An invitation to present YogaNursing® to the students in the Advanced Bachelors of Science in Nursing Program came from Dr. Candace Johnson PhD, BSN, their Professor of Community Health. The men and women in this program were 17 days from graduation when I met with them November 24. As each student entered the classroom, I introduced myself, shook their hand and heard their name. About 56 students attended the optional morning presentation.
I remember being close to graduation. The pressure to complete final projects, apply for a job and all the anxiety and relief that surrounds that time. Laptops opened and eyes focused as they typed furiously before I began.
"Please mute your cellphone but keep it close by, you will need it at the conclusion. And take off your shoes", I invited.
From my heart I spoke about our nursing culture. Our critical need to change the consciousness of healthcare to include self care. Especially the need to prioritize self care for those of us called to care for the ill, us nurses.
YogaNursing® provides a tactical self-care formula for nurses through the "Sacred Remedy" of sacred breathing, sacred movement and sacred rest. This is a safe and simple program that once learned by a nurse, can be shared with her patient. Nurses are at risk for compassion fatigue and have very high rates of occupational burnout, 40%.
Our patients have emotional, physical, mental and social needs and as the hub of the healthcare wheel, they look to us to advocate,educate and comfort. We motivate, inspire, comfort and counsel. One sentence from their Doctor may take us minutes or longer to explain. We are licensed to therapeutically touch. But our doing can be our undoing.
Our nursing culture can be unkind to new nursing graduates. Unexpected assignment overload, difficult scheduling and frankly- bullying. Know what you may encounter and develop a tactical strategy to face your new world; through the "Sacred Remedy" the signature program of nurse wellness.
One by one the laptops began to close. We practiced Yoga three part breath and ocean breathing. We examined the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and how a nurse is ever alert and can never be lured into complacency by the mundane. We practiced the seven essential poses of YogaNursing and their individual modifications.
Then the science of nursing united with the wisdom of yoga for a guided meditation. The students came to a comfortable seated position and one body part at a time allowed softness and relaxation to permeate the body, releasing tension.
In the subdued silence that followed the guided meditation, I quietly invited the students to turn the cellphone camera on and pass it to their seatmate. "Have a picture taken of your hands". As they looked back to me I gave these final words.
"When you come to that day in your nursing career, when you are overwhelmed, exhausted and defeated, when you ask yourself, "Why the hell am I doing this job?"- look at this photo. Yours are the hands of a healer. You are here for the patient. We help our patients live in peace and die in peace. This calling to serve the ill is a treasure. Your patients will love you for it."
Congratulations to VCU ABSN students as you become Nurses. It was an honor for me to touch every hand of yours as you journey forth.
Please Take Care of Yourself!
Ruby started her weekly yoga journey June 1st at Charles City's Ruthville gym's Growing Younger Level 1 mat class. Some weeks she does the chair class if her schedule keeps her from the mat class. This past week she shared with the chair class her experience at the doctor's visit the day before. Ruby reports "the top number of my blood pressure has never been under 154, even on medicine. Yesterday it was 117. I was very pleased with myself". Another student in the class said her blood pressure had responded the same way and her doctor had lowered the dose of her BP meds. Such exciting news from these ladies who invest in their self-care once or twice a week for one hour!
Yoga does not care if you come every week or not. Yoga does not care if you skip months at a time. But once yoga becomes part of who you are, the breathing, the movement and the rest can happen every day no matter where you are.
The model of self care becomes even more appealing when you can see a tangible result like Ruby did. Her statement, "I was very pleased with myself", was worth it's weight in gold to me. There are positive effects not only in numbers but in the satisfaction that you can do yoga at any age or with any ability.
Privately, other students have shared improved mobility in the hand joints, better range in shoulder function and much improved bowel function- the side twisting movements in yoga tone the abdominal organs and improve function.
I also see something more. There is community. Older students with the courage and curiosity to explore a wellness activity often portrayed in the media as a chic excuse for expensive yoga pants and tops. Our class often starts with a discussion of who is not there, and why not. Cards are signed for those who are ill. Questions about yoga in the news, in a crossword puzzle, what can yoga do for COPD- stuff like that. We are a community of active agers. We veer away from the reductionist training of our MD's; Drugs and Surgery. We breathe, move, rest. We avoid judging if our hip or knee makes us sit out a few poses. So what. You have 206 bones in your body, not all of them may be interested in yoga that day. We honor the discomfort and allow that joint to rest while moving those that can. We break the train of everyday thinking that men and women in their 60's, 70's and 80's are not suited for yoga. With an open mind you can be receptive to new thoughts that you can change your bodily reaction to aging. Your biochemistry changes second by second. Thinking about what you can do changes the mind body connection in profound ways.
We breathe. We move. We rest. Then we fold up the chairs and leave, we are very pleased with ourselves.
