Yoga, and my inability to pull off any pose with any grace or poise, is a constant source of irritation, but at the same time as feeling a smidge of frustration, I love it!!… I leave a class feeling better about myself, both physically and mentally. Calmer, and with some of the many niggles brought on by my medication and sitting in stupid positions for hours on my laptop, all ironed out.
I’ve attempted yoga at many intervals in my life and never really got on with it. I’m not sure if it was the spiritual element that can be forced on you by some teachers, or that when I was younger I was looking for something more energetic or interactive? All I know is that it sits very well with me now. I’m not sure if the benefits are much more obvious after having major surgery or I’m more open to the spiritual side having faced a couple of rounds with cancer. Either way, I put most of it down to Patricia’s classes.
I have asked Patricia a few questions about why, when and how, here are the results…
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about life before yoga?
A. I started practicing yoga at about 13 or 14 from a book in my bedroom, and then did a little teaching in my 20’s, so it’s always been there. Most of my early career was spent at The Ministry of Justice working in many different managerial roles and I spent a long while working within the department that dealt with previously refused asylum seekers appeals. Then I was head hunted to work in a role dealing with especially difficult judges (I used to call myself a judge whisperer), on a billion pound courts & tribunals modernization project. My jobs have always involved working with people and communication, encouraging change and people to input into change.
Then 7 or 8 years ago when the recession hit I was offered early retirement. I had just qualified as a yoga teacher in my spare time hoping that at some point I may be able to use the skills, when this great opportunity came along!!
Q. Was there a reason that yoga/mindfulness/meditation became so important to you?
A. I was always drawn to yoga and it has always been about healing for me. In my late thirties I had a series of personal crises, failed fertility treatment, a failed marriage, and to top it all off my back went too. Being me I carried on running marathons, working ridiculous hours, doing everything I could to avoid being with myself, eventually I kept collapsing until I couldn’t get off the floor anymore, it’s what the body can do when you mistreat it. It was then I truly turned to my yoga practice and healed myself.
Q. When did it get to the point where you needed to share the love and teach not just yoga, but meditation and mindfulness?
A. Well meditation and mindfulness are integral to yoga although many people don’t appreciate that, but I also took a 4-month course learning to teach meditation as it wasn’t covered in detail in the basic course.
What I really wanted was to focus on using yoga as a healing art so although I was relatively newly qualified, because I’d done so much yoga in the past I was allowed to push ahead with the extra training in something called “Yoga Therapy”, in the early years I hadn’t realized that yoga therapy was a thing, it’s quite new to UK although well established in the US,
The physical aspects of yoga are simply mindfulness of movement. In a yoga therapy session I may use very little movement; it could just be breathing techniques, chanting, relaxation, meditation or it could involve lots of movement. It all depends on what the client is open and receptive to.
I want to use yoga for emotional and/or physical healing; it’s so simple, effective and works alongside regular medicine, not as a replacement but an accompaniment. What yoga therapy does is to put the body back in balance, therefore helping the body to heal itself. When I qualified I didn’t really know where it would all take me and although many people don’t teach yoga as their sole income, I was in a fortunate position at the time to be able to build the business up from the bottom. I contacted every local charity that I thought could benefit from yoga therapy and offered my services for free. Then I set up some drop-in yoga classes and just felt my way through the early days really.
After the yoga therapy training I found myself drawn to areas that surprised me, I hadn’t previously considered working with mental health for example, experiences with friends and family had made me feel a bit weary of it all, but what I found is that I have a real empathy with people suffering from mental illness. It just went on from there, a student from one of my regular drop-in classes put my name forward to a mental health unit at a local hospital, a past tutor recommended me to do some classes within a psychiatric care department and my osteopath sent me a client which was such a success that they offered me the chance to work within their premises. I found just talking about the skills I’d acquired and my interests, not in a marketing sense, just in a “my life” way, got people interested and recommending me for things, and it just took off. My other interests included energy related illness, Parkinson’s, MS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome etc., and another client recommended me to an ME support group. I worked with them for a long time and its just kept growing by word of mouth mainly. It’s about putting yourself out there.
Q. Can you share your thoughts on “The Mindfulness Revolution” … Phone apps for meditation, adult colouring books for mindfulness and everyone wearing their yoga pants to Tesco’s?
A. I think the reason it has become fashionable is because more research has been being done into the health benefits of mindfulness and meditation than physical yoga so doctors feel able to recommend it. The research into meditation started with the Transcendental Meditation Movement, some of the organizations connected with TM are very wealthy and in a better position to fund such studies. My first experience of meditation was learning TM almost forty years ago. Also there are a number of famous medical doctors and psychologists who have studied Buddhist philosophy and meditation and integrated into their medical work such as Jon Kabat-Zinn and Jack Kornfield and this has given the concept of mindfulness a level of respect from the medical profession.
As for it being fashionable, I see it as a good thing, it’s just that the term “mindfulness” is used for many things and can sometimes be confusing, but it all finds its roots in the philosophies that led to Yoga and to Buddhism. Mindfulness to me is the art of being in the present.
