In 2006, I opened a yoga center in Durham, North Carolina. One afternoon, I was sitting at the front desk when a middle-aged man walked in the door with a smile on his face. He approached me, put his hands on the desk, and leaned forward, and asked, “Do y’all have free trial classes?” I politely responded that we did not, but offered him a discounted intro package.
He persisted, saying that he was a successful businessman and that he could show me how to run my studio better. I could feel his hot breath on my face. I tried to quietly move my chair back to combat the onslaught of his dominating insistence. As I continued to politely decline, the class in the next room began to end. Through the glass door he could see students rolling up their mats. Before he stalked off, he made eye contact with me and muttered, “F–king chink, don’t know how to run a business.”
This is the first time I am recounting that story. I am not sure why I’ve never told anyone before. Perhaps I wanted to pretend it didn’t happen. Perhaps I was in disbelief that he was so comfortable brazenly threatening me with a racial slur. More likely, though, is that I was ashamed the situation was a reflection of my own weakness because I had just—let it happen.
I wish that yogis didn’t face these experiences, that we could come to our mats without intrinsic biases and racially charged experiences. But as a community that is becoming increasingly racially and culturally diverse, we inevitably experience circumstances that cause us to feel shame because of our racial backgrounds.
Acknowledging this hurt isn’t enough. We also have to examine ways in which our own biases hurt others and, especially, how they hurt ourselves.
Feeling my “otherness”
Growing up in the ’80s, mine was one of the few families of Asian descent in my hometown of Newport Beach, California. I was the only Asian American kid in my grade school. I was ashamed of my dark hair and darker-toned skin and wanted so badly to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed like the children surrounding me. I felt like an ugly witch from a Disney movie.
When I discovered yoga in my early 20s, yoga ads—and many of the classes I attended— were filled with more blonde-haired, blue-eyed yogis. Once again, I felt isolated in my “otherness.” As I developed awareness of my own self-loathing through the mindful practices, I told myself that yoga—this thing that I loved so much and made my heart feel so open—must only carry good things with it—right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Racism toward individuals of Asian descent happens even within the yoga community. Violent events like the tragedy in Georgia make headline news, but Asian Americans face daily micro-aggressions in wellness spaces that we must choose to ignore or “let slide.” It is an all-too-common Asian American experience to be asked, “Where are you from? No, I mean where are you REALLY FROM?” Often this line of questioning is followed by, “Wow, your English is so good.” Being labeled as the perpetual foreigner, our otherness is further thrown in our faces like the expectation that we be quiet and unobtrusive—that “model minority.”
As an Asian American woman who owned a yoga center in the South, I was often told, “When I saw there was an Ingrid on the schedule teaching this class, I didn’t expect to see someone who looks like YOU.”
On my yoga-specific social media, I would get comments about my “Asian beauty” or exoticism. This objectification happened so many times, that I changed my content to avoid showing a bare belly or any hint of cleavage. Rather than risk being exoticized, I decided I’d rather not be seen at all. I chose hiding away over being objectified in a manner informed by predatory sexual behaviors and the subjugation of women from different cultural backgrounds.
Non-harming means acknowledging
In 2015, I taught a class shortly after the Charleston Church Massacre, in which a white supremacist murdered nine worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Church. As usual, I started the class by setting an intention. “We don’t want to talk about it, but we have to,” I told my students. I asked them to open their hearts to victims of the shooting. “We can’t ignore and pretend it’s not happening.”
After class, one of my long-time students embraced me and thanked me with tear-filled eyes for the beautiful message and intention. But later that night, I got a text from the studio owner: “Ingrid, someone complained that you brought up a political issue in class today and they said they go to yoga to escape, not think about shootings. Please reconsider the topics you bring up in class.”
As yogis we tell ourselves that we are about peace and ahimsa. But non-harming means acknowledging and talking about the elephant in the room: that racism exists within yoga communities. It affects all of us. Racial hatred is everyone’s pain, not just the pain of the Atlanta shooting victims, or of people of Asian or African descent. Racially driven hate diminishes the dignity of every community whether it be Black, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, white or any other.
