I had been leading mat and chair yoga classes in my local community facilities for more than two years when in October 2016 I was invited to teach yoga two afternoons a week at a local high school. The classes were arranged as part of an after-school federal grant program administered by the Virginia Department of Education. The program was designed to create opportunities for academic enrichment during non-school hours for students who attended schools designated as high-poverty and low-performing. Yoga provided the enrichment activity that followed one hour of academic tutoring. The school identified students who would benefit and their parents were invited to allow their children to stay after school three days a week to participate. Activity buses got the children home.
I was pumped up. I read everything I could find online about teaching yoga to teens, wrote lesson plans, organized books of anatomy photos to illustrate growing muscles and bones, created sign-in sheets and arrived 30 minutes early for my first class.
“You’ll be in Room 123, about 22 students doing yoga today,” the program coordinator said with a smile. “Boys and girls. . .OK?”
“Sure,” I agreed, brimming with excitement.
Room 123 was the ROTC classroom by day, I transformed it into my yoga room after school. A nice-sized space – about 14 by 20 feet- outfitted with six large folding tables arranged in a U shape and three molded plastic chairs on the outside perimeter of each table. Flags, maps and chalkboards lined the walls with 16 double fluorescent ceiling fixtures above. At one end was a slate-top teacher’s desk, formerly a chemistry lab table, flanked by an enormous TV. A wall phone perched by the classroom door, and years’ worth of framed photos memorializing those students who participated in ROTC lined one wall. Opposite the teacher’s desk were two more long folding tables equipped with three computers and chairs facing the back wall.
My plan for this first session was to talk about what yoga is -- breathing with movement and rest. Then I would touch on why young people should do yoga, give a brief history of yoga, describe right and left brain benefits, do a little breath work and conclude with some seated stretching.
I prepared for 50 minutes of letting the students meet me while I attempted to get a bead on them. I had no yoga mats but planned to use chairs for a stress releasing practice of breathing with movement then follow with a nice, guided relaxation while seated in the chair.
After quickly taking in the lay of the room, I pushed the tables against the walls and moved the chairs into the center. I readied myself at the door, armed with clipboard and sign-in sheet to meet and greet students as they arrived and settled into a seat.
At 4:30 p.m., a herd of amped up seventh through twelfth grade boys and girls thundered down the hall toward 123. They shoved past me and my clipboard at the door, threw book bags on the table tops and commenced a boisterous, name-calling shove fest. Some scrawled foul words on the chalkboards. Others texted on cell phones. The wall phone alarmed with buttons being pushed aggressively by two boys and another boy flicked the ceiling lights on and off. Chairs began to clatter against each other and several students began rifling through the teacher’s desk drawers. Boys on laptops played Grand Theft auto and other video games. Girls were taking selfies and working on each other’s hair styles. One boy sat in a chair, arms crossed, fists clenched staring at me. His expression convinced me that if he had had a knife, I would already be dead.
My assigned faculty partner was late arriving. I bellowed to the students to take a seat with absolutely no effect. One child walked out the classroom door to use the bathroom and half the class left to join her. I loudly tried to introduce myself, but everyone in the room ignored me. I shooed boys away from the teacher’s desk, my fingertips brushing the shoulder of one student who snapped, “You are not allowed to touch me!” I snatched a can of lavender-scented room spray from a small boy spritzing others in the face. By the time I got to him, the can was almost empty.
Wow, I thought to myself. I had mistakenly assumed that in this new arena I would receive the same respect and self-control my community yoga students granted me when they arrived to class and took their seats to await my direction. I was well-prepared to teach yoga but clueless how to lasso order in this frenzied environment.
I was still pondering how to create order in my unexpected circumstances when a thin, younger girl ran straight toward me and stood holding her nose an inch from mine, pumping her arms at her sides and glaring into my face. Luckily I have no personal space needs and stood there quietly waiting to see what would happen next. Finally I smiled and commented she had pretty eyebrows. She let out a loud exasperated sigh and shouted, “Forget it!” to my face before stomping off, stirring laughter from a few of the other girls. About this time, my faculty assistant arrived and hollered for silence. Ignored by the group, he went from one student to the next telling them to sit; a few did.
I tried showing the anatomy pictures. I tried leading a few standing poses. Every few minutes I hollered for attention, sounding louder than I ever knew possible. I stood with my back over the light switch to stop the strobe show. I held my hand over the phone to stop the receiver from being repeatedly slammed. A few students were willing to breathe in and raise arms over head and breathe out lowering hands down, but they usually ended up smacking another child.
