Yoga Harnesses Your Wellness
Guadalupe Fríaz, MSW, Ph.D.
Yoga is a moving meditation that leads to wellness. It is a way to join the mind and the body via physical poses known as asanas. As humans, we are designed to move in a variety of ways. Watching my two-year-old grandson crawl, jump, climb, slide, move side-ways and squat reminds me that my body is capable of doing more than sit, stand, lay, and walk. We need to challenge our bodies to move in all of these ways in order to keep our joints and muscles healthy. The key is to stay connected to the breath as you move through these poses. Proper alignment is also key to avoiding injury.
Yoga is powerful because it involves both the mind and the body. What is it that people want most? We want to be at ease. Beyond the basics of food, shelter, and connection, we want to be free of toxic stress. Some stress in our lives is useful and even necessary, however stress becomes toxic when we have so much buzzing around in our heads that we become conflicted and overwhelmed. Our attention is vital to obtain ease.
Attention is a precious capacity. Attention involves intention: consciously focusing our awareness. A common saying is, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” Attention is precious because it allows us to exercise the power to accomplish whatever goal we set. The ideal is to cultivate what Buddhism refers to as “one-pointed” attention. The first time I experienced this was once when I had a persistent headache. A friend asked me to focus my attention on the
location of my pain. Then she asked me to press on that location, breathe and complain loudly about it, as in “ouch, ouch.” In about five minutes my headache dissipated. Through my attention, I harnessed and directed healing energy and that’s what cured my headache.
Those wanting our attention bombard us. Advertising is ubiquitous. We can’t pick up our phone without seeing political stories, offers, symbols and sounds to lure us. People wanting our attention are also everywhere. On top of that is the voice in our heads. It never stops; it is constantly churning out things to do, rehashing a conversation, recalling a memory, or just plain putting us down. As a result, our attention is scattered and we are in what I call a
state of Overwhelm.
Many of us operate in the midst of Overwhelm, and when we habitually do so, it leads to major consequences:
1. First, our bodies pay the price. We become prone to frequent headaches, stomachaches and other bodily discomforts. Over time, this habit of operating in Overwhelm leads to long-term illness.
2. Second, our effortful actions may not be efficient, and we are apt to poor decision-making that causes many problems.
3. Third, we are not in full control of our emotional state and may be reactive in any given situation. Instead of responding in a calm, aware, thoughtful way, we may over react ‘thoughtlessly’ and respond harshly with anger, blame and even verbal or physical aggression.
4. Fourth, people develop addictions to cope with the stress, e.g. to food, sex, television, gaming, shopping, alcohol, and drug abuse. We may not even recognize these as addictive behaviors.
The practice of Yoga is one way to address Overwhelm. Through the asanas, we develop conscious bodily awareness as we move the body in specific ways. Pairing breath to movement trains the mind to filter out all the noise and sharpen attention. Through the breath, we are able to calm ourselves and be truly present. With this conscious awareness, something magical happens. We notice that we are not breathing fully and that a set of muscles of the jaw, neck,
shoulders, and back are also constricted. Since every muscle and every bone is connected to another bone, it leads to unease in the entire body. Yoga works to correct the imbalances in our bodies by consciously moving both large and small muscles. Some of these chronic imbalances manifest as anything from jaw stiffness, hip, knee, and/or chronic back pain. Adopting a yoga practice is one way to begin to correct these imbalances and allow the body and mind to find ease.
Yoga is much more than physical exercise. It was designed to prepare the practitioner to meditate for long periods in a seated position with a long spine. We are fortunate that yoga is available virtually as well as live. You may start with a short yoga video and slowly begin to lengthen your practice. I suggest finding a teacher, ideally one that has been certified at the 500-hour level with a credible trainer. Many teachers certified at the 200-level with substantial
experience are also a good bet. Then you can hop on your mat or chair!
Guadalupe Friaz, MSW, PhD, has found a new career in retirement as a health educator and yoga instructor. Lupe is a certified yoga teacher through the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment and Yoga Bharati since 2015. She continues teaching on Zoom even after the pandemic and has a YouTube channel, Yoga with Lupe. Yoga with Lupe features videos (four minutes to 60 minutes) of gentle vinyasa classes suitable for beginners and more advanced practitioners. She also has a few videos in Spanglish and Spanish. She lives in San José, CA.