What a joy to teach a rural, twice weekly chair yoga class. Many of the vibrant African American, American Indian and White women in the class are long time friends; the yoga room in the community gym is the very classroom where many of them attended grade school together. Despite their chronic health challenges, they participate in the morning, hour long session with enthusiasm and dedication. Just about weekly we add a new student, prodded to come by light-hearted threats from current yogis. My ladies report less joint pain, improved balance, lower blood pressure and better mood. 'Our' yoga is interactive and infused with comments and laughter. Class begins promptly. One retired teacher in the group will call the class to order for me, when she claps her hands for attention, she gets results! (and under the breath giggling comments- "uh-oh, we'll get a time out if we don't
behave"). Chair class has 20 minutes of seated poses and breath work, 15 minutes (or so) of standing poses for balance and strengthening then more seated poses, breath work and 10 minutes of resting pose. We all look forward to the guided meditation; eyes shut, muscles relaxed. "What should we do if YOU fall asleep?", one student asked after I introduced a moment of silence at the end of the session. "Just leave, I'll wake up eventually". Clapping and laughing for that answer. Recently the mood moved to urgent concern when a student suddenly sat down heavily into her chair during the standing sequence. Hands to her face, color drained from her face and she sweated profusely. "I don't feel good", she whispered. I placed the back of another chair in front of her onto which she leaned over, head resting on folded arms. She was able to say she had eaten breakfast and taken her meds. She maintained consciousness, her pulse was rapid but regular and she was able to answer questions appropriately. I called 911. Being in a volunteer EMS area, I wanted to activate contact asap, even if I needed to cancel at some point. I asked another student to get, Greg, the fitness trainer from the room next door. All remaining students flew into action. Wet cloth, fan, candy and guessed diagnostic comments all appeared. "It's orthostatic hypotension!!, I had that once at the Burlington Coat Factory". Greg stood by to help me lower her to the floor if needed. " 911, what is your emergency". I gave the scenario.
"What is your address". Uh, Uh. Hmmm, "Anyone know the address?". Found out that saying, "across from the post office" and giving nearby cross streets while several students hollered irately near my phone, "Everybody knows where this dang place is!!" does not satisfy 911 dispatch. While fumbling with 911, color began to return to my lady's face and the sweating stopped. "I can see now, I am feeling better". A few moments later she told us her physician had changed the dose of her blood pressure med the day before. She took a drink of water and stood up, "I feel much better". After another 15 minutes, she really was back to normal.
Afterwards, Greg and I spent time planning for the next event of this nature. He checked the AED- automatic external defibrillator. Dead. Adult and pediatric pads long expired. We have no first aid kit. No glucose gel, no bandaids. We do have a BP cuff- I did not know that. His CPR and AED certification is current- mine, oops. At the following chair yoga class my student shared her physician lowered her BP med and she was feeling better. She was glad we all took care of her. We were glad she was OK AND we had incentive to improve preparation for medical emergencies. We put the address in a prominent place. We got the AED updated. I will update my cert. During an upcoming class, my students will have an inservice on AED use, next time it could be me or Greg that needs help. You never know.
Yes, Yes, I know. Yet another skinny white woman teaching yoga.
Wait! Before you get turned off and run away with that thought let me explain.
- my Mom weighed 100 pounds at the very most during her life.
- Dad entered the Army at 140 pounds. Only when he adopted the bacon, bologna and bratwurst diet in retirement did he go up to 190pounds. His cholesterol went up there too.
- when I am worried or anxious or busy, I do not eat. Well, unless a Philadelphia soft pretzel is offered, then I eat! So there.
This perception of Yoga being for a certain demographic comes mostly from the media. But I am experiencing quite the opposite as a community based Yoga teacher in rural Eastern Virginia.
Let me back up a bit.
Nine years ago I came to Yoga for two reasons: 1) friends recommended it and 2) a 'beginners' yoga class was held in an adjoining room an hour before a writing class I signed up to take. I thought, "What the hell, I'm here anyway, I'll try it".
I arrived, wearing my son's cast off middle school gym pants and big T-shirt, to find several well appointed ladies lying on colorful mats. The teacher never looked up for me to meet her. In the back of the room was a man in his 30's, wearing gym pants and a big T-shirt, waving at me and saying, "Back here, I'm a beginner too!".
The teacher commenced with pose names and breathing instructions. I was hoping for a bit of history of yoga, how to stay safe, maybe a smile in my direction. Mr. Beginner and I persisted through the 6 week session of 'beginners yoga' simply because, "hey, I paid for it, I'm not quitting now".
Since then I have encountered enough wonderful, skilled and smiling yoga teachers to know this was truly an aberration.
At first Yoga was about the poses for me. As I learned to settle the fireworks display of thoughts going on in my mind during class, I found more and more that yoga is about non-judgement of yourself. I still cannot touch my toes, do a head stand or twist into the advanced poses so often portrayed in Yoga magazines, but I treasure the practice of keeping my mind on the mat with me while I practice the poses.
With a regular Yoga practice of twice weekly (except for 6 months when my back was out due to forcing myself into a pose a 75 year old lady on the mat next to me was doing- sheesh) my hand arthritis pain has subsided, Morton's neuroma (pinched nerve in the foot) has resolved and I have learned to breathe and quiet my mind.
I was so sold on Yoga and its' benefits for me, I took teacher training- yes, I was the oldest one in the class, nobody cared.
Now I teach chair and mat Yoga in a community gym in Charles City County and at Heritage Public Library in New Kent County, VA. My students are in their 30's to their 80's. They are African American and white. They are thin and curvy.They have diabetes, hypertension, MS, are cancer survivors or they just want to stay healthy. We breathe, do poses and then rest. I offer a different guided meditation each week during resting pose. It's the most important pose. My student's are excelling at it!
Yoga doesn't care what you have been; Yoga cares about what you are becoming.
Soon I hope to have a chair and mat yoga video link here so you can try Yoga at home with me. Then venture out to a class in your community. Wear you child's cast off gym pants and a large T-shirt. Someone in the back will wave you over!