How do we fix this? First, we acknowledge its existence. Then, we have to be open to the conversations – the hard, vulnerable, scary conversations. We also need to reconsider our own subconscious biases and the ways in which we perpetuate others’ pain and are unwilling to uncover our own vulnerabilities. These places are raw, embarrassing, and often guilt-ridden. But they are where transformation happens.
It is only when we become more conscious of our own intrinsic biases that we can become aware of how to support others through their own traumas, even when we think they do not affect us.
Let’s raise our consciousness together
My experiences are not every Asian American’s experience. They are not every Asian American female’s experience, nor every Asian American yogi’s experience. In writing this, I do not speak on behalf of others, but I publicly declare that I will choose to speak up on behalf of others. And I ask you to do the same. Be willing to have hard conversations that feel uncomfortable. Read more about the history of other cultures. Stand up and say it is not OK to hurt others, whether through words or actions. Speak out when you see racially motivated injustice happening in front of you. Speak out, loudly.
I believe in our community of yogis. I believe we are better than this. We have the ability to use our non-harming values to support those who need to be bolstered and defend those that would otherwise be victims. We can come to our communities with the same vulnerability we bring to our mats. Let’s raise our consciousness together—as yogis and as humans—by keeping our hearts open and our minds awake. This is our moment.
Ingrid Yang is an internal medicine physician, yoga therapist, and published author. She has been teaching yoga for over 20 years and is the author of the books Adaptive Yoga and Hatha Yoga Asanas. Dr. Yang leads trainings and retreats all over the world, with a special focus on kinesthetic physiology and healing through breathwork, meditation and mind-body connection. Find out more at www.ingridyang.com or instagram.com/ingridyangyogamd.
After illness, your breathing may be altered. You might experience reduced diaphragmatic movement and compensate by using more of your neck and shoulder muscles. This results in exacerbated shallow breathing, increased fatigue, and higher energy expenditure. The breathwork described below aims to increase the efficiency of your respiratory muscles (including the diaphragm), helping you to boost energy and find comfort in your breath.
When working with a COVID recoveree, teach or practice diaphragmatic breathing a bit differently than traditional technique. You’ll add a breath hold at the end of your inhalation to improve oxygen exchange in the alveoli (the tiny air sacs at the end of your respiratory tract that enable oxygen and CO2 exchange) and exhale through pursed lips, in order to create more resistance and strength. Adding active abdominal muscle contractions at the end of your exhalations will increase abdominal pressure and push your diaphragm up to improve elasticity and strength.
Sit with your back against a wall. Let the back of your head also gently touch the wall.
Place your right hand on your belly and left hand on your chest.
Breathe in slowly through your nose at a measured pace, so that the flow of air is even throughout the entire length of your breath.
As you inhale, feel the right hand move as your belly expands with the inhale. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
Hold in the breath at the top of your inhalation for 2-5 seconds.
Exhale slowly out through pursed lips, contracting your abdominal muscles up and in while releasing the air with the same cadence as your inhalation.
Repeat this cycle of inhaling through the nose, holding, and exhaling through pursed lips for 5-10 breath cycles, or more if you can tolerate it. As you practice this technique, feel your entire thorax expanding in all directions, including into the wall, as that will give you sensory feedback on your skin that you are really taking in a deep breath.
As you progress, you can also coordinate the breath with lifting the arms during your inhalations, and relaxing your arms down with the exhalations.
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Salabhasana reproduces the “proning position” that we recommend for COVID patients. Proning helps to recruit collapsed or poorly utilized alveoli that may not otherwise facilitate adequate oxygen exchange due to poor positioning and gravity. This technique works especially well for those who have been bed-ridden for several days or weeks.
Start prone with your forehead on the mat and your arms alongside your body. On an Inhalation, life your arms, shoulders, chest, and head. On an exhalation release your upper body down. Cycle through this 5-8 times. To rest, stack your hands under your forehead.
Bonus: add the legs to strengthen the lower body!
Anantasana (Vishnu’s Couch)
Anantasana is helpful for COVID long-haulers for the same reasons that Salabhasana is, but from a different orientation When practicing Anantasana for post-COVID recovery, the goal is not to get your top leg up high, but to balance on your side while taking in a deep breath. Feel free to step your top foot in front of the bottom knee to maintain balance. Take several breaths here.
