Yoga In Bed

You teach yogurt?

Six years after getting my first yoga teacher certification, I’m getting used to hearing the joke but it still makes me chuckle. Although yoga’s been around for over 6,000 years, many people are hearing the word for the first time.

My mother tells me that she “took some yoga lessons” while 1 was growing up, but I first remember meeting the word over 33 years ago. I was newly married, new to the city of Philadelphia and was reading a yoga class description in the Y’s spring catalogue. I was looking for something to do. I see now that I was searching for something that was missing, even though my life was very busy.

The American Heritage Dictionary classifies yoga as a noun. “A Hindu discipline aimed at training the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility.” In 1963 and with my back ground, these words might as well have been in Chinese for all they meant to me. I was enchanted and mesmerized by this handsome Indian teacher who was giving class= es part time while going to art school. He was unbelievably flexible. He introduced me to words like vegetarian, spirit, asanas and fasting: words that I had never heard before. More meaningful, however, was that I started feeling good and special in a way that I had never known. It was Amrit, my first teacher at that Y who helped me feel yoga. Not yoga as a noun, a thing to do: but yoga as a verb, a way to live my life.

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As class continued, I noticed that I was getting stronger physically, but a truer strength began emerging from within. My body’s flexibility was increasing and 1 sensed that my mind was opening up and becoming more flexible, too. My graduate studies were going well. I felt my concentration and ability to focus were improving. I had more energy. The seeds of yoga were being plant ed within me.

Throughout the next quarter of a century, I intermittently watered those seeds. As I pursued a career and raised two children I took yoga classes from time to time, even start ed going to an ashram for yoga retreats, But only during the last 6 years, with career and grown children behind me, and now that I have been teaching yoga, have those seeds begun to blossom.

The word yoga means union. It’s a joining or marriage of the body, mind and spirit. It’s a system of self-improvement, exercises for the body and mind. At the heart of yogic teachings lies the belief that a self-fulfilled person is a healthy per son. With it’s rhythmic breathing. gentle stretching exercises and deep relaxation techniques yoga is designed to lead the student to an ever-increasing knowledge of himself and the needs of his body and mind. There are no cant’s and don’ts in yoga, it is all about what you can do. Anyone regardless of age, religion, sex, disability, weight, weakness, flexibility any excuse the mind can create-can do yoga.

Hatha Yoga, the physical form of yoga, differs from other varieties of exercise in several ways. The emphasis is on concentration, perseverance, steady progress an appreciating what you’re able to do. There are no points for stamina and competitiveness. Rather than push the body toward exhaustion, there are periods of rest while the body rejuvenates. There’s no efforting or stressing: once in a stretch you just let go and let the wisdom of your body take over. There is no judging or comparing, no winners or losers. The body’s not an opponent to fight and overcome, hopefully there is acceptance of your body’s strengths and weaknesses and a commitment to learn and grow with this knowledge. Because I travel a lot, I also appreciate the fact that yoga is so portable. All I need, either at home or on the road, is enough room to lie down (either on the floor or on a bed) and my cassette player. New York Times columnist Robert Lipsyte refers to his time spent i t in yoga class as “vacation.” The price is sure right!

“Yoga Goes Mainstream” was the title of an article in U.S. World & Health Report, May 1994. Not only is that old image of someone sitting cross legged on the floor with a towel wrapped around his head disappearing, but yoga is now being taught in fitness clubs, hospitals, preventative health programs and in retirement communities. Yoga is acknowledged as a stress reducer and who among us would not benefit from feeling less stressed out? Yoga is benefiting from a growing aware ness that the health of the body and the health of the mind are intricately linked.

My teaching at New York’s Jewish Guild for the Blind started two years ago. I had recently returned from an intensive training program in California and although I was eager to start offering a demanding series of classes, my body, which was weakened from a lengthy infection, told me to do something less strenuous. Lynne Stone, the Guild’s director of volunteers was kind enough to let me start to teach one class per week and we’ve had a steady date ever since. Living yoga includes giving service to others and I was blessed to find a facility and students where I was so welcomed and appreciated. GuildCare, the trade marked day health care program offered by The Guild serves blind and visually impaired persons living in their own homes in the community. While all who register must have a vision deficit, they also have another diagnosed medical problem such as arthritis, diabetes, post-stroke syndrome or hypertension.

Aware of the challenge of teaching yoga to my new physically challenged students, I wasn’t fearful or overly concerned. I had been taught that if I came to my students with love, my love would teach them, and how true this teaching of Yogi Amrit Desai proved to be. I come to each class with an open and loving heart, looking forward to this time as if I were to meet with beloved family. We start class sitting in chairs and wheelchairs formed in a circle. Each 50 minute session usually begins with a catch up or sharing. Breathing exercises follow, then gentle warm up stretch es leading into several yoga postures and we always close with a relaxation. “The positive effect yoga has on many of our clients facilitates the teaching process at various levels.” says recently retired Guild vision therapist Karen Moore. “Registrants who have participated in yoga class often display an increased ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. Many clients display fewer signs of distractibility and a greater ability to remain organized.”

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Students soon began asking for exercises that could be done at home. “When I wake up in the morning my arthritis is so bad, what can I do?”

“My legs just don’t want to work in the morning.” “What can I do at night, before I go to sleep, to help ease the pain and stress of the day?” Pondering these requests and wanting to give those I cared for a gentle way to exercise and do yoga at home gave me the idea for BED TOP YOGA. The audio tape is a clearly explained 33 minute stretch, yoga and relaxation sequence. It’s all done on the bed, all done on your back. BED TOP YOGA is for those who might be reluctant to exercise because of illness, disability, injury or age. Yoga Journal said “This is an intelligent, useful presentation.” even Katie Couric said she felt so much more relaxed after we did a BED TOP YOGA segment recently on the TODAY show.

I have more experience as a yoga teacher, but my students and I share equally as those giving and those receiving. They are my teachers and I am their student. It is in these classes that the definition of “yoga as a way of living one’s life” can be experienced. The love, humor, compassion and beauty that my students are, saturates the air. Here true yoga is being practiced.

Carol Dickman is a certified Kripalu and Bikram yoga instructor.

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