By Lynn Mastrangelo, Contributing Writer
Yoga. The Warriors at the senior center do it every week. (I will get to the name later!) I learned a long time ago that on days when I think I have no time for yoga, I should try to do at least one or two rounds of the “Sun Salutation.” The Sun Salutation is a series of twelve yoga postures performed in a single graceful flow with each movement coordinated with the breath. These poses warm up the body and tone our muscles. I only knew this because I had taken yoga classes many years ago. Now that I am trying to balance my life and keep my body healthy with yoga, I no longer spend all my time at a gym pumping iron, walking a stair climber or teaching step aerobics. I have grown tired of the gym where I spent most of my life, even after my children were born. At the time, it was good. It is different now, and so am I.
What is yo·ga? Yoga is the physical, mental and spiritual practices or disciplines that originated in ancient India with a view to attaining a state of permanent peace. Specifically, yoga is one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy. Various traditions of yoga are found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
Yoga is a precise method utilized for attaining a number of personal goals. Apart from the spiritual goals, the physical postures of yoga are used to alleviate health problems, reduce stress and make the spine supple.
When I found that a yoga class was offered at the senior center, taught by Sue McCaffrey, a delightful and experienced young instructor, I was eager to try my “Downward Dog,” again. I usually can be seen in a “Child’s Pose,” where I obtain rest and comfort … It is all about comfort, right? You see, I live with Multiple Sclerosis. From the day I was diagnosed nine years ago, I thought for sure I would be headed for a wheelchair and unable to do any of the things I loved ever again. I had been drawn to yoga mostly because of the balance it offered me.
For an hour, I can forget, remembering that it could always be worse. I can still ride a horse, walk a country road and go to the beach. However, it is not the same. I never thought I would have to navigate through the even simple things in my life.
So, what about my child’s pose? My age does not matter, I am still a child in my own thoughts. Yoga can be hard work, as tough or as easy as you make it. This is what is so good about yoga – it is your choice. For me, the choice is obtaining a goal every second of every day, despite my body’s fight to leave me with nothing. After many years of denial, I am finally at a point where I yearn for balance, flexibility and harmony. Yoga is also used as a complete exercise program and physical therapy routine, so for me and others who suffer from this debilitative disease. Yoga brings us an alternative strategy to enhance wellness and productivity as we deal with all the physical and emotional challenges that face us, and those around us, each day. I want my life to be filled with quality, hope and happiness. MS Affects my body, my mind and my emotions. It is my choice to live healthy through my diet, management of stress and exercising. It gives me freedom, and what I bring home from each session lets me know I can do this.
I have made being a Warrior for my own self something that saves me each and every day. I have an attitude I don't just stand there, I get to it, and when I strike a pose, there's nothing to it, nothing but the fact I am alive and coping the best that I can with what I have been given.
So, back to my story:
When the room is ready, we set our mats as we wait for Sue to turn on the music that will affect our emotion, mood and mental perspective throughout the morning practice.
Sue gently, comes around to offer each of us a warm, therapeutic shoulder message as our practice begins.
She then leads us through many poses, always giving us the opportunity to tell her what we wish to practice, or not. She is very calming, content and pleased to share her wealth of knowledge with our group of Warriors. We work through many postures. These are only a few: Child’s, Cat-Cow, Cobbler’s, Downward Dog, Mountain, Standing Forward Bend, Plank, Cobra, Spinal Twist, Triangle, Bridge, Boat, and Warrior I and II (hence our chosen names). The Warrior poses make us strong; we never just stand around in the entire hour of our practice. But we do occasionally forget to breathe, a very important piece of the practice. Sue kindly reminds us. Are we breathing? Yes, we are, and we are getting to it, striking our poses and knowing we can conquer anything! There truly is nothing to it but fun, moving our bodies to become strong and flexible, and sharing lot of laughs.
For our final relaxation pose, we recline fully on our mats, feet open, arms away from our sides, and simply letting our breathing return to its natural state, without any effort. We breathe deeply and Sue comes again to each of us with a kind shoulder scrunch as if to say, “The light in me honors the light in you”. We are in final relaxation for up to five minutes, and then slowly we wiggle parts of our body back to awareness, sit up, and acknowledge how well yoga has made us feel.
The thoughtful expression “Namaste” [nuhm-uh-stey] is spoken by all as we bow to one another. This Hindu expression on meeting or parting shows us that Sue has that her light has truly honored us, and our light has done the same for her.
Lynn Mastrangelo recently returned to her native Lebanon after living in Hockessin, Delaware, for many years. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a potentially debilitating disease, in 1994. Mastangelo is a member of the Joanie’s Ponies fundraising team, which is captained by Joan Sydney, of Storrs.