Often stress comes because of our reactions to something, not the event itself. Take a classic example, having a tiff with the husband in the morning it’s over in 5 minutes. If you then carry those feelings around for the whole day stewing over it, you’re feeding your stress reaction, flooding your body with adrenaline and cortisol, so this important balance that we talked about, it’s all out of kilter. If you can, learn to be in the moment as it is, not as it was, or could be, life is much more peaceful. We get so swept up in “ME”, I need to protect me, how dare they say that to me, that’s my parking space, I was next in the queue… all of this stuff we get so worried about, if you can just let all of that go life can be so much easier!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s very hard to put into practice, this is why Yogis used to go off and live in caves. No matter how much you understand the benefits of mindfulness, living in the real world is constantly challenging. Your reactions are primal survival instincts, jealousy, anger, rage, they are built in to help keep us alive, and they no longer have a place within our modern day complex human interactions.
Mindfulness in the Buddhist sense, is being able to not react immediately, you notice what’s behind a reaction or emotion, and let it go.
People get muddled between the terms “mindfulness” and “meditation”. Meditation is the experience of a clear mind and you do have to sit and practice. In contrast you can be mindfully driving, mindfully talking, mindfully doing anything.
Q. Do you access, or can you recommend any medical studies or reports that indicate that yoga/meditation are good for your health?
A. I’m a member of the National Association of Yoga Therapists and recently took a trip to America to a conference on this very topic. There is not much high quality, well-funded research based in the UK unfortunately. Yoga is very difficult to research, you firstly need a body of people to easily access. For example, any study into yoga and cancer is usually focused on breast cancer because you already have these groups of people accessible, due to the large number of sufferers and support networks already in place. But there’s a lot more research in the States. Pub Meds website is a good starting point, or just Google your particular interest, ie. Yoga for ME, and you’ll get a huge amount of information at your fingertips.
There has been a really good study recently by Maryland University on using yoga therapy to help breast cancer survivors combat pain from treatments and even recurrence using Tibetan yoga techniques, largely chanting and they have had some great results.
The Advertising Standards Agency is having a bit of a row with the complementary therapy world at the moment about the standard of trials. A top grade study by a drug company would be incredibly expensive, for the majority of people looking to invest in yoga research; the money is just not there. So the studies tend to be small, and the powers that be require a large study for absolute proof, but it seems such a shame to rubbish lots of smaller studies, all showing beneficial results.
The science bit: Cancer is an inflammatory disease, along with any inflammatory disease such as arthritis, or colitis. Yoga can help these conditions by working on balancing the nervous system. A lot of yoga research is focusing on how it improves ‘vagal tone’. The vagus nerve stimulates the heart and with healthy vagal tone we can get very excitable and then very calm, allowing our heart rate to flow smoothly. Poor vagal tone can mean that our bodies stay stressed a lot of the time. If the nervous system is out of balance then the body doesn’t produce enough of the hormones that keep it in good repair. One of the significant hormones is Gaba, which is the body’s own natural valium. If you’re constantly stressed your body won’t be getting the hormone mix it needs to stay healthy, and over time something may go wrong, heart disease, mental illness, arthritis. All illness comes from some form of imbalance. Often a client won’t even know why yoga therapy is working; a yoga therapist’s job is to assess the personal issues and requirements and use yoga, meditation, breathing etc. to help re-balance the client.
Q. What are your plans for the future?… carry on spreading the love or maybe pack up and move to India and live in an Ashram?
A. Ha Ha…. Well, training yoga teachers to be yoga therapists is where I see my future, because I’m so passionate about yoga therapy and it’s a growing profession yet there are still not that many of us around. I have been working as a teaching assistant on these training courses for a couple of years now. Yoga therapy really, is a 1-to-1 treatment, you can do a group session but the best results are achieved individually. You need to first find the clients energy imbalance then you may need to work on their emotions, intellect, energy or physicality, so 1-to-1 is usually best.
I’d just like to become more expert in the areas that interest me. I’m the yoga therapy spokesperson on The Complementary and Natural Heath-care Council. It’s a committee role, a link between a government body that are trying to maintain standards for complimentary therapies, including yoga therapy. So I’m involved in various ways of trying to spread the word and help to establish yoga as a respected therapy.
I’d like to get more doctors and heath-care professionals involved, see yoga therapy brought into more GP’s surgeries and hospitals, maybe introduce weekly cancer survivors yoga class’s? The cost would be minimal and if yoga therapy could stop just one patient having more treatment, reduce pain and improve general happiness and wellbeing whilst saving the NHS money, then surely this would be a huge achievement.
GP’s can now send patients to any CNHC registered therapist. You have to be of a very high standard to qualify to be CNHC registered, but a lot of GP’s don’t know about us. GP’s are also liable when sending patients to therapists and I’m sure this puts them off. I think it’s starting to happen, but is not well enough understood. I’d really like to help this along using education and communication.
I whole-heartedly recommend finding yourself your very own Patricia…. and I can even touch my toes now 😉
http://www.theyogaroot.com – Patricia