At 5:20 the students stampeded for the bus. As I put the tables and chairs back, picked up trash and cleaned the chalkboards, my teacher assistant, who had been gone for most of my session dealing with other student issues, poked his head in and said that the kids are always like this. My sign-in sheet showed 13 but I had counted 21. If teachers really face this every day, I thought, I have no idea how they stay sane.
Week by week I modified my approach to meet the reality of my situation. Backpacks, laptops, cell phones and shoes stayed in the hallway. I took up all the chalk and propped a portable, poster-sized writing board over the wall switch and phone. I blocked access to the front of the teacher’s desk. The program coordinators suggested we have the boys participate one day, girls the next, which we implemented immediately. It helped to a small degree. I made everyone go to the bathroom before entering the yoga room to avoid that steady stream of interruption throughout the yoga session.
I invited some of my community yoga students to attend the class and model how to follow the teacher during a class. One of my community students just happened to be a high school football coach; his presence on the mat astonished the boys who had assumed yoga was just for women. The students watched as coach held each pose until I directed him to step out of it. While holding a warrior II pose, he slowly turned his face to the boys and said, “Ya’ll know that yoga is done in silence, right?” That shut them up for the rest of the class. “YES,” my inner voice rejoiced. ”Thank you, Coach.” Too bad that was his only day to participate with me due to his teaching commitments.
One afternoon sometime in November, one boy complained he could not do yoga because he had a headache. At that moment I realized I also had a headache. It was the interrogation intensity of the fluorescent lighting. The following week I brought in a three-bulb pole lap and turned off the ceiling lights eliminating the glare. That small change also turned down the volume of the voices.
I relented about cell phones in the room when students asked if they could charge their phones -- yes, I said, as long as they remain face down and you do not touch them.
I relented about shoes in the hall. The boys were fearful they would be stolen. OK, I said, but they need to stay next to the wall, my way of avoiding a repeat of the football shoe toss that had happened during one class.
I contacted a yoga mat manufacturer to see if they would donate mats. They would. Thank you Jade Yoga for the dozen mats. . . I added eight more. The boys loved how the rubber yoga mats smelled like a new car when I unpacked them from the shipping box. The mat created a defined space, one they could stay in as ‘their’ place.
At the recommendation of the program co-coordinators, students who continued to be aggressively disruptive were moved to another enrichment program. It was either I redirect them every minute or they go so I could teach yoga to those who could reasonably comply. This decision hurt me as these were the very students who could benefit from yoga.We also reduced the size of the sessions to a maximum of 8 students which also helped.
At times I wished I was a 20 something, six-foot tall, African- American man. Maybe that would solve my “being the other” problem. But I was 65, thin and white . . . I was what they got. “Keep thinking how you make it work, Susan,” became my mantra.
Over time I noticed the students responded well to knowing how the entire session would be sequenced. I began to run the yoga class the same way each day:
1) announce the timetable, detail how long we would do breathing and movement, how long we would do “the hard pose” (relaxation/ savasana), how long we would spend rolling mats and securing the room and when they could dash for the bus.
2) repeat the same poses: mountain, standing warrior series (the boys embraced this with a fierce face and low growl), tree, table pose, flying tiger, plank, locust, balance poses: frog, crow, crane, lying poses: plow, shoulder stand. Most of the boys had incredible balance but poor stamina. Most of the girls would turn each pose into a magazine cover photo opportunity demanding, ‘look at me’.
One day in the boys’ class as we all held plank, I explained the muscles involved and proper alignment. None of the boys could hold the pose for a minute. As I held plank for two then three minutes, I explained why I was able to sustain the pose longer than they could. I heard one boy comment to another, “She looks pretty good for 65.” Another remarked, “Do you mean to tell me if I do yoga, I will be strong like that at 65? My great-grandma is 62 and she can’t even get out of her chair.” I was elated to tell my husband when I got home that afternoon that a 12 year old said I looked pretty good for my age!
After my extended plank I got them to standing and told them to go into tree pose and close their eyes as I counted seconds -- they stayed stone still in tree, eyes closed for over a minute and only came out of the pose because they were bored. Holding a single leg standing balance pose with eyes closed is difficult as it removes one of the ways the brain knows where you are in space, leaving only inner ear and bottom of feet and position of arms and legs. Then I asked them to count seconds as I held tree pose, eyes closed. Eight seconds was my absolute best. They hooted, thrilled they had bested me in tree. I wanted them to see that each of us had strengths and weaknesses. I worked to improve tree with eyes closed, they worked to improve plank.
I was so grateful that my community mentors, men on boys’ day, women on girls’ day, continued to support my efforts to try anything that would help the students focus on yoga. They praised the students when it was deserved and the kids in turn were amazed at how strong all the senior citizens were in yoga. One man attended regularly and the students became comfortable praising him when he did the pose well and also when he invested a lot of effort in his practice.
