Sunday, April 17, 2011

Namaste, Yogadesha

"Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase." Martin Luther King, Jr.

This past Sunday, I walked into a yoga studio for the first time in over three years. I have been threatening to get back into yoga ever since I moved to NJ, but it wasn't until a wonderful friend of mine arranged a private lesson for me at Yogadesha (Montclair, NJ) that I made good on my threats.

The word "yoga" is derived from the Sanskrit word "yuj", which basically means to unite. My yoga instructor, Rebecca Bergstrom, reaffirmed this basic philosophy as she explained that "yoga is not about self-improvement; it's about self awareness." Put another way, everything you need to conquer your fear, anxiety, pain is already inside of you - yoga is just a means of access.

I understand, respect and admire the proven benefits of yoga. There is little doubt that this ancient Indian practice, which is over 26,000 years old, has helped millions of people overcome countless physical and emotional ailments -- and there is plenty of scientific evidence documenting how meditation can change brain patterns to relieve pain.

But it's sort of like obeying the posted speed limits on the freeway -- a good idea, but who has time for that kind of cautious self-indulgence? I guess the answer is: I have to make the time.

My instructor, Rebecca, studied biology and psychology at Stanford University, and dance with Martha Grahm. She turned to yoga as a means to cope with the death of her young husband - when she was pregnate with her first child. She has the highest level of certification, and has helped people with ms, cancer, fibromyalgia, and other long term health concerns - and she most definitely has helped me.

Yoga classes typically start and end with the teacher and students bowing to one another, repeating the Hindi salutation "Namaste", which is a combination of two Sanskrit words: nama ("to bow") and te ("you"). So literally, "Namaste" translates to "I bow to you" - or more loosely translated, "The spirit in me respects the spirit in you." The spirit is the one thing that Western medicine largely ignores, even though it is a critical component in any recovery - especially from a physical trauma such as cancer.

"Trauma" is the Greek word for "a wound" (and for "damage or defeat"). I have had lots of physical damage and defeats over the past year, all of which are easily described ... but some of the emotional wounds my treatments caused are a bit harder to recognize and define - even for myself.

After giving Rebecca a complete account of my surgeries, treatments and testing, as well as a summary of my current levels of physical pain, we began working by having her touch certain key points on my body to heighten my awareness.

Before she began, she asked "do you mind being touched?" and I gave her the reply I give all my doctors and nurses these days, "do whatever you want, I've been poked, prodded and stuck by so many people so many times that I have no humility left"... And she stopped and said "what a trauma". I never thought of THAT aspect of my treatment as "traumatic" but her acknowledgement of how difficult it is to not have control over your own body brought on a flood of emotions: anger, resentment, loss, self-pity, courage ... all at once. The next 45 min were about control - my control of my body. It was amazing.

I'm definitely going to take her Wed "breath centered" yoga classes and find a yoga studio by me. It's a first step toward a different kind of healing - a step I'm taking despite not being able to see "the whole staircae" - it's about faith... in myself.


  1. I took a semester of yoga in school as a P.E. requirement and really enjoyed it, but was scared to try to practice during my treatment, especially post-surgery and the whole 1 lung thing! Lately, I've taken a few yoga classes at a great studio and have been meaning to go more often. During the classes I did take, I really loved taking that time to myself and it was challenging, but not impossible. I like how you considered it a way to find some control over your body...I hadn't considered that aspect, but do agree. By the way, have you visited - You may find a studio in your area.

  2. That's fantastic!! I'm getting involved again on this coast as well. I remember you started me off on that fateful cruise to Canada.

    My friend Katie and I recently went to a yoga class and were the only ones there. The class started off with a really complicated song that we were supposed to repeat. It sorta went like this:
    Instructor: Shamika laya ngia. Feetfoe rastifusu. Sseeee yaam.
    Me/Katie: Shamamam ya fo rakwu. yum yum.

    I doubt anything we said made remote sense and I just concentrated on not laughing.

  3. Sounds very interesting. Something for me to look in to, Enjoy!

  4. Thanks guys for the support! I'm going to use that site Stephanie to look into a studio closer to me :) I'll keep you posted