical problem like aching hips or a stiff neck, my solution is usually yoga or meditation. But is there such a thing as too much yoga? What exactly is the proper dosage?

The legendary nonagenarian B.K.S. Iyengar—I recently read in his book Core of the Yoga Sutras—still practices four to five hours a day. Yoga helped him repair and gain strength after experiencing a number of childhood ailments, including malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis. But do we all need to do so much yoga? Or is a once-a-week class enough?

When it comes to yoga, in my opinion, more is better. This doesn’t mean one must do yoga in one’s sleep (or push past one’s edge on some kind of ego trip). But if you want results (either physical or spiritual) more seems to make sense. I practice six days a week for several hours a day and frankly, I know it’s not enough. It’s better than nothing, but I can tell that my body, mind and spirit would benefit from more. A week without yoga—which I recently experienced while on a family vacation—was a setback. Yoga is kind of like breathing—once you begin, it’s rather essential to continue. As Iyengar writes, he “stuck to yoga like the proverbial leech.” That seems to happen to a lot of us.

I have friends who complain of various ailments, and my answer is always the same: “Yoga.” So far, only a few have followed my advice, but for one at least the practice has been (in her words) “a game changer.” Sometimes, I wish I could kidnap these folks and make them do yoga. But that would sort of defeat the whole purpose—one must want to be on the mat.

I have another friend who has osteopenia. What, I wonder, would be better than yoga for that? Yoga builds bones, strength, muscles, and stamina (of course, for her, some modifications will be necessary). But why take a pill when one can do warrior poses? Others complain of anxiety, anger, and impatience. What could be better, I ask them, than going to a yoga class where they will learn pranayama? Soon their anxiety and the monkey mind will be under control. It’s impossible, I’ve found, to be angry and upset while doing long, deep breathing; it changes everything!

Another—who has arthritis—complains of pains in her hips and joints. I remember a day early in my practice, when I arrived at yoga with such an issue, and my teacher “serendipitously” had already planned a hip-opening class. I left in a state of blissful healing. As long as I practice regularly, that kind of pain is a thing of the past.

Yes, I’m preaching to the choir here. But how do we get this word to the disbelievers (i.e. boyfriend, husband, mother, best friend?) How can we convince those who doubt that this “stuff” really works? I know one young man who went through cancer but refused to take a single yoga class, even though the hospital offered it free. If only I could have convinced him of how yoga can help with the stress of dealing with cancer treatments (I’ve been there, so I know).

I guess it’s a bit like raising kids. We model (if parents read, kids will read, the experts say). We suggest. We pray, hope, and believe. In fact, just a few weeks ago (after years of cajoling, a word I left out of the above list) my youngest son, 22, finally came to a class with me, and now he’s hooked.

Quite possibly, even though they’ve been arguing and resisting for some time, our friends and family members secretly want what we have—our calm, balance, strength and equanimity. And one day, they will put away their fears and doubts (just as we once did), and they will discover that not only does yoga assuage their backaches and hip aches, but also it soothes their heartaches and soul.

Once they give it a serious try, just like Iyengar, my bet is they’ll stick to yoga like the “proverbial leech.” When it comes to yoga, more is more.

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Assistant Ed: Danny Garcia/Ed: Sara Crolick

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