Some of my high school/ middle school students came weekly, others rotated in and out. One afternoon as five boys settled onto their mats, a talented regular moved into our opening standing poses: Warrior I (one leg back and arms straight up) then flowed into Warrior II (one leg back, shoulders open to the side and arms extended over the legs parallel to the floor). Watching him, I stepped onto a mat and told the students that “K” (the warrior) would be leading the class. K did not blink. He called the alignment cues word for word just as he had heard them come out of my mouth. He directed the students into Warrior III (single leg standing, hinged at the hips arms extended out, body parallel to the floor). The boys followed his instructions and held beautiful Warrior III positions. At this point, I was beaming inside until K’s next cue, “Now lift your heel, hop on one foot and scream like T-rex.” The room erupted as the boys, still balancing in Warrior III began to hop and scream around the room. It looked impossible. I tried it myself. I wobbled around trying to hold my body parallel to the floor and hop and scream.
Just then the a teacher peered into the classroom in time to see the boys trying to hold me in balance as I hopped and hollered. A wide eyed look, head tipped to the side in a “what the hell is going on in here” look came my way. My boys went mute as I stood up, shoved my shoulders back, struck a dignified stance and authoritatively stated that this was dinosaur yoga. The teacher shrugged and disappeared down the hall, we clapped hands over mouths and laughed.
Even though I had had a few minor successes, I could not figure out how to quiet the students long enough for them to lie on their mats and hold a deep and restful relaxation pose. I observed restlessness and horseplay while they were on their backs. My cuing and guided imagery could hold them for two to five minutes but no more.
A light bulb went off the day one of the younger boys rolled onto his stomach and pulled the yoga mat on top of him. Seeing this I told the boys they could choose to lie on their back, side or stomach. They all chose stomach down. After a few heel kicks they would settle. I led 20- to 25- minute guided meditations, beginning with a progressive muscle relaxation, then imagery, then guided them through imagining body system functions at rest. I told them while they rested their bones grew long, the muscles lengthened and their minds grew sharper. Encouraged by this imagery, a shorter, younger boy liked to lie with his arms and legs fully extended, hoping to encourage more growth.
I had one industrious student who appointed himself tour guide of relaxation pose for any student new to the class. He would wait for me to say, “Time for the hardest pose.” When the new student asked why it was the hardest, he would reply, “Because you have to shut your mouth the whole time,” before adding, “Wait for it, wait for it, she can hypnotize you.” Then he would settle into a deeply relaxed pose resting on his stomach, his head on folded hands underneath his chin. When I said it was time to sit up he would boast, “Didn’t I tell you? I was out! I mean OUT!” As he headed out the door one day he announced to the other guys, “I’m going home to take a bath and relax.”
The girls were quite different. Some enjoyed the poses, others wanted to learn to pole dance or lap dance. When these 12-year-old girls asked me if I could teach them to lap dance, I said I could teach them a yoga pose dance instead. In response they suggested they could compose their own yoga dance and bade me to turn my back while they worked on it. I asked who was in charge of the dance team and one girl immediately appointed herself. “OK, you have five minutes and there must be five yoga poses,” I said and turned my back. They were 10 feet from me at most but seemed satisfied I could not see. I heard murmuring and closed-mouthed, hummed music beats. “No, this way, no, this way,” the leader whispered. I sounded a warning saying there was one minute left to go, and they asked for two. “OK, two,” I said. They were focused, busy, imaginative and most of all not on their cell phones or talking about lap dancing, which made the process all the more worthwhile.
When they were ready, two girls came and held my shoulders to turn me around and move me to a certain spot in the room. They opened out to the four corners of the space and began to hum a rhythmic beat. Like gymnasts they strode chest forward and arms swinging into the center of the room. They gracefully moved through the three Warrior poses, holding hands often and humming the beat. They dropped to one knee in a deep lunge, came to the floor seated and turned their backs to the center and stretched out their legs.
“Done!” they announced.
My jaw dropped and I erupted into enthusiastic applause.
“Do you really think it was good?” the leader asked. Emphatically I said “YES” and asked to see it again. This time it was smoother, slower and the hummed beat softer. These were little girls being themselves, inventive and collaborative. I high-fived the grinning and giggling team. This was not a yoga style I had learned nor was it one I taught. My students taught me a new yoga. Once they were finished, it was time for savasana.
I turned the lamp bulbs off so only the soft light from the hallway illuminated my resting yoga dancers, lying on their mats, stomach down. Seated near them in a cross-legged pose, I began the guided body relaxation when suddenly the dance leader got up and plopped herself next to me leaning heavily on my side.
“Can I do this?” she whispered.
“Do what?” I whispered back.
“This thing, the talking part,” she said.
