Paula Fletcher kindly shares her wisdom. For more information about Haven Yoga and Wellness, visit the Facebook page.
Yoga is a powerful vehicle for change. This science of whole wellness has been around for thousands of years. Some scholars believe that yoga has its roots in Stone Age shamanism. We in the West know yoga mostly as the physical practice of asana (the postures), and don’t tend to see yoga as anything beyond the physical. So when someone such as myself makes the statement “Yoga is a powerful vehicle for change” the reaction is “Really? How?” Yoga really is a powerful vehicle for change and hopefully I can explain how in this piece.
In my opinion, yoga is the most holistic wellness system that exists. Whilst the focus in any yoga class is, on the surface, purely physical, there is so much more going on. Asana makes up only one part of a yoga class. Pranayama, relaxation and meditation are also incorporated, whether they are specifically focused on or not. But there is also a deeper level that is touched upon, whether the student is aware or not.
Yoga acknowledges that humans are more than the physical being. Yoga holds that we have layers. These layers are called koshas. There is;
The physical layer - Annamaya
The energetic layer - Pranamaya
The mental/emotional layer - Manomaya
The Intellectual/Intuitive layer - Vignanamaya and;
The Bliss layer - Anandamaya, the layer that probably best equates to our higher self.
Various different postures (asana) will have an effect on different layers of our being – other than the physical; as do different practices like pranayama. Relaxation has an effect on our physical body - it relaxes us, releasing muscles and joints. Relaxation also has an effect on us at an energetic level - it helps us recharge effectively and energise. Rest does that, especially good quality rest. Relaxation also affects our mind, by quieting it, allowing us to de-stress. Relaxation also affects our emotions, because we become calmer and better able to cope with the stressors in our lives. And if the endless mind chatter, the “monkey mind”, is quiet, it allows our intellect to work better, our actual cognitive function to be improved. All of this put together shows how the act of relaxation works across all layers of our being, across all koshas. But what is this “energetic” bit? Sounds a bit woo-woo, right?
All matter is made of energy. Science tells us that. We are energy. We use it all the time. We measure our food in terms of the energy we get from it, in calories or kilojoules. We need energy, we can’t function without it. We get energy from our food which we eat and then is converted to energy…but if that energy exists in our “energy layer”, Pranamaya, how does it get to the physical layer, Annamaya? That’s where the Chakras come in.
There is a lot of focus on Chakras in the New Age sector, and from a Reiki perspective. There is talk of “balancing”, “activating” and “unblocking” our chakras. Chakras are actually a part of yogic physiology. That is where they come from- yoga. But they are often taken out of context. In yogic physiology the chakras function as the intersections between the physical and energetic. They exist in the energy layer, Pranamaya, and see that energy is passed from Pranamaya to Annamaya. They connect to the energy highways through our bodies, called the nadis. And they don’t need to be activated. In yoga the chakras can easily be balanced or cleansed, through yoga itself. Asanas, meditation, pranayama, and specific chakra shuddhi (a chakra cleanse), all take care of the chakras.
But what has any of this got to do with being a “powerful vehicle for change”? And what has any of this got to do with helping post-natally?
Because yoga works on so many levels it allows us to heal on all those levels. It helps us to be healthy on all those levels, to maintain our health, and gives us tools to help along the way. And yoga changes us on all those levels of our being. Quieting the mind allows us to have a look at what is going on inside us, to have a deeper understanding of ourselves, why we react in certain ways, behave in certain ways, and how to address what needs to be addressed. And that is transformative.
I began yoga at the age of 10 when my mum took me to her yoga class on her teacher’s advice. The teacher believed that yoga would help me with the bronchitis I would get every winter. When I had my own kids I reconnected with yoga, when my youngest was 3 or 4. It became a part of my daily routine. It helped my on a physical level. I had injured my back when I was nursing and yoga helped to heal, strengthen and maintain my back. The pain lessened. It also gave me skills to help me cope with life in general. And others noticed. Where as I had been quite well known for being temperamental, fiery, and extremely outspoken in a blunt, non-diplomatic way, I became more relaxed, less anxious, assertive without being aggressive, and far more insightful. I had always been empathetic, now I became more so. And the beauty of yoga was that I could do it anywhere, any time. It was portable. I could use pranayama to help calm me when any stressful situation arose. I could briefly close my eyes and centre myself, withdraw my senses (pratyahara) and turn inward, even for a few moments, to gather myself before turning back to the world and pressing on.
Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 39. My world turned upside down. Yoga was my touchstone. It was the base, the foundation, that helped carry me through, that helped me recover after treatment, that helped me endure. Yoga helped me to regain and rebuild my strength. It was few years after breast cancer that I was encouraged to study yoga teaching and a whole new world opened up.
This is when I learned that the chakras were a part of yogic physiology and that physiology is quite intricate and quite complex. I learned that what I knew as a Reiki practitioner actually tied in with yoga. It felt the same. It was during this time that I learned the Buddha was a yogi, and as Reiki has its foundation in Buddhism, it came from yoga, too. This all began to make sense to me. I then studied Pre and Post Natal Yoga Teaching, and then more recently I studied Yoga for Breast Cancer. And this is when things began to fall into place and make sense to me and a more complete way.
I was already teaching Mums and Bubs Yoga and Pre Natal Yoga. I had felt frustrated that there was not a lot of yoga for the mums in the Mums and Bubs class, by the time the bubs had had a massage and done some baby yoga, there was not a great deal of time for the mums. But I was noticing something that I had not taken into account- the connection that grew between everyone, the talking, the sharing…the union. This, I realized, was just as important as everything else- more so. And what is yoga? Yoga is union.
The Yoga for Breast Cancer course highlighted the need for exactly what I had observed in the Mums and Bubs class and called it Sangha, Sangha being Sanskrit for "association", "assembly," "company" or "community". Community is vital. It is as vital as rebuilding physical strength and regaining personal power. And I realised that the vast majority of what I was learning that was relevant to those with breast cancer was applicable to women post-natally.
In yoga, activating the pelvic floor and drawing across with the Transverse Abdominus is known as Moola Bandha. Moola Bandha is an energy lock; it locks in our personal power. Strengthening Moola Bandha, that is, the pelvic floor and the Transverse Abdominus, not only has the physical effect of regaining strength but also works on other levels, regaining personal power- it is empowering.
What can be more transformative than regaining personal power, being empowered?
Combine the physical side of yoga with the energetic, emotional and mental side and yoga has the power to transform. Add the community, the union, and it is more so. There can be nothing more reassuring than coming together with like-minded people who have a shared experience, and that shared experience is pregnancy and child birth, and caring for a baby.
All of this can aid with Post Natal depression. Yoga can calm and soothe through meditation, pranayama and relaxation. The physical aspect strengthens, and yoga as a whole relieves anxiety. Many studies verify the benefits of yoga. I have included some links to studies at the end of this article.
For someone with Post Natal depression it can be hard to know what is normal and what is not. It can be easy to lose that gauge. The same thing happens with breast cancer, as I have experienced. Coming together and talking openly, sharing experiences, can relieve that feeling of isolation. Yoga can open the door for that.
Yoga brings wellness and well being through empowerment, as yoga puts us in the driver’s seat with our own health, helping us to understand our bodies, our minds and our spirits. And it is through empowerment that we transform.
[ References ]
Georg Feurstein, The Yoga Tradition