Yoga Therapy in Daily Life
One, two or three individual yoga sessions will set you up for your own yoga and meditation practice, where you learn to address your personal needs.
I found my yoga path when I was looking for an answer to burn-out and professional stress. Mindfulness and the stillness that come from a regular yoga practice have been life savers for me. The beneficial effects of yoga on health and well-being are well-documented and studying yoga therapy in India (Coonoor) at the Ayurveda Hospital Retreat has taught me to address specific issues like:
- addiction, low attention and focus span, hyperactivity, ...
- constipation, IBS, stomach inflammation and ulcers, ...
- depression, fatigue, headaches, ...
Yoga in Palliative Care
Article published in YogaToday, Summer 2018
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. (Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross)
As yoga teachers, we seek to coach and inspire people in their lives, and sometimes help them make challenging lifestyle changes, ultimately allowing them to also die at peace with themselves, their lives, longings and regrets. On our yoga paths, it becomes necessary to learn to manage abhiniveśa, the fear of death.
As yoga teachers, we can step in at the end of people’s lives. There are so many tools that we can use in these often painful, stressful and otherwise difficult situations for patients and for their carers. Our tools need to be well-selected and used with skill to give comfort and dignity to those who are suffering, and to those close to them. Our own daily practice and maturity in life are very important in providing support and guidance in these circumstances. It is not a time to be unclear or unsure. Our work is therefore to come with the right choice of practice: mantra, breathing techniques, guided visualisation, yoga nidra, touch, movement, the concept of puruṣa, and whatever else our yoga knowledge can bring to those confronting their mortality.
The Importance of a Daily Practice
Every journey is different. Reasoning with cause and effect, people often get stuck in the anger/blame mode (cf. the five stages of grief, as developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross): why is this happening to me?
On my yoga path, I have learned to see the world AS IT IS and focus on what nourishes me, tapping into a source of light and love, forging my own mantras and my own meditation practice. When I walk in nature, I find feathers to remind me of my connection with the universe and my ancestors. I find it really important to have a creative practice, anchored in the sensory world, connecting with that inner bliss, exactly that what we wish to share.
Working in palliative care, has many rewards. It can bring insights and gratitude. In life what looked like a stumbling block turns out to be a stepping stone. Embracing people at the end of their lives can be a reflection on how you live your own life and your own way forward. It can reset your own priorities. You may feel the need for self-care more acutely and that’s where working in palliative care feeds back into your daily meditation practice. Do allow the self-care to go off the mat through contact with nature, journaling, friends, expressions of gratitude other connections. The experience of having been of assistance can then enrich our own lives (karma yoga).
What is fear of death?
I worked as a volunteer in palliative care for Karuna, a Brisbane-based organization that gives people the opportunity to die at home, fully supported in their physical needs and providing relief for their emotional and spiritual suffering. I was trained on many levels to be prepared for death. You are with a client and what will you do if he or she dies on your shift? What is this fear that makes me a little nervous when I step into their house? How will I handle the avalanche of emotions of loss, grief, despair and unfinished business? I explore the fear… until the answer appears: love, acceptance and kindness.
The yogic approach
The first step for the yoga teacher is your spoken or unspoken namaskar (Sanskrit for greeting/saluting): you are meeting the dying person and the carers on the level of equality and connection, with presence to their trauma and experience of loss. The quality of your presence can be soothing; your voice and movements are calm and soft.
Often as yoga teachers we communicate with verbal instructions and physical demonstrations. In the palliative environment I find it meaningful to add touch: shake hands, hold hands, give the gentlest hand or foot massage. Pick up the body language: let go of the hand at the smallest sign or hold your hand out as support.
From a bed, on a chair or on the floor, sit next to the person. This will enable you to look at the same point (drishti) and be less confrontational. Gentle movements and mudras may bring well-being. The shared practice of ujjayi-breathing can bring some clarity of mind and focus. Your toolbox is your treasure cove.
One of the yoga therapy tools more widely used in India is pilgrimage. Liberating the soul from the confinements of space and time (the same four walls and the same 60 minute session), you can take your patient and/or their carer to their special place…
An integral yogic notion and practice
Yoga in Palliative Care is of course no different from yoga in general. It celebrates life because it is mindful of its impending end. Each yoga teacher will bring their own flavour, tradition and inspiration. Dying peacefully is the result of living peacefully.
*www.karuna.org.au “Gently underpinning our work, our spiritual foundation derives from Tibetan Buddhism, specifically the teachings and practices of Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-1983) and Lama Zopa Rinpoche of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT)” Note from the author: Although I regret that Buddhist philosophy often takes over contemporary yoga language, I acknowledge the amazing life force and wisdom that is common to all inspired and enlightened beings. Karuna’s mission is universal in its kind and unique in Brisbane.
- BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, Noida, India, 1993 (2010)
o Prakriti / purusha (the material and the ethereal world)
o The eight steps on the yoga path:
§ Yamas (5 social rules)
§ Niyamas (5 disciplines)
§ Asanas (the experience of stillness and stability in poses)
§ Prānāyāma (flow of breath and life force)
§ Pratyahara (the world of the senses)
§ Dhāranā (one pointed focus)
§ Dhyāna (meditation)
§ Samādhi (Self-realisation, bliss)
- Steven Jenkinson, Die Wise, Berkeley, CA, USA, 2015
o Loss of ancestors in our modern day world
o Show the younger generation how to die
o Allow the ugly, the pain, the crap, the grief
- Atma Muni, On Love, Mechelen, Belgium, 2016 (talks)
o An open and full heart – to love without grasping
o Allow yourself to be in “Love” always
- Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, Charleston, SC, USA, 2012
o Allowing “fear of death” as it helps you protect your loved ones and makes you live in the present
- Elisabeth Kübler Ross, www.ekrfoundation.org
o Five attitudes when facing death: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance
- Sr. Wayne W. Dyer, 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace, 2001
o Don’t die with your music still in you
o Give up your personal history
After 25 years in the corporate world, Ilse found mindfulness to be the answer to stress and burn-out. She trained at Byron Yoga Centre, at Ayurveda Hospital Retreat (India) and in Belgium with Atma Muni and Suman. Ilse worked as a family support volunteer and biographer in palliative care. Her mission is to make yoga accessible to as many people by lowering financial and cultural thresholds. Upcoming workshop on “Yoga in Palliative Care”: 24 March 2018. More information: www.yogamadetomeasure.com
Different ways of working towards a higher quality of life