“Sure, go ahead.”
She leaned in closer and asked, “What do I say?”
I looked right into her little face and said, “Use your imagination.”
She looked back and whispered, “I don’t have an imagination.”
I paused to think and tilted my head to her, “Imagine you found a pretty new dress.”
In a tiny, slow voice she said to the room, “Imagine you found a pretty new dress.”
She looked back to me and asked, “Now what?” She wiggled in closer, turning her back to press up on against my side.
I mimed sleeves, sliding one hand down the length of my other arm.
“And it has long sleeves” she said to her quiet team.
She searched my face for the next cue, I mimed a hem.
“And it goes to your ankles.”
She never looked back to me after that. Her shoulders tilted forward and her eyes closed as she continued in a soft, steady voice. “The dress has flowers and you have the perfect matching high heel shoes,” she said. “And when you wear it everyone likes you and you are special. So you wear it to school every day. And no one picks on you or takes your stuff. And you feel beautiful and loved. And everyone thinks you are pretty and wants to be with you”.
A lump formed in my throat as she continued to express her fears and desires through this spontaneous creation.
I looked up to the clock and told her it was time to get everyone up gently and slowly. With my exact words from previous classes she said, “Now gently begin to wiggle through your fingers and toes, and take a slow deep breath in and out.”
“Look!” she said excitedly, sitting tall next to me, “They are doing what I said!”
She had them come to a seated pose and elbowed me to add, “The love and life in me honors and respects the love and life in you.” Each of them quietly looking into my eyes as I looked at each of them in turn.
I sat there, both humbled and over whelmed by what I had just heard, while they rolled up mats and left the room. It was the end of May. Yoga had bumped all the way to the end of the school year bringing me and my students an awareness of yoga in its unending variations.
Meet the Healers- Yoga Nursing at Yogaville, Satchidananda Ashram, Buckingham, VA March 10,11,12, 2017
The match up could not be more perfect. The Yoga Nursing model of care live training with the calming and restorative Yogaville location, the serene 700 acres of the Ashram and LOTUS Shrine, the twice daily infusion of yoga and meditation classes and the deliciously prepared vegetarian food. I met these amazing Nurses who came for my Yoga Nursing: The Heart of Caring weekend workshop.During our class time together as I shared the Sacred Remedy- its' breathing, movement and rest, we also learned about each other. Combined, they represent 193 years and 2 days of clinical nursing experience; Annie had just past her exams two days before coming to Yogaville! "Yes, a baby nurse!", we cheered. Surrounded by women who 'get' how the stress of being Mother, Daughter, Wife, Sister and Friend merges with the stress of a heavy patient load and the physical, emotional and mental toll working as a Nurse can take. They left Yogaville inspired, enthused and eager to practice self care. And to bring it to their co workers and their patients. Thanks to all of you for your curiosity to learn and practice self care with the Sacred Remedy, it will bring you peace, health and wisdom.
On October 25, 2016, I began teaching Yoga and Mindfulness at an after school program at Charles City High School, VA. It is a federal grant administered by the Virginia Dept. of Ed.
"The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (Title IV, Part B) program supports the creation of opportunities for academic enrichment during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and mathematics; offers students enrichment activities that complement regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children. VDOE funds, through a competitive process, projects that provide significant expanded learning opportunities for children and youth, and that will assist students to meet or exceed state and local standards in core academic subjects."
My Yoga sessions fit into enrichment experiences supporting student academic achievement:
Students should learn to practice self discipline.
Students should learn to set academic and personal goals.
Students should identify and demonstrate the responsibilities that are required to ensure their academic success.
The first two weeks were challenging as I faced students from 7th through 12th grades who were inexperienced at yoga and stillness. Week by week I modified the environment to eliminate distraction (block the light switch and wall phone, take up chalk, make chairs inaccessible, enforce bookbags, laptops, cellphones and shoes stay in the hall. I borrowed yoga mats from everywhere to give students 'their space'. I separated genders, boys one day, girls the other day. I invited my community yoga students to come and mentor- stay on their mats and do yoga! I am there weekly through May and set my goal to get to savasana by then. With one, two or three mentors in the room (one is the football coach) the students see and feel the calmness. The boys could do every single balance pose I threw at them, many with closed eyes- I was holding my head in my hands and saying, "Do you have any idea how AMAZING you are? Yoga is already in you !!" Last week I even got a two breath reclined savasana and was ecstatic! Leaving yoga class one day, I heard a boy say to another, "I thought yoga was boring, but it is fun". Humble.