Marjaryasana and Bitilasana (Cat and Cow Poses)
Cat and Cow Poses are particularly helpful for COVID long-haulers because they reprogram the kinesthetic connection between breath and movement. They also stretch many of the back and chest muscles that may have become tight while being sedentary. Cat and Cow also stretch your intercostal muscles (important accessory muscles for breathing) and tone your core muscles (also important to improve diaphragmatic control).
Start with Cow so you stretch the front of your chest and reverse the kyphotic thoracic curve that may have become more exaggerated while laying in bed or sitting for prolonged periods of time. Cycle through the movements with your breath. If you prefer to practice in a chair, hold onto your knees with your hands and move your spine with the breath. Cycle through 5-8 times.
Sit on a bolster or block and roll a blanket under your knees to take pressure off your low back. Place your hands on the mat or on low blocks next to your hips to assist in finding an upright posture. Focus on gently dorsiflexing the feet (especially the big toes) by pressing the heels out and away from you.
Arthritis is the most common condition affecting the musculoskeletal system, with the kneeand the hip being the two most commonly affected joints. Approximately 21 percent of adults in the United States live with arthritis, which is characterized by the slow and sometimes progressive loss of cartilage that covers the bones of a joint.
Many people assume medication or joint surgery are the only ways to curb arthritis pain, but increasing evidence shows that targeted exercise and strength training can actually delay or, in certain circumstances, even prevent the need for surgery.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Arthritis Foundation recommend exercise programs for hip and knee arthritis that include flexibility, strengthening, endurance, and balance. Yoga has all four components, making it a perfect tool for reducing arthritis pain and disability.
How Yoga Reduces Arthritis Pain
Practicing yoga strengthens the muscles around an effected joint, stabilizing it and reducing pain. People with hip and knee pain should focus on strengthening a few critical muscle groups: the knee flexors (hamstrings), knee extensors (quadriceps), hip extensors (glutes), and hip abductors (outer thighs).
Another reason strengthening these muscles is important: Say you have arthritis in your knee. The pain will likely cause you to put less weight on the joint and use it less. Over time, that lack of causes weakness in the surrounding muscles, which causes more pain. What’s more, when you use these muscles less, their range of motion is decreased…which causes more pain, which feeds right back into the cycle.
The solution: Adding these six poses—which strengthen the muscles around the hip and knee—to your practice.
Side Plank on Forearm (Vasisthasana)
Hip abductor weakness is common in hip and knee arthritis. When the hip abductors are weak, you might shift your weight over the hip where you feel pain when you walk. That causes the pelvis to tilt downward instead of upward, which increases compressive forces on the inner knee joint. Side Plank is one of the best exercises to strengthen the gluteus medius muscle, which is the primary hip abductor.
Come into a Forearm Plank. Rotate the right forearm so the fingers of the right hand point toward the left hand and your right forearm is at a 45-degree angle to the front edge of the mat. Roll to the outer edge of your right foot, stacking your left foot over the right. Press the hips up and away from the mat, engaging the core and right inner thigh up into the left leg. Lift the left fingertips to the sky and press the right forearm down into the mat as you stack the shoulders. Gaze forward or up to the left hand. Hold for 3 to 5 breath cycles. Repeat on the other side. If this pose is too hard on your shoulders, lower the bottom knee to the mat for more support.
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
In Warrior I, the quadriceps muscles are strengthened by maintaining knee stability as the hip, knee, and ankle of the front leg flex. Warrior I also strengthens the hip extensors of the back leg by controlling the degree of hip extension and abduction because of its role in centering the pelvis over the feet. Warrior I also offers variability because you can control the length of the stance (keep feet closer together for more stability). If this pose hurts your knee, shorten your stance and back off of the deep knee bend of the front leg.
Starting in Downward-Facing Dog Pose, step the left foot forward between the hands so that it is placed next to the left thumb. Spin the right heel down approximately to a 45-degree angle and spin the outer edge of the right foot down so the entire plantar aspect of the foot grounds down. With your left leg bent and thigh parallel to the floor, inhale your arms up to the sky, hands facing each other, fingers pointing up. The back leg remains straight and strong as you anchor the foot to square the hips forward. Lift the lower abdomen up and in as you lengthen the tailbone down. Draw the shoulders down the back, and gaze forward or slightly up between your hands. Hold for 5 breath cycles. To exit, bring the hands down in a swan dive to frame the foot, and return to Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat on the right side.
Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Hamstring strengthening is an important principle in improving muscle strength and decreasing pain in people with hip arthritis. Extended Side Angle places the front hip into abduction and external rotation, allowing for increased activation of the hamstrings. This change in the center of gravity, when compared to Warrior I, minimizes the activation of the hip adductor muscles and offers more potential for strength gains in the posterior leg muscles. Isometrically pull the front knee toward the trunk to activate the hamstrings.
Start in Warrior II Pose, with the left foot forward. Place the left forearm onto the left thigh, or the left hand to the floor or on a block outside your foot. Extend the right arm over the right ear to feel the extension in your right side body. The palm faces down to the ground with the fingers extending out in front of you. Extend both sides of the waist to reach out and over the front thigh. Engage the abdomen to protect the spine and side. Your gaze can extend toward your right hand, to the ground, or straight forward, depending on which is most comfortable for your neck. Hold for 5 breath cycles. To exit the pose, turn the torso to the mat to frame the left foot with your hands, and step back to Downward-Facing Dog Posebefore switching sides.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Bridge is an excellent way to strengthen the hip extensors in a moderate weight-bearing position without overextending the joint. Bridge also strengthens the knee flexors and core and stretches the hip flexor. Hip strength is important in individuals with knee arthritis, because it decreases the workload on the quadriceps and places less force on the knee.
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms alongside your body with hands facing down. Roll your shoulders underneath you as you begin to lift your hips. Press your feet and shoulders into the mat as you lift your hips. As you rise, walk the feet closer to your buttocks and scoot your shoulders into midline to further elevate the hips and lengthen the tailbone. Keep your knees parallel as you engage the inner thighs. Interlace the fingers on the mat, extend the palms on the floor next to you or hold on to a strap with the hands. Keep your neck neutral by relaxing your chin away from your chest to preserve the natural curve of your cervical spine. Your shoulders, feet, and back of the head support your lift comfortably on the mat because you are using the muscles of your buttocks and back to lengthen your hips. Hold for 5 to 10 breath cycles. To exit the pose, release the hands if interlaced and slowly roll down your spine.
Gate Pose (Parighasana)
Gate activates the hip adductors in the kneeling leg, which keeps the hip in an internally rotated position. To engage the hip adductors, isometrically contract the kneeling leg toward the midline. This pose also strengthens of the hip abductors of the kneeling leg and the knee extensors of the extended leg.
Start in a standing kneel (on your knees and shins, but hips lifted). You can place a folded blanket under the knees for cushioning and comfort. Step your right leg out to the side to straighten the knee, with the right toes pointed forward. Make sure your hips are aligned over the knees. Inhale the arms up to the sky and relax your right hand to draw down your right leg toward the ankle, stretching through the left side of the trunk. Continue pressing the hips forward, so as not to let the buttocks bow out. Feel the stretch on the right inner thigh as you ground through the right foot. Bend farther into the side bend, as much as is comfortable but at the same time challenging. Hold for 5 to 10 breath cycles. To exit the pose, reach both arms back up to the sky and step the right knee next to the left. Switch sides.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Tree pose helps with knee extension mobility, knee extensor strengthening, hip abductor strengthening, and increased core stability. Tree requires significant muscle activation of the knee extensors and knee flexors to keep the knee of the standing leg in neutral extension. It also activates the hip abductors to keep the pelvis level. The lifted leg strengthens the hip flexors and hip external rotators of the bent leg to maintain the same-side hip in line with the pelvis. With the knee flexors bending the knee, it also provides excellent hip opening because it stretches the internal rotators. Hip muscle weakness is quite common in people with hip arthritis, so modifications will likely need to be made initially. Be mindful in Tree: It can place compressive loads on the standing knee while the knee extensors in the straightened knee are strongly contracted.
