Yoga as Lifestyle Medicine: Awakening the Inner Physician
Melissa Aguirre, Instructor at Boerne’s Agave Yoga
“It’s like medicine”, the client said as she pressed both palms into her low back taking a gentle backbend. Janet had been coming to yoga regularly for almost eight weeks and was reporting the way she is able to emotionally regulate and feel better in her body. “When I feel discomfort, I can listen to my body and discover where I need to stretch or relax.” Janet continued as we returned to a neutral standing position. Yoga is becoming more prominent in our culture today as the internet explodes with articles from “5 Yoga Poses for Headaches” to “3 Mantras for Better Living” and many more content inspired by the yoga practice. More companies are integrating yoga into their corporate wellness programs and physicians are even encouraging patients to try yoga. As more people adopt yoga philosophy, ethics, and practice into their lives, the ever evolving conversation of yoga continues to expand.
Yoga as Lifestyle Medicine represents this idea that lifestyle itself can cultivate wellness. The current definition of health is “the state of being free from injury or illness”, however, it is obvious that this reductionist view of health does not address the issues of flourishing wellness. One can lack disease or be free of injury, yet feel extremely isolated, discontent, and unfulfilled in life. As research is continuing to develop, contentment is often derived from deep meaning and presence in everyday living. Many are accessing this sense of wholeness and meaning through the yoga practice itself.
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit work ‘yuj’ meaning to yoke. It is a practice that liberates the fluctuations of the mind and cultivates a deep sense of unity within our being. The practice subscribes to any body and any background while inviting the practitioner to show up with whatever or however his or her current state is. Yoga works with wholeness first and validates wholeness- despite the circumstance, injury, or limitation. Because this is the fertile ground where yoga begins, the practice is person centered and guided on the preface of fitting the poses to the individual rather than the other way around. When people meet themselves where they are and take inquiry of their present experience it begins to cultivate interception and mindfulness. Each time we tune in and check how we are feeling, it creates an opportunity to self regulate by inquiring if we need to adapt, say no, or go further within a pose.
This continuous practice of acceptance and surrender; yet presenting the will to show up begins to derail dysfunctional thought forms that can trigger self-sabotage. By unbinding disempowerment, the practitioner can reconnect with their body in a nourishing way. The practice stretches and strengthens the body but also serves as a vehicle to connect the breath and mindfulness into our physical expression. Anytime we use the breath to move our body, we are present. The mind is focused on the movement, the body emulates with sensation and is driven by the breath. Practice makes permanence and what we do on the mat will determine the way it shows up in our life. This is how yoga becomes lifestyle by habit.
When we practice functional movement patterns on the mat it creates new neural pathways in the mind that will inform our default movement and responses off the mat. When faced with discomfort from a strong holding yoga pose but met with an attitude of welcoming presence, breath, and patience- this same response can occur when stress surfaces in the practitioner’s personal life. When nourishment is the intention used on the mat, the practitioner will continue the day living informed by that intention. It is about awakening the inner physical and yoga is lifestyle medicine because it rebuilds these neural networks in the brain and effects the practitioner on a cellular level making it sustainable for wellness.
It was a Thursday evening and we had just finished a warm Vinyasa flow class. As the last of my students was rolling up her mat she paused and looked up at me. “The mat absorbs so much more than sweat”, she said and continued to gather her things to leave. The mat absorbs so much more than sweat. All of us come to the practice with different backgrounds, with different wellness goals and intentions. All of us may draw different experiences and benefits such as learning breathing to prepare for labor to maintaining range of motion to avoid surgery. Regardless, this natural medicine, innate to our human experience, is medicine because within our plugged in culture it may be the most advanced technology used to return home to ourselves.
This year San Antonio will be presenting a free event Saturday, June 17th about Yoga as Lifestyle Medicine to inform the community on ways to integrate yogic techniques, technology, and philosophy into one’s life to cultivate sustainable wellness. This event will bridge the medical and holistic communities together to serve and empower the collective in the maintenance and recovery of health. For more information or interest in getting involved visit www.idoyogasa.org.
About the Author:
Melissa Aguirre is a Nationally Registered Yoga Therapist, Author and MBSR Practitioner specializing in scientifically based holistic health practices and education. She also leads several classes at Agave Yoga in Boerne. Her passion for serving those who serve has led to the creation of her mindfulness based yoga therapy programs that serve the military population along with multiple wellness workshops and classes in holistic healing to her national audience. Melissa is a wellness speaker and contributing author for yoga therapy case studies continuing to impact optimal patient care and sustainable lifestyle choice. Director of MelMarie Yoga Academy, Melissa trains and certifies practitioners in adaptive and therapeutic yoga and her participation in holistic health summits define her as a true asset and advocate to sustainable wellness. In her free time, Melissa loves the little things; cozy evenings, journaling, her faith, movement, chai, sweaters with thumbholes, her daughter’s snuggles, spending time with husband who keeps her rooted and inspired. For more about Melissa and Agave Yoga’s schedule and class information, please visit www.agavewell.com