Thursday, July 19, 2012

Self-Acceptance and Chair Yoga

Palms up resting pose [Description: Hand palm up with
 thumb and forefinger touching]
I was not really athletic as a child.

Dealing with visual and hearing issues as a young child, I was not the most welcome sight coming out to the playground or field. Having an older brother didn't help, since he was a bookworm/smarty-pants and spent most of his time buried in studies.

But, I loved movement! Not the dancing or ballet kind, but the simple, free movement of the body. I rode my bicycle as a child with the wind against my face. I roller-skated to the corner back and forth until nightfall. Later in life, I would partake in every walk- and bike-a-thon I could. Living in NYC, there was always Central Park, which I knew like the back of my hand by the time I graduated high school. In my 20s, I would hike into the mountains of upstate New York, camp out by Silver Lake and traverse the trails of Bear Mountain. Then I turned 30, and life changed.

In my 30s, my body began to betray me. An unknown fatigue and flu-like symptoms drained me of any extra energy before the work week was over. Migraines drove me into darkness several times a month. Chronic back pains eventually put me in a wheelchair before surgery restored my ability to walk and stand. And, at a too young age, I found myself out of the workforce, on disability, yet still raising two young sons.

It was the mental challenge that took its toll. And, honestly, it was fear. Movement no longer brought joy and thankfulness. It bought debilitating pain and weakness. After awhile, I avoided any idea of sport or physical fun. This stretched on into years of barely exerting any additional energy beyond that of taking care of the boys and our small home.

How movement is supposed to stimulate cells in our inner ear. [Description: Medical image of hair cells with and without movement]
Then in 2006, I lost my ability to balance my body on the right side. After a particularly bad flu-like episode, complete with severe inflammation on the right-side of my head, vertigo set in like an new roommate. For months, just getting out of a car after a short drive meant being helped into the house and three hours of complete and utter rest.

In all that time, I missed movement. I missed having control over my body and feeling the stress relieving properties of exercise. Even as friends, like Mia Vayner, who use wheelchairs on a full-time basis, encouraged me to try something, and not give up, I hesitated. I didn't want to go back to a life of pills for everything. The vicious cycle of my life was that if I moved less, I needed less meds, but since I moved less, tension in the muscles and joints built up.

Not qualifying for any rehabilitation programs and having used up all of my real need for physical therapy, it was up to me to find something I could do. I tried different exercise classes only to create more issues than enjoyment due to one physical condition or another. But, today, I finally found something that works! I started Chair Yoga at my local Senior Center.

An example of chair yoga. [Description: Row of ladies in simple green lawn chairs performing a yoga pose]
What an absolute joy! Siting squarely balanced in a level chair, I followed our instructor, Hampton, as he used subtle movements, gentle rhythms and meditative sounds to coax my classmates and I into a wonderfully releasing session of yoga. Calm and comforted in this quiet environment, I closed my eyes, and for the first time in many years, I listened for my body; the body below the pain, inflammation and stiffness. As I breathed, I concentrated more on release than the thought of herniated disks, balance issues and stiff joints. Moving to my own pace (which Hampton noticed and later commented on my self-awareness), I felt a connection to my inner self that had been disconnected for years.

Example of resting position [Description: Woman with her back facing the camera with arms resting on her thighs with palms facing upward]
Hampton talked to us about "prana," the vital life energy of our bodies. He expounded on how important it was to allow this energy to flow in order to deal with long-term health issues and/or chronic pain. During that class, while coordinating my breathing to the movements, I felt the vital energy spread throughout my mind, and for the first time in years, the pressure changes in my ears that I deal with daily (like those experienced when riding an elevator or a plane) slowly dissipated. I didn't clear my ears for the whole class.

At the end, he closed with "Om, santi, santi," while greeting each student with direct eye contact and a smile. I returned the greeting with a deep bow from the waist. The movement felt wonderful! I felt connected again to that child who jumped, ran and knew she was alive by virtue of being able to move freely and joyously.

Yes, I will be there next month. In August, they begin a modified Tai Chi class, and I will be there as well. It feels good to move and enjoy the moving.

Om santi, santi, my friends. Inner peace to you all.

Local Links for chair yoga:

The Yoga Center on 8th Street Studio
Charlotte Mecklenburg Senior Center

1 comment:

  1. Wow! We are so happy that you have found us and have joined in our chair yoga class! We are privileged to have Hampton as an instructor and guide for our new and continuing yoga students. We appreciate you sharing your story!