Start in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), with a firm footing on the ground and your gaze focused on an object in front of you. Shift all of your weight to your left leg and bend your right knee up into your chest, catching hold of the knee with your hands. Hold your right ankle with your right hand and fold the foot into your inner thigh. Press the left thigh back into your right foot so the foot does not overpower the standing leg or cause it to bow out. Reach your arms overhead or keep the hands to prayer at heart center. Lengthen through your tailbone and engage the abdomen as you draw the shoulder blades down the back and open the heart space. Hold for 5 to 10 breath cycles. To exit the pose, step your right foot down and shake it out. Repeat on the opposite side.
Ingrid Yang, MD, JD, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a yoga therapist, teacher, and physician. She leads teacher trainings, workshops, and retreats all over the world, seeking to integrate her background in allopathic medicine with the ancient teachings of the centuries-old yoga traditions. Her teaching is seeded deeply in dharmic philosophies and an expert grasp of movement kinesiology.
Kyle Fahey, DPT, PT, is a doctor of physical therapy and senior physical therapist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, Illinois, the world’s largest and top-ranked acute rehabilitation hospital. He is the founder and creator of a weekly wheelchair yoga program for the hospital and seamlessly integrates adaptive yoga into his treatments.
The other night, my friend and I were talking about choices. She is on the brink of a big career decision that will dictate the direction of the rest of her life. We systemically discussed the pros and cons, the “what ifs”, and the “then whats”. Then, I paused for a moment and thought about the life decisions that brought me to this point in my life; the big ones, and the little ones. The biggest one most recently to change residency paths and move back here to San Diego. And I spoke simply, and from my heart and experience: Perhaps all of our life paths are half chance. All of the choices we think we have made, and we think we have had control over, that have led up to this moment, may not actually be based on what we do at all. Why not give some props to the universe and fate for bringing us to this moment, whether it is good or bad. What happens when we let go of the illusion of control and acknowledge that regretting the past or fretting our decisions about the future are just as useful as wishing for rain by chewing bubblegum. You are exactly where you need to be. Here. Now. Everything that happened in your past, whether volitional or not, manifested to bring you exactly where you need to be. And all the choices you make now will indeed manifest in the future, but maybe you don’t have as much say in how it turns out as you think. So that leaves us with all we really have. And that is now.
You are exactly where you need to be. #yoga #thepresentmoment #widsom #inspiration #yogainspiration #sandiego #california
Comfort Zones: Exactly 24 hours ago, I was sitting on my bedroom floor with my freshly packed bag beside me, Costa Rica guidebook in my lap… and then it dawned on me to ask: “Am I crazy?” Why am I traveling to a foreign country for just 4 days, with no real intent or purpose, a woman traveling by herself, when I could have done a number of other wonderfully fulfilling things… all of which would not include struggling through Wed thanksgiving traffic, stressfully racing through full LAX parking lots, and spending hundreds of dollars just to leave my beautiful life in San Diego… to be somewhere completely remote, so foreign in comparison to my daily life, with no cell service, and absolutely no local currency (yep. Smart.) I asked myself again: “Are you crazy?!” I sat for a moment, and slowly a grin grew across my face, and I said outloud, “Yes. Yes, you are crazy.” … And my next thought was, Yes. Yes I have to do this. And i have to keep doing it for the rest of my life.
Why? Because I was somehow compelled to leave my comfort zone. The place where I have all the familiar situations that lend me a sense of security and control. And there is nothing more false and dubious than that zone… it is a transient and fabricated image of the mind… but boy does the comfort feel good to believe in. But now as I cool off in this beautiful pool overlooking the jungle that softens into sandy beaches caressing the ocean in gorgeous Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, I reflect upon my audacity in embarking upon this trip, and that feeling has transformed to a sense of purpose and peace. Who knows what this trip will bring… I have only just arrived. But I am here. I have arrived. I have shown up…. with all my fears of the unknown, vulnerabilities of being partnerless and branded as such, and excitement about the adventure to come. And I am promising myself I will stay open. Without a doubt, I will push my limits and discover new levels to my discomfort. And from that place, call in humility, gratitude, and hopefully, the preciousness of life and connection.
