Monday, July 6, 2015

Yoga, a Tool to Relieve Suffering

I often joke with my students that my favorite place to practice my calm, 3-part breathing is in the dentist's chair. I know there may be a few of you reading who actually enjoy the dentist, but let me tell you that it's one place where suffering arises for me. A lot. Not just physical suffering (although there's plenty of that to go around), but emotional suffering, too. I have a knack for beating myself up about my dental hygiene, if I'm not careful. After a few decades of unpleasant experiences at the dentist, I decided to try something different. I started using my yogic breathing and conscious relaxation techniques to calm down during my visits, and it really helped make my appointments more enjoyable. I even had a dental hygienist ask me if I was falling asleep once! Focusing on my breathing helps keep my mind away from the blame rut, and my physical practice allows me to relax into the chair without triggering my chronic pain.

During my most recent visit, my doctor found a chip in one of my many fillings, and asked me to stay to get it taken care of right away. That meant that instead of 60 minutes of dentist-chair practice, I got 90 minutes. While I was waiting for the anesthesia to take effect, I checked my emails, and found one from someone who had just been diagnosed with cancer. She and I knew each other from before my yoga days, when our children went to school together, and then she began coming to classes with me. As my mouth grew numb, my heart broke. I pictured the long road ahead for her: surgery (if she's lucky), chemo, radiation (hopefully not)... Minutes before, I had been lamenting the drill, the soreness, the drooling that would come with my dental work. These discomforts paled compared to what she is facing. I replied to her email with the only answer I have: come to yoga.

There is a special chemistry that forms in our Yoga for Cancer Survivorship classes, a recipe made up of all the students who show up, despite what they are feeling and facing. Some days there are tears. Some days there is laughter. Some days I feel helpless and can only host an accepting environment that I hope does some good. Some days there is joy. Students are reminded of their connection with each other and with their bodies. Whether it's anxiety or pain, students report feeling relief from the suffering after class.

On Saturday, September 12, I'll be producing the second annual Pose 4 a Purpose Yoga Festival and Fundraiser in Los Gatos. This event brings together nearly 20 of the area's yoga studios and many more teachers, who volunteer their time and talents to raise money for Cancer CAREpoint, a local nonprofit offering free non-medical services to people with cancer. From wig banks to support groups, meditation to massage, nutrition to yoga lessons, this organization presents several different ways to support people dealing with the suffering brought on by a cancer diagnosis.

I'm so pleased to be able to unite our yoga community this way, so that we can practice to relieve our own suffering, as well as others. I hope you'll join me!

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
"May all beings everywhere be happy and free from suffering"