I'm often asked why I started practising yoga. What was the attraction to yoga, and why have I not only continued to practise yoga, but at almost 58, why have I now trained to become a yoga teacher.
Like many people, yoga came into my life when I was facing challenges. I started practicing yoga in 2010, just after my husband, our youngest child and I moved back to Singapore. In some ways I was looking for something just for me, as it had been a very stressful few years before our move.
A few years before we moved back to Singapore, I left a teaching job where I absolutely adored the Prep and Year 1 children I taught. It had been a very stressful time in my last year at the school for a number of reasons. I was never very good at doing nothing so I tried career and training changes (in Photography, Digital Media and Graphic Design), became President of the Football (Soccer) Club at the school I left and where my children still attended, was looking after my two ill elderly parents, raising three kids, all while my husband travelled about 50% of the time. Looking back I was running myself into the ground, suffering physically and probably mentally, and looked at the move to Singapore as an escape, from people, situations, and life!
The first thing I did when I arrived in Singapore was to look for a yoga studio, where I could see if the reported benefits of yoga could help me. There is no shortage of yoga studios in Singapore, so the choice was vast. I came across a studio, where their tagline was 'Yoga For Normal People'. This immediately resonated with me and although it was a fair drive in the busy peak hour Singapore traffic, I knew this is where I had to start. After attending my first session with Kate, the then owner of Kate Porter Yoga, I was hooked! I had finally found a place where I could be at peace with myself, at peace with life, and felt at home. I quickly became a regular and my journey has continued from there.
Practising Yoga in the Beautiful Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.
It’s amazing the toll years of stress, confrontation and negativity aimed at you can take on your health. It finally catches up with you! Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life's experiences. Everyone experiences stress from time to time. For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health. It can help you cope with potentially serious situations. Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and ready your muscles to respond.
Yet if your stress response doesn’t stop firing, and these stress levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for survival, it can take a toll on your health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and affect your overall well-being. This is exactly what happened to me.
At the end of our first year back in Singapore I became quite ill with a chronic pain condition, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. The first few years it was very debilitating, the meds I was prescribed literally made me a zombie without helping the pain, and honestly life was not good. I had days where I was unable to weight bear and I was unable to move off the lounge with the pain. I have times where I cannot use my hands, where I cannot even hold my husbands hand. Just think of everything we do with our hands daily and imagine what it is like to not have them work when you need them to. I have to watch what I wear as certain materials cause immense pain to my arm. The slightest touch, or breeze, or water in the shower touching my skin can cause the worst pain imaginable. I cannot bear to wear a watch, necklaces, or rings, as they feel like they weigh a ton. It is crazy to think that such minor sensations can create such immense pain. The messages get mixed up on the way to my brain and my brain sends message of constant pain to my body. This has been going on for the last 11 years and life is a daily struggle. I could go on more about the other horrible effects of CRPS as it is known, but I have taught my self to not dwell on the bad and focus on the days I have that I can achieve something, even if it is very minor. I am still here today because of my family and friends, yoga and Dr Paul Bell, the amazing Osteopath I was treated by who basically kept me moving and supported me every step of the way and I will always be eternally grateful to him.
Yoga was a massive part of my journey at this time also. I was no longer able to do many of the poses I had worked so hard to master, but my practice took on a whole new meaning and actually opened my eyes to many of the paths of yoga, and the realisation that yoga is not just about mastering asanas. Pranayama, meditation, restorative poses and simply just allowing myself time for me, on my mat, helped me through some very dark and painful times.
I made the decision to cease all medications, and focus on my osteopathic treatments and yoga, and things improved drastically. Don't get me wrong, the pain has never gone away (and in all likelihood never will now) and brings many daily challenges that I have secretly hidden as best I can. Finding another great Osteopath, Dr Greg Oliver, here on the Sunshine Coast, has helped keep me mobile and yoga continues to bring balance to my mind, body and soul. I now know that when I waivered from practicing yoga, pranayama and meditation regularly, my health suffered. A few years ago I became very ill again, getting down to 34 kg for no apparent reason. I became physically unable to eat because of severe pain and nausea. I had every test imaginable, had every orifice poked and probed and no solutions could be found for years. Eventually I was diagnosed with a number of conditions including Fibromyalgia and an autoimmune disease, Sjogren's Syndrome, which doctors feel affected not only the usual things with the disease, but also my digestive and nervous system. Medications yet again failed to improve my health and again only made things worse. When Western Medicine could not help me, I again turned to holistic alternatives, returning to my yoga practice and using essential oils to heal my body (more about the ways essential oils have helped me another time!).
Yoga once again showed me the powerful benefits of regular practice. For me one of the greatest benefits I notice, is the calming of my parasympathetic nervous system. With my health conditions, my sympathetic nervous system (flight and fright response) wants to take over the whole time. This among other things, leads to my muscles constantly firing causing very tight and sore muscles everywhere. It means my nervous system rarely calms on it's own and my body feels like it needs to run away from danger the whole time to protect me. Yoga, with the combination of gentle asanas (poses), breathing and meditation, allows my nervous system to calm and tells my body it is ok to rest and digest and relieves some of the tension that has been created in my body. The more I practice, the greater benefit I get. It is an ongoing struggle, but I know now that I can help calm my system, even if briefly, and give the body a chance to rest and to start to heal itself. Any break is a good break!
I also find that when my immune system is flaring up, calming yin and restorative poses, along with meditation and breath work help to boost my immune and digestive system. Certain poses work on different meridians in our body and can target specific health issues. So when I have certain symptoms such as digestive issues, pain, coughs or colds, increased stress, or stiff body, I know I can draw on my amazing yoga toolbox and target the areas that are causing the most problems at the time. Thousands of years of ancient wisdom is behind the practice of yoga and I am living proof of the benefits that it can give. I can calm my nervous system, balance my internal organs, and improve my flexibility, just to name a few. I still have bad days, but nowhere near as many as I use to. The hard thing is there seems to be no real trigger, it just hits without warning, out of the blue. But, I am able to do more of what I love now than I have for the past 11 years and I am so thankful that yoga came into my life.
It was the massive improvement in my physical, mental and emotional health that re-sparked my interest in learning so much more about the ancient healing practice. I have since undergone many trainings (and this learning is an ongoing process) and I am so happy and grateful that I am now qualified to share the benefits of yoga for our mind, body and soul.
I look back on the years my kids were growing up and think how things may have been different for them if I had been able to share some of these skills and practices I now know. As a teacher, these skills would have been valuable for many children in my class also. Times are different now, but the need to foster resiliency, strength, compassion, tolerance, calmness, discipline, focus, self-esteem, confidence and a powerful self-image in our children is more important than ever.
It is a true honour to be able to share with, and guide someone through a practice, whether it is an adult or a child, and see them discover the benefits and the changes in their body and mind. It is a privilege to watch people with tight bodies, aches, pains, or active minds, loosening up and calming after a few sessions and reducing their pain and stiffness for the first time in ages. Listening to students tell me snippets of what they have taken from the class to help guide their week ahead is so valuable. Seeing the calmness on faces when they sit up after savasana has to be one of the greatest joys. The benefits of teaching and seeing others benefit from yoga is just as great (if not better) than receiving the benefit of yoga myself.
Why yoga? It has literally been a life saver for me, in my physical, emotional and mental health. With my first hand experience of how life changing yoga can be, I am passionate to share with others, to help them explore and experience the great benefits also. I am loving the journey I am on, I am loving my new life and I am loving sharing this with others.