So what had just happened?
I was standing outside the improvised yoga studio where I had just taken my first class for 20 years. The poses were familiar, the feeling was not. I was tired, tingling and energized, all at once. Every cell in my body seemed to be reminding me that it was there. My body and mind felt light. My mind had been so focused that 90 minutes had felt like 9 minutes – or 9 hours. I had no idea what had just happened to me, but I knew I wanted more of it.
Over the next few years yoga, in my case in the Iyengar tradition, became an important part of my life. I found my teachers, studied hard, practiced, and slowly built confidence in the reality of what my body and mind were experiencing. I appreciated the physical benefits of improved strength, flexibility and balance. I also appreciated the slow retreat of anxiety and mental dullness, replaced by calm and a sense of vibrant energy. Subjectively I could feel that my yoga practice was helping me maintain my health and mobility over time, but, as an engineer and a researcher, I wanted to understand the what, why and how using a more familiar frame of reference than the yoga sutras or ayurveda. But when I looked at what the Western scientific tradition had to say about what I was experiencing there was almost complete silence.
Move forward a couple of decades, and I am still experiencing the extraordinary benefits of yoga. And Western medicine is catching up with our lived experience. Within the last 10 years we have seen well-designed experimental studies that demonstrate the efficacy of different practices – to which long-term yogis tend to say “What took you so long?” But real advances from physiology to brain imaging to modeling body mechanics cast more light on the “what”, the “why” and the “how”. And it works – when I know how specific techniques address what specific challenges, I am able to focus in my practice and be clearer in my teaching. Understanding why something happens helps me recognize the strengths and limitations of yoga. If I can communicate basic rules that can be incorporated into a home practice, people are more likely to do that practice. And I see what relating yoga to Western frames of reference gives to my students. Often, working with familiar concepts gives people confidence to explore and build. And as the body of Western work grows, it becomes easier to incorporate yoga into a range of health practices, allowing Western medicine and yoga their appropriate complementary roles.
I have had help along the way, especially from the great people at “Yoga for Healthy Aging”. This group of researchers, teachers, Ayurvedic practitioners, doctors and therapists – all longterm yoga practitioners – straddles yoga and Western medicine, and has built a wonderful knowledge base embedded in their blog. I had the privilege of being among the first class of certified “Yoga for Healthy Aging” teachers.
Today, I see my work as sharing the good news of what yoga can help us with, while sharing the why and the how in Western terms. Yoga is not a quick fix or a miracle cure, but if practiced diligently it allows us to take some responsibility for, and exercise some control over, our wellbeing. Think prevention first, not radical intervention. The 8-hour program, “Yoga for Vibrant Living: Preparing for the Second Half of Life” that I am offering at SKY this year shows concrete ways in which yoga can support your physical, mental, and emotional health as you age, with practical preventative strategies for bone strength, muscle strength, flexibility, agility, balance, stress management and equanimity. All yoga based, all supported by Western studies. I hope that you will be able to join me to share them.
You can register for Yoga for Vibrant Living here.