Working Americans, brace yourself. According to Seth Porges, a writer for Bloomberg News, your corporate culture productivity wonks will soon be teaching you to breathe. Porges’ article appeared October 11, in the Business section of the Daily Press newspaper, touting the amazing neurophysiological response of breathing out longer than breathing in. AND, there’s an app for that. There are also new clip on hardware devices that provide real time feedback on your breathing patterns, “making it easier to reach goals.” What goals?
From our ancient ancestors, who lacked access to scientific proof, poor things, we know that optimal wellness comes from mindful breathing. We know it from their art and their writings. Sanskrit translations abound on the topic. But for the business world to cough up money for employee training, there must be science driving the bus. The article slogs through the descriptions of the parasympathetic nervous systems response to slow breath just enough to convince you of its authenticity and veracity. You can now visualize your monthly in-service training here, the finger pointing to the sentence on the page proving this is good for you. And, you will do it.
So why is this article in the business section, not on the health pages? I’ll let Mr. Porges speak, “…different breathing patterns can serve as a quick and often easy way to manipulate your emotional and physiological state in ways that allow you to be calmer, less stressed and more productive.” Oh. More productive.Figures. Often easy? Oh hell no. Disciplinary action forms soon to follow. First Warning: employee fails to execute breathing strategy to activate parasympathetic stimulation, evidenced by diminished productivity since last week’s performance evaluation.
Rita Mae Browns’ comment at her recent presentation at W&M comes to mind. “We are born perfect, we spend the rest of our lives trying to get back there.” We are born belly breathers. We evolve into chest breathers. I mean here in America, who wants their belly sticking out. There will be pointing and asides about your mid-section. Men aspire to 6 pack abs and women hungrily embrace spanks. As adults we breathe in our upper chest and allow the lung bases to harbor toxic carbon dioxide. We slouch forward at our computers compressing the chest and abdomen, reducing blood flow and lung capacity. We sit in the car, at work and in front of the TV. We believe wholeheartedly the couture culture of rail thinness and throw away any photos of ourselves where roundness rears its ugly head.
I go back to our ancestors to look for balance. Wake up and breathe. Move around in nature and breathe. Learn to relax your belly and breathe. Sit up in your chair from time to time, lift your heart forward, close your eyes and belly breathe. Your brain and body are the most complex pieces of high tech equipment you operate. A deep breath sends a cascade of good news all around, toes to nose and up into the noggin. Now I teach this breathing business to men and women so stressed by work they are desperate to listen. Drugs and therapy work but adding breathing restores power to the plant. Last month I presented a one hour break out session to District Court Judges at their annual legislative conference. My sessions were at 7 am and 5 pm, times before and after a full day of mandatory sessions. Yet, 70 Judges participated.That tells me people feel bad, they have physical and emotional pain. So even when they are tired and fatigued by a long day, they still come to listen and find new ways to feel healthy.
From me to you I say, you don’t need an app or a device giving you real time feedback. Turn your natural competitive drive to do well on the man in the mirror. Wake up and breathe deep three times in your belly before your feet touch the floor. Search for times in your day to quiet your senses. Is the only time you are alone in the car? Shut the news radio off, choose music or silence, belly breathe. Get the pharmacy in your brain to a happy place by breathing out longer than breathing in. If you are nerdy and need proof, read about it online. You will be in, just like the Judges who work in a hostile environment where people argue in front of them all day long. Their doing is their undoing. Maybe yours is too.
Here is Mr. Porges conclusion: “The best part is that, unlike some breathing exercises, which are evident to anyone in the room, this technique is relatively discreet after a little bit of practice.” In other words, breathe, but keep it on the down low.
Now here is some good news. Even though this was a small study the key was the choice of the target group- ages 49-77 with multiple severe chronic health issues.
The results of a pilot study conducted at the VA hospital in Los Angles, in collaboration with UCLA, that studied the effects of a ten minute seated yoga practice was recently published in the Journal of Yoga and Physical Therapy.
Ten patients were chosen to evaluate the impact of a daily ten minute seated yoga program. These were people who had poorly controlled diabetes for greater than 10 years. They also had chronic hypertension, high cholesterol and kidney disease. All took insulin.
The objective was this: In addition to their standard comprehensive diabetes care, what changes could be observed in 3 months of a daily seated yoga practice. Could it improve health outcomes for these patients.
The patients were taught 5 poses with deep breathing. Each pose was taught with modifications appropriate with those of varying abilities. They were given a DVD and fold out pocket guide to encourage compliance at home. Ten minutes a day- ten.
In three months the mean decrease in fasting capillary blood glucose (finger stick) was 45%. Heart rate dropped 18% and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure dropped 29%. There were no changes in systolic (top number) blood pressure, weight or body mass index. There were no reported adverse effects.
The positive data from this small group supports the integration of mind-body techniques for those who carry a substantial health burden.
