I wish it was as easy as the title of this blog implies: swallow the Yoga Pill and you will be healed. While I do believe yoga has the ability to heal dysfunction in bodies, it's not always a quick process. In my blog on Tapas, the idea of discipline as it relates to change is explored, and it doesn't imply quick-fixes.
One of the greatest benefits I have found in practicing yoga is the way it increases bodily awareness. I teach classes for a variety of age-groups, and have found that from college students to seniors, our technology-dependent world and quick-fix mentality has left us quite out of touch with our bodies.
Without the benefit of modern medical understanding, ancient yogis had to be keenly observant and highly attuned to the nuances in the physical and mental self to attempt to understand the body’s processes. For example, observing your breathing process is quite different than examining quantified measurements of forced vital capacity or residual volume, but what the former lacks in specificity, it makes up for in self-understanding. It’s doubtful many people know what their specific numerical total lung capacity is, but nearly everyone can experience the sensation of completely filling his or her lungs with air, and observe differences. Can you breathe more air into your lungs while standing, slouching, or lying down? Understanding the role posture plays in affecting our ability to breathe fully can impact our daily functioning. While specific measurements of the breath can certainly be useful in treating respiratory conditions and accessing health, without the bodily awareness of the breathing process and its changes, a person will not be able to self-monitor and improve respiration.
Here’s some more food for thought: when your body sends you a pain signal, our first reaction is usually how to make it stop -- and the quicker the better. We don’t have time in our fast-paced society to dwell on WHY our back or neck hurts – we just need it to stop so we can go on with our day. In fact, many students I have encountered are even unable to clearly identify where their pain is truly located. They lack the ability to pinpoint and describe the origin of their discomfort, which can make alleviating it all the more difficult. I have had individuals self-report “back pain” that, after further questioning and examination, actually means everything from shoulder pain, to lower back pain, to hip pain. While pain medication can provide relief from symptoms in all those cases, knowing how to correctly identify the source and cause of the pain is necessary to eliminate or reduce it.
We are living in a society that expects and demands immediate results. Slower paced solutions are deemed too simplistic for our advanced way of thinking. We have convinced ourselves that we “don’t have time” to set the smart phone down to quit straining our necks, we don’t have time to breathe mindfully to combat stress-induced shallow breathing, we don’t have time to get the sleep we need, and we don’t have time think about the small ways we are depleting our energy through muscular tension and bottled-up emotions.
That’s where yoga can help. While there's no Yoga Pill to swallow for instant remedy, When you take time to slow down, to notice your breath, to move with intention – suddenly a whole new awareness of what muscles are working, moving, and possibly hurting, becomes more obvious. It might sound simplistic, but long before there were any scientific measurements for a deep breath, or medical degrees you could earn to help people deal with the negative effects of stress, there was Yoga. And perhaps taking a step back to explore the ancient wisdom of self-awareness offered in its practice could actually be a step forward in feeling better right now.