Health is Wealth
written by Kelly Haas
“Health is not a commodity to be bargained for. It has to be earned through sweat.” – BKS Iyengar, Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health”
“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.14, translated by Sri Satchidananda
Health is true wealth. It cannot be bought nor created for us.
Undergoing a health issue/crisis is one of the main reasons that an individual turns their awareness to their health. These living, breathing bodies we inhabit function autonomically in so many regards that we forget to recognize their brilliance. We breath, our heart beats, we digest —all without our planning, or adding these items to our to-do list. Our bodies are a marvel! And rarely do we consider their miraculous feats until something goes wrong.
Tending to our wellness is a priority.
“If you do not make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.” – anonymous
This is so potently true. Isn’t it wild that we often lose track of our bodies, minds, and hearts? To remember to check in and see how we are feeling on a regular basis? To go in. We oftentimes make the excuse that we do not have time.
Now is a great time to reflect on all of the preventative measures we do have control over that impact our health for the better. We must be responsible for ourselves.
Our lifestyle choices, mindset, what we ingest, and our daily habits are big influencers on our health and well-being. These are ways we help cultivate a healthier environment within us. Healthy habits help us thrive by influencing positive mental and physical states of being.
Yoga, exercise, getting out in the elements, breathing, cooking a nutritious meal, connecting with community, and sleeping sufficiently are all great habits to help us thrive.
Personally, my health has been at the forefront of 2021. After a 2020 of many changes, I anticipated 2021 calming down, and found it was quite the opposite. Sound familiar?
I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma on my thigh that required my full attention and surgery. They don’t really properly prepare you for what to expect. I awoke from surgery to a large incision on my thigh, where they excised the melanoma and a sizable amount of skin and subcutaneous tissue. I soon found out that it would be days before I could walk without the assistance of another or crutches, and another few weeks of limited movement. As a yoga therapist, who’s life centers around body movement, this was all unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory for me.
Be still for weeks! Is that even possible? I know when I move my body, I change my mind for the better. In my post-surgical world, moving at first wasn’t an option. It was too painful. I had to learn to be at ease with a process of stepping back. To be stillness.
As yogis, we learn to turn to our practice in all times. Our extended practice builds our foundation. This time in my life was no different in the focused practice required, just in the outer appearance.
Practice brings structure to our lives. It gives us self-reflection and new awareness that fuels our growth, and ability to adapt in life. I cannot imagine making it through this year without my consistent practice of yoga, breathing, meditation, and movement.
I am reminded of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.14 which is translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda as, “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.”
The first qualification for the practice is that it should be done for a long time. I can attest to the cumulative effect of my practice. In today’s society so much is about instant gratification or “learning” things quickly in crash courses or through a google search. I know that this does not hold the fundamental weight of experience. Applied knowledge becomes wisdom only through time.
Also, note the sutra doesn’t define what our practice has to look like. Our practice morphs, just as we do in life. It is present to support our evolution.
My yoga practice at times includes dynamic standing poses and flowing sun salutations, and sometimes it looks like restoration, meditation, chanting, or observing nature. It is all about showing up for yourself. Being consistent and creating a change in the flow of your inner awareness.
As I mentioned, I feel I change my mind by moving my body. What can I do if I cannot move my body? I passed many days lying in bed observing the healing process. I could literally feel my body in a state of repair. WOW – what a gift! By slowing down, I allowed all of my life force energy to 100% work on reparation.
There are so many layers I continue to uncover. I am who I am through my experiences.
Here are some big gifts and take away lessons that I am sifting through, and I share in the hopes that they help you too in taking charge of your own well-being.
Yoga is a practice of action and reflection. It’s not always about more.
For one, it requires a great deal of trust in your body (that it can and does heal) and in others (for me, my surgical team). The more intimate a relationship you have with your body, and the more time you have put into caring for it, the greater your ability to trust your strength and innate healing process.
Also, you must have an inner fire to fuel the discipline of practice, to put in the sweat!
Tapasya is the fine art of self-discipline. It’s derived from the Sanskrit root word “tapa”, meaning heat or energy. It refers to undertaking personal effort and practice for purification of the body and mind. It is a process by which you become more seasoned and more mature.
And, just like our health, no one can put in the time for us. We cannot pay for discipline or health. Both involve time and effort.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches us of three types of tapas, or tapasya.
~Tapasya of the body ~ Tapasya of the mind ~Tapasya of speech ~
This process of tapasya is akin to firing precious metals. The more you heat them, the more pure they become. The more we temper the body and mind through practices, the more clear we become.
The truth is your body has an innate ability to heal. It is designed to move toward health and away from disease, provided you give it the support it needs in terms of nutrition, physical movement, exposure to sunlight, and other health strategies that help you mitigate stress and clear your mind.
Trauma and fear get trapped in the body. They can result in the physical body remaining in a frozen state. It takes courage, perseverance, patience, determination, practice, time, focus, and will power to heal yourself. It requires the discipline and deep meditation of tapasya.
My body’s intricate networking, as well as its innate healing powers were made evident to me through my surgery and recovery. I was required to slow down, pay attention, and be open to my daily practice becoming an act of stillness and reflection.
This required tapasya of the mind. Developing a mental attitude of tranquility in joy or pain, especially when you are in uncomfortable or unfamiliar territory. Trust that healing is not only possible but present in our lives.
Tapasya of speech is a great reminder to be mindful of what you ingest/take in, and what you speak/put out.