It is interesting to note that while the study group showed no weight gain during the study, in the control group there was a clear trend to weight gain.
Sure this was a very small study however it demonstrated hope for those who are often depressed and frustrated by feeling bad every day even if they take their meds and follow a diet. After years of limited activity they become deconditioned and the thought of an exercise program seems impossible. Hands are thrown into the air, shoulders shrug in hopelessness.
This approach with breathing and movement was safe and easy to do. Positive effects were visible and quantifiable within 12 weeks.
I hope this encourages physicians across our country to integrate a yoga wellness program into the standard medical care model of those living with chronic illnesses. And if you are one of those with these health issues, try yoga: deep breathing and movement. You can do it!
Lisbeth wrote: "Today’s Nurse Boss, Susan Turnage is a nurse and yoga teacher extraordinaire. Her service is a vehicle for profound healing for our world. My favorite quote from her interview is “Yoga is what you need in the moment.” I hope you love her interview as much as I do!
From Nurse Boss Lisbeth Overton:
Welcome to the 20th installment of Nurse Boss. A blog series dedicated to nurses.
I was guided to create this series after a spark of creativity within my soul felt that it would help thousands of nurses.
My hope is that these interviews will ignite a spark in you or stir your inner landscape in a way that propels you to dream big and go after what it is that you desire in life and career.
A Nurse Boss is a nurse who has created a lifestyle that aligns their passion with their natural gifts and energy style in a way that helps others while also honoring their own body, mind, and soul. A Nurse boss walks their talk and they are open to receive the abundance that is theirs.
A Nurse Boss is more than a role or job he/she has, it’s a certain energy, a vibe, a mindset. A Nurse Boss has an uplifting energy and loves helping others, but not to the detriment of his/her own well-being.
Today’s Nurse boss makes me proud to be a nurse and yoga teacher. Meet Susan Turnage, registered nurse and yoga teacher extraordinaire. What Susan is doing for our world through yoga is profound. Our paths to the amazing Annette Tersigni, CEO & Founder atYoga Nurse Medical Yoga Therapy and Stress Relief happened exactly the same way, read about it below.
SUSAN TURNAGE, RN, RYT
1. What are you doing now?
Presenter of YogaNursing live trainings and lunch and learn programs at hospitals and at VCU School of Nursing, therapeutic Yoga teacher in community centers- 9 classes per week, working as an art conservation technician. I am treasurer of the newly formed Breathing Space Inc, a non-profit thats mission is to create a ripple effect of wellness in the Greater Williamsburg, VA area by providing wellness and meditation programs to underserved populations. I am a Virginia Institute of Marine Science volunteer in their Virginia Saltwater Game Fish Tagging Program.
2. Did you always have the desire to do what you are doing now or did someone or something create a spark in you that made you realize this was your calling?
At age 3 I knew I would be a nurse. Nursing has been both my vocation and avocation for over 4 decades. I have experience in hospital Nursing, Acute care, rehab, pediatric head injury, corrections, home health and call center telephonic nurse coach.
As western medicine moved toward focusing on lowering costs, eliminating positions, increasing patient loads and decreasing job security, I began searching for something new.
I began yoga teacher training and thought that yoga and nursing were quite complimentary. It was a wellness program for Every Body! It addressed the mind and body. From my own yoga practice I felt yoga’s healing.
I googled nurse + yoga and found Annette Tersigni! I took the online training. I went to North Carolina and took the live training. So overjoyed at finding a continuing education program that focused on the Wellness of the Nurse first, I trained to become a Certified YogaNurse® so I could become a Nurse for Nurses.
3. Why is nursing a great launchpad for nurses who want to create their own lifestyle doing what they love?
We carry experience wherever we go from Nursing. A nurse knows science, math, psychology, acting, conflict management, world religions, comedy, time management etc. Nurses are fearless. We never know what comes next, it’s great training for the business world. We ask questions. We have a malignant curiosity to learn new things. We are problem solvers and used to working independently.
4. What is the ultimate characteristic of a nurse boss?
Don’t give up.
5. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced to get to where you are now? How were you able to overcome it?
Income. To follow my passion to bring yoga to Nurses and my community it first cost me money for training. My gracious husband saw my passion and encouraged me to pursue it. We lived simpler and spent with care.
6. What does your current job allow you to do that traditional nursing did not?
Set my own standard of care and time line. I teach Nurses self care- I feel that I served as an RN for decades just so I would have the chops to teach Nurses self care. I know the stress, bullshit, exhaustion, elation, joys and complexities of being a Nurse. I have the hands of a healer, I teach Nurses how to recognize their own healing hands, heal themselves first, then use the Sacred Breath, Sacred Movement and Sacred Rest for their patients.