How can you exit your comfort zone today? Share with me. #costarica #travel #followme #yoga #inspiration
Last night, a friend asked me what my “word” for 2017 was. By “word”, he meant the aspiration, hope, embodiment of the year. I answered: “fulfillment.” The 2017 year started out rough. Real rough. But after a whole lot of adversity, hope, determination, back-breaking hard work, and plain dumb luck… I feel fulfilled. Fulfilled in work, life, love. I have never felt a stronger sense of self-worth and love than I have this past year. And what a feeling of freedom I have gained in that. Fulfillment. Thanks, 2017. You were everything I could have asked for and more.
Then he asked, “What’s your word for 2018?” I thought about it for a while, and I realized that this past month on wards has been so overwhelming (in all good ways), that I haven’t had the physical and mental brain space to even ponder the question… So I am going to give myself some time to think about it. But I wonder if you have pondered it… Tell me. What is your word for 2018?
“Be happy.” It’s one of those dictates that seems bossy and disingenuous all at once. You can’t just tell me to be happy and suddenly I am happy. And who are you to tell me how I should feel anyway?
This is one of those conversations that goes on in my head constantly. Yes, with myself. Interestingly, what I have started to learn is that my self-talk is a gateway to manifestation in real life. And what I have come to understand through some very challenging “real life” situations, is that happiness is indeed a choice. A study in The American Psychologist Journal im 2016 found that emotions are adaptive, in particular positive emotions. This means, happiness, when practiced, mindfully, can and will beget more positive emotions. So yes, you CAN fake it till you make it. You can tell yourself to be happy, practice it, and it will indeed become true.
So, happiness, as a choice, can be unconditional. It is in your grasp. It’s not a question of whether happiness is under your control; it’s totally your choice! It’s just that we don’t really mean it; because we put all these conditions on it. We say, “Yes, I’ll be happy… unless my wife leaves me, or the stock market crashes, or my car breaks down, and as long as my job, friends, body, and life are perfect. Then I’ll be happy.” We have to qualify our happiness.
But here is the rub. You have to give the unconditional answer. I will be happy. I will choose to be happy, no matter what life throws at me. And trust me, once you decide you want to be unconditionally happy, life will challenge you. And if you choose to still be happy in the face of that adversity, that will stimulate your growth. So start now. Let’s walk this scary, dark path together. Let’s choose to be happy. Let’s practice it and it will be true! Let’s. Be Happy. #yoga #happy #science #medicine #inspiration #rustygram
I talk a lot about life, love and happiness in my yoga classes. Because what else are we here for but to be happy, to love and be loved? A question that came to my mind today is: Can we work on being happier? Absolutely. More and more research is being published on how we can cultivate and increase our happiness and combat depression with a set of learned skills. And as the research shows, a theme has arisen: One important way is to count your blessings. Studies have repeatedly shown that expressing gratitude – by keeping a journal of things you are grateful for or jotting down a short list each day, for instance – leave people feeling less stressed, healthier, and more optimistic for the future. Research conducted out of Harvard in 2016 showed that practicing gratitude actually triggered particular patterns of brain activity, and that brain scans showed these neural effects continued to be strong. In other words, gratitude can be self-perpetuating, making it easier to see and appreciate the good in your life.
So. can we will ourselves into happiness? Yes we can. I’ll start. Today, I am grateful for having the health and energy to go on a run with my dog. I am also grateful for my amazing friends for their constant love and support. I am grateful for selling out my yoga retreat in March. I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue happiness. Your turn. What are you grateful for today? #gratitude #happiness #yoga #inspiration #love #california
Yesterday, one of my patients died. We came across her during routine morning rounds; the entire team, expecting to see her in her usual state (sick, but stable), only to discover that she was agonally breathing… we felt for a pulse.. thready… and then, quietly, she stopped breathing. She had already been designated DNR, so there was nothing we could do to escalate her care and she would not have survived a code; it would only have caused her suffering. We stayed with her for 20 minutes, holding her hand, recycling her blood pressure, asking her to stay with us, feeling for her pulse…. which felt more and more distant as each second passed. Until finally, after long minutes of absolutely no voluntary breaths, I had to pronounce her time of death.
She was 101 years old.
