Yoga teacher Shannon Paige delivers a moving TED Talk about her battle against cancer, depression and the damage they brought to her body and mind. Her talk, Mindfulness and Healing, took place at the 2012 TEDxBoulder event so it’s not seen a lot of exposure. She owns Om Time Yoga Center.
For Shannon, the battle with depression was actually as hard as battling cancer. Through this, Shannon discovers that while, yoga can’t heal depression, getting into your body can change the mind and create a state of empowerment, stability, and release.
Sharon also reminded me that I had failed to maintain a dialogue with myself and whoever else wants to listen to tales from the journey down the path of prana. This will have to do for now.
Brian Palmer is Slate‘s chief explainer and tackles the claims that yoga is medicine for many medical conditions.
SlateDoes therapeutic yoga work? The best studies say no, but they don’t get much press..
Doctors eventually realized—most of them, at least—that prayer didn’t fit well into a clinical trial. Yoga doesn’t, either. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do yoga. By all means, do yoga, pray, and eat lemons, if those things bring you contentment. Do yoga especially if it’s your preferred form of exercise—exercise is a health intervention supported by thousands of clinical trials. But recognize the “yoga as medicine” craze for what it is: an indicator of the zeitgeist, not a scientific discovery.
I’ve commented on the trend towards prescribing yoga for all kinds of ills and flaws. Much of it goes back to the inception of modern yoga in India when its early advocates wanted to validate yoga within a Western, medicalized framework. In the States, the application of yoga as a therapeutic tool has also help it makes inroads into mainstream culture. There’s been a lot of bad science done around yoga therapy, which has compounded the problem. It’s hard to run standardized, double-blind studies on a massive scale on a practice that should be tailored to individual bodies.
But I also think that all this talk about yoga addressing medical conditions is wrongheaded. The practice of yoga is aimed at wellness, the holistic utilization regulation and balancing of bodily systemic functions (myofascial, neurological, circulatory, lymphatic, and others). You could focus a session exclusively on lower back pain, but the asanas and vinyasas would not affect just the lower back, but the whole body. The effects would be accumulative over time, not something like a round of antibiotics. In addition, yoga addresses mental states that Western-style exercise ignores and have a huge impact on well-being.
This article is the latest wave of skepticism about yoga, mindfulness and other things vaguely New Agish. You should also check out The Mindfulness Racket: The evangelists of unplugging might just have another agenda by Evgeny Morozov, a senior editor at The New Republic. He’s actually talking about another trend, the recommendation that people should unplug from their stress-inducing devices because Western society is too hyper-wired and needs to stop multitasking. The mindfulness thing gets lumped in because unplug advocates frequently cite that mind state as the counterweight to multitasking.
A personal account of a cancer patient’s first encounter with yoga as a solace for the suffering caused by disease took place in a New York City YMCA..
NY Times Living With Cancer: Patient Yoga
“As we became warriors, children, cats, cows and pigeons, I realized that concentrating on position and breath takes even the most cerebral of us out of our nattering, hectoring brains, reminding us that we have feet, ankles, knees, a spinal column, arms, shoulders, neck, mouth, all of which can stretch and relax, stretch and relax to release tension.”
For those who want to explore the use of yoga in dealing with cancer, you can also check out Yoga4Cancer and Yoga Bear.
“What I’ve found, no matter what age we are, we can build healthy muscle tissue [and neurons / MLS] or we can rot. And the choice is always ours. And I’m not into rot.”
This quote (and personal annotation) comes from Ana Forest, the inspiring yoga teacher and practitioner, and used to be the tag line on my e-mail signature and I highlighted it on this blog’s sidebar. Forest’s comment caught my attention more than five years ago, but its intrinsic truth has really been driven into me the past few months as I sweated and grunted to get my yoga groove back, at least the more physically demanding vinyasa practice. Yoga requires you use your whole body in the dynamic sequences of asanas. It’s not something that you can turn on or off. The practice has to be sustained steadily and persistently over an extended period of time.
Thrive Yoga’s 40-day renewal program is not enough to whip me back into shape. It’s not meant for that. It did allow me to sense how much work I have ahead of me. Maybe I should just add another zero to the time frame.
How did I get so out of sync in my practice?
My parents’ death two years ago probably was a turning point because it completely disrupted my normal routines of work, yoga practice, family duties and other commitments. Then, my body started to tell me that it was breaking down under the stress. I found myself in a downward spiral: my peripheral neuropathy interfered with my sleep, leading to insomnia and sleep deprivation. While I was trying to deal with the neuropathy, I fell into a pattern of start-and-stop practice. When I tried to rekindle my yoga practice, I developed problems with my core (iliopsoas and SI joint), which added another layer of complexity to my physical conditioning. Then, I bruised my thigh bone, which felt like a knee issue. I sought out treatment from my body worker, chiropractor, personal physician, acupuncturist, neurologist, and lots of research into what might lie behind my symptoms.
During this whole period, I never stopped doing yoga: I have my evening practice of restorative yoga, hip openers and hamstring stretches, which allows me to manage the sleep-impeding symptoms of neuropathy (pin pricks on my feet and restless legs). I still do pranayama and meditation. This tool kit has allowed me to get through these two years, but it can’t replace a hatha practice.
I am 63 years old so Forest’s options (build health muscles or rot) are almost black and white. There’s no “holding pattern” or “maintenance mode” that allow a minimum practice to balance the effects of aging, disease, injury, wear, health and well being. On the other hand, I can’t overexert myself because that can be just as damaging, as I speak from experience. I have to let my body lead the way and become my teacher.