In my community yoga classes I teach yoga to those 30 and over. We don’t wear fancy yoga clothes. We practice in community centers. I teach anatomy, body systems, ways to think about their body and mind. We do guided meditation. Sometimes we laugh and talk a bit. Sometimes students fall asleep.
Yoga is what you need in the moment.
It’s a connection where I can be a nurse without a deadline or supervisor telling me to get to the next case.
7. For nurses who feel stuck in their careers what words of wisdom do you have to help inspire them to break out of their status quo?
That is not so easy to answer. For years I provided an income to support my family. Options to take additional expensive training to pursue a more independent track was just not there. First I had to heal myself. Rework my personal journey. Then the transition took place. First I had to admit I needed help. Al-anon gave me that, yoga gave me that. Then I faced very difficult decisions. All that time I worked in a profession that offered me an income and latitude to take one step at a time. I began to see a dream. I believed I could. It came and continues to unfold.
8. What resources can you share for nurses wanting to explore creating their own gig that actually pays them?
There are new resources emerging that are appealing to those of us coming from the world of science and seeking a broader approach to health. Exploring options like YogaNursing and the American Holistic Nurses Association who can enlighten you with many offerings. When I saw YogaNursing- I felt a burst of excitement and relief, I knew it was for me.
Now for fun:
9. What book or publication is currently on your nightstand?
“Mudra: The Sacred Secret” Indu Arora
“Principles and Practice of Yoga in Healthcare” editors McCall, Telles et al.
“61 Hours”, Lee Child
10. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?
Philadelphia soft pretzel, purchased from a street table with traffic whizzzing by, from a guy wiping his nose on his arm just before handing you the bag of 4 pretzels.
11. How can we get in touch with you?
Susan Turnage RN, CYN, RYT500
Certified YogaNurse ®, Registered Yoga Teacher
Check out Nurse Boss and the wonderful new support site for Nurses that Lisbeth has created!
This past weekend I attended a two and a half day conference in Baltimore, MD, for physicians and other health care providers focusing on the therapeutic effect of yoga for those with cardiovascular disorders. Along with the expected psychophysiology and pathophysiology presentations, there were experiential practice sessions where we got in the yoga chair or on the mat and executed the therapeutic poses. We did meditation paractices. Time was taken to explore the yogic and ayurvedic (Eastern Medicine) philosophies pertinent to the topic. Class began Friday evening. Saturday class began at 6AM and went until 6:30PM. Sunday, half day.
All the participants were physicians, I was the lone RN, looking to integrate the healing power of yoga into their active medical practices. We had a cardiologist, psychiatrist, ENT, pediatrician, anesthesiologist and internal medicine doctors. They all did yoga themselves. They all experienced for themselves the healing restorative power of breathing with movement. Our own inner healer drives us to share yoga with others. But educated as science based healthcare providers we all want to know the science behind why it works. We learned that here- research evidence and clinical applications.
Isn't this fantastic? Physicians searching to learn ways to teach their patients self-healing techniques with gentle breathing, simple yoga postures and meditation.
Physicians want proof. Some of most powerful proof came from Dr. Dilip Sarkar, one of the two conference content presenters. Dr. Sarkar is a retired cardiovascular surgeon. His retirement came unexpectedly 15 years ago when he had a catastrophic cardiovascular event and found himself looking up from the OR table instead of down. There he was, his heart in a shamble of clogged and irreparable coronary arteries. He went home from surgery with a long scar down the center of his chest. His physicians gave him a poor prognosis. He was thin and had no cholesterol problems. His blood pressure was normal and he had no family history of cardiac problems. The single cause of his heart damage- stress. Bending over an OR table long hours, teaching medical students, waking in the night with a phone call to come in and patch up a heart- year after year- had taken it's toll.
Suddenly he found himself at home with a fist full of pills. Instead of sitting around like cardiac cripples do, he began yoga. His back was so damaged from decades of leaning over the OR table that he could not get down on the floor or if he did he could not get up. Everything hurt but he could not sit and wait for death.
"Slowly and slowly the yoga poses came to me", he says about his recovery. He now takes no pills. He has a magnificent yoga practice and can do a headstand and still is able to talk and guide his yoga students. He travels Internationally to teach physicians therapeutic yoga. Dr. Sarkar has the chops to do it from both sides of the desk. He says to do yoga yourself and you will see how it works.
More and more physicians are coming to yoga because it works for themselves. Now we just need to get the insurance companies to reimburse for it and yoga will be everywhere!
Beginning to distill and digest what I learned at the First International Symposium Toward a Unified Science of Love in New York City, June 26, 2016.
The invitation ticket was a gift from Damaris Maria, a sister Certified YogaNurse®, who generously shared this opportunity with me to attend this inaugural event.