We hung our heads low, walked out of the room, and continued on our morning rounds. For the rest of the day, I felt an aching in my chest that I did not understand. I went about my day taking care of our very sick patients, smiling, joking… but aching. She was 101 years old. And she died on new years day 2018. I think about what this changing over of the year means to us… she had 101 of these. One-hundred and one moments of feeling hopeful for a new year. One-hundred and one moments of having loved ones wish her a lifetime of health and happiness. A human with hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities. I had spent the whole day compartmentalizing so I could get through the day taking care of our very sick patients, that I hadn’t taken a moment to consider the gravity of the end of her life. 101 years.
This morning, when I awoke, I cried for her. Ok, if I’m going to be honest, I sobbed. And I also took a deep breath for her. We are here now. Maybe we will live to 101 as well. Maybe we won’t. But let’s hope, and be damn sure, that we use every one of those hypothetical 101 years to be here. Now. Live. Be honest. Do good. Show kindness. Enjoy. All of it. Today, I will ask my team to take a moment to reflect about not just her death, but her life. Today, I hope you open your heart… to life. If for no other reason, but for her. *photo taken in California central coast January 1st, 2015.
Ingrid Yang, MD, JD, has been teaching yoga since 2001 and is a physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University. Her expert grasp of anatomy and human physiology brings a unique, thoughtful, and joyful experience to the practice of yoga. Dr. Yang integrates allopathic medicine with yoga therapeutics to form a balanced union of modern-day healing methodology and the ancient wisdom of the yogis. She is also coauthor of Hatha Yoga Asanas.
1440: Could you tell us some of the specific effects you’ve seen this yoga practice have on people who are dealing with cancer? Dr. Yang: First and foremost, it helps build community. Also, there’s a toolbox of stress-reducing strategies, all geared towards students either undergoing cancer treatment or dealing with the after-effects of cancer and its treatments. Strength! Balance! Breath! This list could go on forever!
1440: How does yoga minimize the effects of cancer and related treatments? Dr. Yang: What we know is that when our system is stressed, our sympathetic nervous system (or “fight or flight” reaction) is activated, which further enables cytokine release and thus inflammation in our bodies.
When we breathe deeply, relax, move our bodies in joyful ways, we activate the other half of our nervous system that allows us to rest and digest, and thus decrease the inflammatory reaction.
Yoga does all of that and then some on the biochemical level. Besides just giving us a subjective sense of well-being, we can go forth in the world and be better people to those who we love, and even those we don’t know.
1440: You are both a practicing physician and a yoga teacher, which puts you in a unique position as a healer. Could you talk a bit about why you first decided to offer Yoga for Cancer Therapy? Dr. Yang: Someone very, very close to me passed of cancer just as I was opening my yoga center back in 2005. Before she passed, she shared with me that yoga stretches and pranayama that I taught her had been immeasurably helpful through her chemotherapy treatments. I vowed to offer these classes when I opened my center. They became wildly popular and I began collaborating with local oncologists to offer this training. It has been an immense gift to myself, the trainees, and the cancer survivors we have been able to share yoga with.
1440: Do you think that the conversation around cancer prevention and treatment needs to shift in any way, and if so, how can we as individuals begin to shift the conversation around cancer? Dr. Yang: I think a lot of the conversation about cancer is about fight, fight, fight. That’s a tough outlook. I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight cancer, that part is important, but we forget that there is another side to the fight.
Cancer is our own immune system breaking down and our own body attacking us. In yoga, we learn to make friends with our body again, even in the process of fighting. In yoga, we seek balance.
We develop the courage to ask ourselves: “How can we fight while also still being in a space of love, acceptance, and connection?”
1440: You typically teach this training as a 3-day workshop. How will this week-long offering at 1440 Multiversity be different? Dr. Yang: When asking my students what else they would like to learn, they have intimated a thirst for more information and practice on the in-patient side of yoga for cancer. So, in this training, we will do a lot more training on working with very debilitated patients who are on bed rest or are limited to wheelchairs. We will also talk a lot more about the physiology of healing generally and about working through each patient’s challenges as they arise. And there will be tons of self-reflection, meditation, and digging deep. I am really looking forward to offering this training on a deeper level!
Dr. Ingrid Yang will be teaching Yoga Therapy for Cancer Teacher Training from January 21 – 26, 2018 at 1440 Multiversity.