Closed mindedness and fear can be created by identifying only with others’ experiences in a way that stifles our own. We forget to trust ourselves. For me, I found doing little research and internet reading on my diagnosis helped me not overwhelm myself. And, while I have many healthcare professionals in my professional life, no one told me what to expect. This was a huge blessing because my healing process became my own, it wasn’t colored through others experiences. And it is nothing short of miraculous!
What, and how much, information are you ingesting? What are your sources? Are you making decisions based on personal experience? Are you speaking based on something you’ve read or heard, or are you sharing from your authentic experience? This is all tapasya of speech.
As we practice with action and reflection, we regulate our nervous systems.
In Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score, he offers so much wisdom for moving through trauma. He breaks down the two main parts of the autonomic nervous system as the SNS – sympathetic nervous system – the accelerator, and the PNS – parasympathetic nervous system – the brake. Both need to be applied at different times to regulate our body’s energy flow and to manage our lives.
The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) prepares the body for stress-related activities. Dynamic yoga can help prepare our physical body for stress.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) takes the reigns to repair ourselves when we intentionally slow down. It governs long term function, growth, repair, immunity, metabolism, and digestion. Restorative yoga is a way to trigger the PNS response.
This year I’ve needed to put the brakes on! Maybe you do too. We are not machines designed to run at full throttle all the time. Resting, restoring, sleeping, and reflecting are all vital to our overall health. Give yourself permission! Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
At whatever pace, even a snail’s pace, we must keep going!
In a section of his book on “Inescapable Fear”, Van Der Kolk speaks to the fact that …”many traumatized people simply give up. Rather than risk experimenting with new options they stay stuck in the fear they know.” In doing a mental review of his patients, he reported that “Almost all had been trapped or immobilized… Their fight/flight response had been thwarted, and the result was either extreme agitation or collapse… the continued secretion of stress hormones is expressed as agitation and panic, and in the long term, wreaks havoc on their health.”
Van Der Kolk also shares, “We have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through such basic activities as breathing, movement, and touching.”
As yoga teachers, we can offer examples and insight into the paths of breathing, movement, awareness, and hope.
May we become capable of finding gratitude and growth in every experience we will have in this lifetime!
•Maria Sabina, Mexican healer and poet:
“Heal yourself with the light of the sun and the rays of the moon. With the sound of the river and the waterfall. With the swaying of the sea and the fluttering of birds. Heal yourself with mint, neem, and eucalyptus. Sweeten with lavender, rosemary, and chamomile. Hug yourself with the cocoa bean and a hint of cinnamon. Put love in tea instead of sugar and drink it looking at the stars. Heal yourself with the kisses that the wind gives you and the hugs of the rain. Stand strong with your bare feet on the ground and with everything that comes from it. Be smarter every day by listening to your intuition, looking at the world with your forehead. Jump, dance, sing, so that you live happier. Heal yourself, with beautiful love, and always remember … you are the medicine.”
Mickey Hart, Percussionist:
“Life is about rhythm. We vibrate. Our hearts are pumping blood. We are a rhythm machine, that’s what we are.”
Joe Dispenza, Neuroscientist:
“We have to begin to do what’s unnatural — that is, to give in the midst of crisis, when everyone is feeling lack and poverty; to love when everyone is angry and judging others; to demonstrate courage and peace when everyone else is in fear; to show kindness when others are displaying hostility and aggression; to surrender to possibility when the rest of the world is aggressively pushing to be first, trying to control outcomes, and fiercely competing in an endless drive to get to the top; to knowingly smile in the face of adversity; and to cultivate the feeling of wholeness when we’re diagnosed as sick.”
Presented by Judith Lasater in Level 1 Restorative TT:
“My Words Reflect My Thoughts
My Thoughts Reflect My Beliefs
My Beliefs Run My Life,
Especially The Unexamined Beliefs.”
Sri K. Patthabhi Jois:
“Practice And All Is Coming.”
Baba Ram Dass:
“Don’t yearn for the past. Don’t anticipate the future. It is important that you not be so overwhelmed.”
Martin Luther King Jr:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk.
*Note: his texts contains sensitive material related to trauma and are a lot to unpack.*
The Pocket Guide to Polyvegal Theory, by Dr Stephen Porges.
For those who want to go deeper, recommended by Keith Porteous
Online course: Module 2: Trauma Informed Dharma, By Dr Miles Neale, available as a stand lone course at www.gradualpath.com
Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, by BKS Iyengar
Note for teachers: You’ll find a section for ailments in the back that I find to be a wonderful visual reference. For example, there is a section dedicated entirely to the respiratory system. These can help give a seasoned teacher a compass for understanding and opening the body through yoga to affect many body systems and issues. Remember this practice is medicine.
You can’t rush your healing, by Trevor Hall
Russell Brand Under the Skin: With Dr David Berceli on trauma release
Rich Roll Podcast with Eric Adams: Why Healthy Food is a Human Right
Teacher Thoughts & Recommendations:
Teach action and reflection.
Get students moving, with tapas, and also holding poses. Blood ordinarily circulates three times through the body every minute. Longer holds mean more blood circulation, more lymph movement, and an increase of health and vitality.
Also, pause and allow time to interweave restorative poses. Inversions, prone and supine poses are essential for our respiratory and circulatory health.
A quieting inversion, like legs up the wall, increases circulation and lymphatic movement, and aids in more restful sleep.
Prone poses, like a prone variation of savasana, accesses intercostal of back chest and improve breathing.
A supine restorative, like savasana with a rolled blanket along the length of the spine, lifts the chest from front to back and maximizes lung space.