Chronic. For most of us, when we hear this word, the brain associates it as something negative. Usually something related to a diagnosis, something you will live with for the rest of your life.
I work with people who have chronic conditions. The majority of the population I work with have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD. They have been told that their lungs are damaged, and they will live with shortness of breath for the rest of their lives. In my world, the term chronic does not mean good things. Which is why during our yoga teacher training in Toronto last September, I was ecstatic to hear it used in a positive light. Francisco Kaiut defines yoga as a chronic state of presence with emotional coherence. Finally.
Being present sounds simple, yet it is something many of us suck at. The ability to be working towards a chronic state of presence does not come easy in our modern world. It is estimated that we spend 50-80% of our day being anything but present. Ever drive home and not remember how you got there? You don’t need to be a psychologist or a neuroscientist to know that this is not good for our brains. Everyday there are more and more studies that show this can lead to increased anxiety, depression, dementia, and a multitude of other illnesses.
Now imagine you have been diagnosed with a chronic condition. All of the sudden it’s not just your buzzing Facebook notification that is there to keep you from being present. Your brain now has a very good reason to worry and do everything but be present. Being diagnosed with a chronic condition is associated with chronic stress responses that can lead to physical and emotional imbalances. This is why we need yoga more than ever, and it has to be available to every BODY regardless of condition.
It was shortly after the training last fall that I started teaching Kaiut Yoga at the University of Vermont Medical Center to “People with Chronic Conditions”. Being a newbie Kaiut teacher, I had my doubts, and was nervous they would not take to it. I could not have been more wrong. The practice works for every one and the benefits are powerful to see. There is no shortage of inspiration as the dynamics of the group are incredibly supportive. They form bonds sharing their personal journeys filled with both fear and courage. Just recently, I overheard one of the experienced students tell a newcomer, “Anyone can do this type of yoga, look at me (as she points to her oxygen), my lungs don’t work well and I can do it.”
I have taught yoga to this population before, this time it’s different. Kaiut Yoga supports the body to do what it already knows how to do. It connects us to the healing system within ourselves by using the joints as the messenger. The practice does not discriminate, and I am witnessing how it does work for every BODY and all conditions. When you think it about, perhaps we all have chronic conditions.
For now, I am going to start a revolution to change the bad rap that the word chronic has in our society. Personally, I am going to do my best to be working towards a chronic state of presence with emotional coherence. Who is with me?
Julia O'Shea, University of Vermont Medical Center