As with any other event offered for the first time, the Symposium encountered bumps. For me, the foremost being- way way too much. Four keynote speakers and nine international presenters, all trying to use twenty minutes each to detail their decades long research about love on the topics in neuro science/ biochemistry, behavioral science and theoretical work.
This was a meeting of the good apples. They came together to define love so it could be studied and taught. To identify how love arises and nourishes. To explore strategies to enhance innate love, address the epidemic lack of self- love, to restore the lifeforce of love to those who have lost it. To amplify love in others. To respect, appreciate, admire, affirm and advocate for yourself and others. That was a lot to absorb and a lot to aspire to become. I came away with gratitude for this group, especially for Dr. Jean Watson. Her decades of research into the Science of Caring offers a tangible and practical approach for self care. Become conscious of the role caring imparts in healing both visible and invisible wounds.
Please take time to visit WatsonCaringScience.org.
Also,right now, breathe.
Recommendations from a variety of friends brought me to Yoga 10 years ago. I signed up for a 6 week class labeled for beginners through the VMFA studio school. When I arrived there wearing my sons' cast off Middle School sweat pants and a comfy T-shirt (dress in loose clothing said the class description) I was distressed to see many VFL's (very fancy ladies) already lying on their fancy yoga mats looking semi conscious. Fortuna smiled on me as a 30 something man in the back of the room wildly waved to me to join him. I tipped toed my way to his side. He whispered, "I am a beginner too!' We were dressed alike. We made "yikes" faces to each other, palms up and shrugging at the 12 motionless, closed eyed bodies around us.
The teacher was one of the mat bodies. She rose up and began to call out words like- table, cobra, down dog. Mat man and I scrambled to some facsimile pose by looking at those around us. We frequently shot bug eyed and fear filled glances at each other, dropping knees to the mat and panting, many minutes before the other students.The teacher offered no reason, description or modification. Sheesh. I thought she would begin with a lecture something like, "The history of Yoga" or "Yoga- what is it."
Following that class, the only person to speak with me was mat-man. We pondered what to do. Since we PAID for 6 lessons, we decided to keep coming. Without him and my cheap skate nature that would have been it for my 6 week adventure. A year went by before friends convinced me that this was not a typical yoga experience. I finally ventured into another class. This time as I entered the room the teacher smiled and waved me in. A lovely young lady hollered to me from the back of the large room, "come back here to the fart corner, we have lots or room!" MY kind of welcome! Ladies were laughing and telling me to do what I could and relax. That they were all beginners too. Turns out beans is probably not an appropriate meal choice just before yoga. "She's a vegetarian", they shrugged, kindly and resignedly pointing to my welcome committee lady.
Lesson learned. My yoga classes are all beginner friendly, we wave new people in, we wear loose and comfortable clothing. I teach anatomy, why the pose helps the body. We ignore the occasional fart but laugh every class- usually when I call out left when I really mean right. Students facing every which way. "Oops, what did I just say?" "Just do what you know I mean" HA.
Sometimes I teach Yoga but don't call it that. For some people the word- yoga- is a barrier, too out there, too woo woo, only for flexible people they think.
One of my current students is a District Court Judge. When she told me what Judges do all day, sit for hours, no bathroom breaks, no food, no drink. Just roll through the docket. Gosh, I thought. Judges need yoga. I wrote up a one hour program, "Yoga for Judges" and pitched it to the Education Director for the Supreme Court of Virginia. She loved the concept and content. Her hesitation came with the title. "Not sure how many would attend", was her e-mail to me.
I responded to her with the new title, "Reversing the effects of prolonged sitting: A tactical approach".
Her immediate reply, "Consider yourself booked".
My presentation was at the Judicial Conference in Williamsburg, VA in May. 6:30 AM for one hour. A dozen participants.
I taught the same content, saving the word yoga for after the evidence was given. I lead with the anatomy and physiology- as I always do. I cited recent research findings about prolonged sitting. I gave breathing and pose suggestions to do while sitting at the bench and through out the day. Some of the Judges made suggestions to each other. We laughed a bunch too.
Here is one of the follow up comments:
"As curmudgeonly and unfuzzy as I am, and as skeptical as I am of all things Eastern , I thought Nurse Turnage's presentation was helpful and pitched at the right level. She did not ask us to hum or hold hands, or even to get in touch with our feminine sides; rather, she clearly recognized that she was dealing with right-side thinkers and gave us persuasive bases for why we should do the things she was suggesting and how the things she was suggesting specifically addressed issues that we, sedentary judges, face. Add to all that, she seemed like a very nice person. I would go back, and I "would recommend it to my friends." (Judge V. L.)
Yoga is for Every Body. Just start first with what's in it for them.