Improving Your Health and Well-Being Through Yoga

jgmarshallgardenAbout 12 years ago my life seemed to be getting increasingly difficult to manage. I had a full time job as a professor of library and information science at the University of Toronto and a myriad of other involvements in professional library associations. Then there was my family and the responsibilities of running a home. I could not figure out why my energy level was so low – I had always seemed to be able to keep up before. Eventually the problem was diagnosed and I had corrective surgery, but I was still left exhausted and anemic.

As I began to recover I had the urge to move more and get back in shape. My daughter and her girlfriend took me over to the local health club and signed me up and I dutifully went to work out on the exercise machines, even though I disliked them. The whole setting seemed very impersonal and oriented towards people who were much more athletic and competitive than me. One day I noticed a yoga class at the health club and decided to try it. I wasn’t very good at all. I could tell that my muscles and my back were very weak, but I could also tell that there something about the supportive environment in the class and the combination of focusing on the breath and exploring the tight places in my body that I really liked. It also relieved a lot of stress and made me feel refreshed afterwards. Could something that felt this good really be the exercise that I needed?

Eventually I went from doing one class a week at the Health Club to two. Then a Sivananda Yoga House opened near my office and I decided to do summer program which involved classes several days a week after work. I started to read more about yoga, about its ancient roots in India, and about the original purpose of yoga – to increase inner awareness and our connection with the universe. My teachers would talk about linking body, mind and spirit and, even though I was not a religious person, this idea was very appealing. Much as I loved my professional work, I had always thought there must be other ways to enrich my life experience in a more holistic way. The eight limbs of yoga, as they are called, offered a complete system of not only exercising and moving well, but also eating well and living well.

Gradually I became stronger and my flexibility increased. I looked forward to the classes as a way to center and calm myself and of developing a sense of being grounded, connected and at ease with myself, my family and my friends. The yoga practice never became boring because each time I became more aware of my body and how the poses changed in every moment. I was also developing more focus and concentration. Over the years I have developed some wonderful friendships through yoga – people of all ages and fitness levels who share many of my own values and interests.

After moving to Chapel Hill and a new job, my yoga practice slowed for a time, but I always knew it would be there for me when I needed it. In 2001, the opportunity to teach a class came up by accident when our instructor at the university had an injury. This was a class for faculty and staff. To my surprise, I was offered the teaching position after our yoga teacher left to return to graduate school. Since then I have completed two teaching trainings with Donna Farhi, a renowned yoga teacher and author from New Zealand. I also took a teacher training in Chapel Hill on weekends that was based on the Body-Mind Centering work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. This summer I will be a teaching assistant for Donna’s yoga intensives in Montreal and Pittsburgh. In Chapel Hill I continue to teach the class at UNC, but have added another class at the YMCA and in the Asian Gallery of the Ackland Art Museum. Yoga teaching provides a wonderful way for me to connect with the community in a different way and to enrich my own experience with yoga.

Sometimes people are reluctant to try yoga because they think you have to be super flexible to start with or that everyone has to go into these impossible looking pretzel poses. This is not really true — yoga practice can be adapted to any fitness and flexibility level. Even people with serious illnesses and disabilities have benefited from the various aspects of yoga. I think that library and information professionals are likely to appreciate the historical and cultural aspects of the practice as well as its calming effects. The instruction offered is particularly beneficial for people who do the kind of desk and computer work that we do.

While yoga does not completely eliminate the physical or emotional problems that arise for all of us during our lifetime, it can change our internal view by giving us a greater sense of being supported and connected. When we view our circumstances from this peaceful and secure place, we are more likely to generate the physical and mental resources we need to handle difficult situations with ease. I look forward to sharing my yoga experience with you at the Wellness Fair at the 2008 ALA Annual Meeting in Anaheim. Hope to see you there.