When I was growing up a lot of emphasis was placed on knowledge, studying, striving to be smart. My high-school advertised that 'smart girls choose science subjects' which I felt compelled to do. All along my teenage years and well into my twenties and even thirties I was chasing this illusion of being smart. Studying maths and computer science surely would make me a very clever person. This cleverness in turn was bound to set me up to earn good money, find a husband/have a couple of kids and buy a nice house, as that is what is perceived to be the ideal dream in western society.
...then I fell ill.
A chronic illness, which made it difficult to live like everyone around me was living; working hard, sitting in an office all day, and then socialising. I wanted to function like everyone else I knew. The large quantities of medicine didn't make me feel better at all, in fact I got worse and I thought (or perhaps was lead to believe) that 'if I just have surgery to remove the ill parts that will cure me'. Of course it didn't... the illness morphed (from Ulcerative Colitis) to Crohn's. Not only did I have the same painful inflammatory symptoms, I now had a lot of scar tissue and trauma from all the surgeries which caused bad posture and terrible back ache. I had listened to the many (clever) doctors, had asked for advise on whether I needed to change my diet, but western medicine decided I just had to keep taking the drugs for the foreseeable future.
...then I found yoga.
Yoga started to effect the way I thought about my way of living. Where for years I had hated my body for failing me miserably, I started to appreciate how incredible it was for being able to function at all, after all the things I had put it through... I finally started to reconnect with my body. Why did I expect my cure to be handed to me via some pill or surgery while not making some life changes? I believe my thought process was largely due to the western mind-set of trying to be clever. Being in my head, I had lost the ability to be in tune with my body.
Yoga made me aware, of my body and of how I felt. To be in tune with my gut. Via the vagus nerve the brain sends signals of 'fight or flight' or 'rest and digest' to the gut, and the 'gut-brain' (or enteric nervous system) sends gut feelings (fear, happiness) back to the brain. The more I am in tune with my body, the more I am aware of what I need. Stress is one of the triggers for Crohn's (and can lead to many other illnesses), so I will use breathing techniques (pranayama) to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and reduce feelings of stress. The movement of yoga (asana) has helped me with stiffness and aching joints. The meditative aspect of yoga has helped me tune into the power of calm, gratitude and visualisation.
Less thinking, more feeling!
I am hoping that one day my high-school will advertise 'happy people do yoga' and that it will become a life-lesson embedded into our educational system.