We no longer have a choice about including practices in our daily lives that create health and spiritual growth. If we want a world worth living in today, as well as one worth leaving to future generations, we must take responsibility to create health in our lives, as well as to support others as they choose healthier lives for themselves. The state of the environment, the stresses created by the world’s ever-increasing population’s demand on dwindling resources, and the political unrest everywhere apparent are signposts of the critical state we face. It is up to each of each of us to lovingly transform the world simply by first transforming ourselves.
One of the most effective and ancient ways of promoting health and effecting the transformation we crave personally and on a planetary level, is to practice yoga, especially poses, breathing and meditation. Increasing research in the fields of health and well being indicate that the stress-reducing effects of yoga practice are significant and powerful. But while many books have been written about the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of yoga practice, very few have focused on the special needs of women. This oversight has been corrected by the publication of The Woman’s Book of Health and Yoga: a Guide to Lifelong Wellness.
Modern women face the increasing stresses of work and family responsibilities, while living in a society of quick fixes, quick meals, quick intimate family moments caught on the fly. While we are able to complete many tasks every day, sometimes we do not feel satisfied. We run faster and work harder, nurturing those around us and checking things off our “to do” list. But there remains in many of us a deep longing. We crave solace and comfort. We desperately want freedom: not the freedom from our lives, but significantly, freedom within our lives.
Yoga is a tool, a strategy for helping us find this freedom, not only freedom from our aches and pains, but also from our fears, our agitation and our sense of separateness. Profoundly and probably more than anything else, we crave a way out of this feeling of separateness. We so desperately want connection, community and sisterhood in the midst of a culture that often separates women all day long into single homes or apartments and cubicles at work. With the practice of yoga, we can begin to feel connected to ourselves, to our body’s rhythm, our breath, and yes, even to our sometimes tumultuous mind.
But practicing yoga can also help us to feel part of a larger community of women. As we step onto our mat every day, we can be assured that other women are doing the same thing. Practicing can then become both a personal and universal exercise. By remembering our deep selves in the pose, we re-affirm our connection with the souls of women everywhere who are struggling to survive, to flourish, to give birth, and to raise their daughters to live with open hearts and clear minds.
As we practice yoga and stretch and bend, we are training our body to be flexible but reminding it to be adaptable as well. And adaptability is the greatest strength women posses. We are suddenly thrust from childhood to womanhood through the mystery of menstruation. Most of us experience the miracle of pregnancy and birth, and inevitably we all transform into the next stage of life as menses ceases. We are constantly adapting to our new bodies and our new roles. The yoga practices we are given in The Woman’s Book of Health and Yoga celebrates these changes and offers us specific practices to understand and ameliorate any difficulties we experience in each stage of our life. It also offers specifics for such challenges as lower back pain and depression.
My personal health challenge came at a young age. I suffered from arthritis in my early twenties. I was loath to take the daily barrage of pills offered to me and so somehow I decided to try a yoga class offered where I worked. The results were transformative. Through careful experimentation with diet and daily yoga practice my symptoms subsided within a couple of months. Needless to say, my dedication to practicing yoga was cemented by no longer being in pain. But I also found that I felt more alive, more open on all levels. Simply put, I was becoming healthier spiritually as well as physically. You can find this health, too. While you may not be able to cure all your symptoms as I did, the regular practice of yoga can lead you home to yourself, to your power and compassion, and therefore to greater mental and emotional health.
I suggest that you pick up this book and commit to practicing. Do not let your doubts derail you. If nothing else, pick just one of the poses suggested by the authors and practice it everyday. If you only have time for one pose I would suggest that pose be Corpse Pose, the pose of deep relaxation. Americans are sleep deprived and women lead the list. We are up early with babies, car pools, sack lunches and sinks of dirty dishes. We are up late with paying bills, folding laundry, writing reports and vegging out in front of the TV, seeking a few minutes of escape and respite from the unrelenting demands of our own standard of perfection. So practice the Corpse Pose instead; replenish your body by doing absolutely nothing for fifteen minutes every day. Even if you cannot take the time right now to practice other poses, this one is the key.
In time, you will be able to open the book again and add other practices. You will find that authors Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden offer you a complete feast of yoga including, for example, poses for pregnancy, poses for menopause, poses to bolster your immune system. The pictures are artfully done and the text is instructive. But the key is you. Without your full participation this remains a book on a shelf. With you these practices are brought to life; they will help you from the very first moment you try them.
So I challenge you to ask yourself, “What do I want in my life right now?” You may not have the power to change your life circumstances: an ailing parent, not as much money as you would like, a cranky teen-ager. But you do posses the power necessary to transform how you feel about these challenges at any given moment. You can access this power and choose these feelings by using the techniques of this book.
We, Linda, Patricia and I, are just like you. We are women who struggle with our bodies and with our lives. We face the difficulties of relationships which do not work out and the challenges of those that do. In the midst of it all, we have found that the regular practice of yoga poses, breathing and a period of quiet reflection, have become the foundation for our lives. Our hope is that you build your own foundation through your yoga practice. We wish for you that your practice nurtures you as it has us, and that as often as possible, you “join” us on the mat for a practice which liberates you into health, energy and connection with yourself and all other beings.
May we live like the lotus, at home in the muddy water.