Monday, June 18, 2012

Learning To Be Present: Yoga's Great Gift

by Laurice D. Nemetz     
Lauri worked with MHA post 9/11 on the Project Liberty grant  as a creative arts therapist during her FEMA days.  As current co-President of the YTA (Yoga Teachers Association), Lauri helped with the initial planning of this special event.

The practice of yoga is a great gift as it teaches us how to be present.  I tell my private clients that showing up and arriving on the mat is probably the most important part of the asana practice.  What comes out after that, whether messy or glorious, really is not as important as being able to arrive.

The yoga asanas or poses can be fun to work at, but ultimately, exploring where one is in the present moment is the most fascinating part of a yoga practice.  Having worked for over twenty years in the mental health field, I find the same is true for those clients as well.  While, as a therapist,  I am looking to increase the range of possibilities for the client, where a person is in the present moment is interesting and relevant.  Just as trees bend and grow differently according to environment and myriad other reasons, where we are at the moment is shaped in part, by the way we have reacted to the world.  In yoga we talk about samskaras, our patterned reactions.  The wonderful thing is that although samsakras can be strong, they still have the possibility of being changed, particularly when we focus ourselves to the present.

Working in the anatomy world, I’ve been fortunate to be with a number of great minded thinkers who choose to see what ultimately has been going right in a body/mind/spirit rather than pointing first to what has not.  Even in dissection lab, we note that on the day a person dies, despite the reality of death, there were still so many wondrous things going well.   That is not to say we sugarcoat the experience of pain or illness, both mental and physical, but we look towards the strengths first.  We look to see where the individual is in this moment.

Yoga is a place where we can learn to fall while also learning to get back up again, no matter what our associations may be in the past with perceived imperfections.  While as a society we want to protect our children and loved ones against disappointments, I’ve learned as both a therapist and parent, that learning how to cope with challenges and breaking our patterns of reactivity is ultimately more useful than trying to disappear all difficult experiences.  This helps us to ride those waves of ups and downs with more ease and grace. 

Finally, yoga, especially on this upcoming event day, is about community.  Having a sense of universality and connection to more than our isolated selves can help us all function in a healthy way.  As Amy Weintraub noted in her recent post, “Research has shown that we are lowering the stress hormone cortisol when we practice yoga, and we are raising GABA levels, a neurotransmitter that protects us from anxiety and depression.  We are also raising oxytocin levels, the ”bonding” hormone that allows us to feel more connected to others.”  Beyond the reality in the science of it, this just makes great basic sense.  When we lower stress, we can connect.  That really is what yoga is all about.  The Sankrit word yuj that yoga comes from literally means to yoke or join together.  When we are together, we become more supportive of each other, and collectively stronger.

So show up on your mat for mental health.  It is amazing what just being present can do.  There is a well-known Sanskrit poem, attributed to the Classical poet Kalidasa, called “Salutation to the Dawn.”  In essence, it says that we should look well to this day, because this is essentially life.  Yesterday is a dream and tomorrow is only a vision.  This moment is the perfect moment.  As one of my own dear yoga teachers likes to say, “this is the magic moment”.  Be present to the magic moment on your mat and in your world.
Laurice D. Nemetz, MA, BC-DMT, ERYT, LCAT is a certified and registered experienced-level yoga teacher, a member of the Academy of Dance/Movement Therapists and a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist. She is co-president of the YTA (Yoga Teachers’ Association),  an adjunct professor at Pace University and guest at the College of New Rochelle. Lauri teaches yoga at Club Fit in Briarcliff.  She has been influenced by many teachers and traditions and is particularly grateful to Karin Stephan, David Hollander, David Lipschutz (Enoch Dasa) and Kim Schwartz. In addition to teaching yoga and anatomy and working as a dance/movement therapist, Lauri leads yoga and kayaking trips on the Hudson River, in Canada and Costa Rica.  She is the author of "A Place of Balance: Yoga Practice for the Kayaker" (Sea Kayaker Magazine, Oct. 2010) and has also published writings on movement therapy and yoga in several books and journals.

Lauri has degrees from Wellesley College and a Master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy from Goucher College. She is currently an associate teacher Tom Myers’ Anatomy Trains® , anatomy director of two yoga teacher training programs in NY:  Ananda Ashram and Sage Yoga.  She lives with her husband and her two boys in Ossining New York and enjoys art, music, and sea-kayaking and of course, movement!

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