I never thought I would be a yogi. I didn’t think I had the patience, and I hated those big baggy hippie pants. Yet somehow I found myself in the beautiful hills of Pai, Thailand, doing yoga, and wearing baggy hippie pants.
I had done yoga a few times before at home, but I took more interest in it during my time in Southeast Asia. Yoga has been one of the only physical activities I can tolerate in the 90-100 degree heat and humidity. I signed up to attend Xhale Yoga’s five day retreat mostly for the exercise.
I always knew yoga had a deeper spiritual side to it, but I tended to tune out my teachers explanations during practice. That is, until I met Bhud. Bhud left her corporate life in Bangkok to follow her dreams of sharing her love for yoga with others. She built the retreat from the ground up in one of the most peaceful and serene places I have ever been.
There were nine of us participating the week I was there. Silent hour lasted from when we got up until lunch time. We awoke, drank tea, did nasal cleansing, had breakfast, and did the first yoga session of the day without speaking to each other. At first it feels awkward, but later we started to realize why Bhud has us do this. Being in silence made us more calm and mindful, some of the main goals of yoga.
photo by Bhud of Xhale Yoga
We did hatha yoga in the morning, and yin yoga in the evening, during which we held each pose for five minutes. My body felt pretty significant pain for a lot of the time, but what I learned in yoga philosophy class helped me to find meaning in it.
The class focused on yamas and niyamas. Yamas are moral principles on how we interact with others, and niyamas deal with how we relate to ourselves. Many of the yama concepts are similar to medical ethics: nonharming, truthfulness, and nonstealing.
The niyama that struck me the most was santosha, or contentment. We talked a lot about being happy and grateful for what we have, even when it’s not what we want. Bhud explained when you get what you like, you’re happy. When you get something you don’t like, you’re sad. We let our external world have full control of our emotions. She encouraged us to stop waiting for the things that we want in order to relax. We need to stop holding our breath waiting for life to be better, and just exhale.
We can use santosha to get through painful yoga poses, but I think the usefulness goes far beyond that. Being a nurse is not always easy, but we have to do it with joy no matter what. When you are stressed and anxious, your patient can tell, and it affects their health outcomes as well as your own. Practicing contentment helps us bring the focus back to our patients, and lets us find meaning in our work, even during the hard times.
There is also a growing body of evidence that shows yoga can help patients with managing symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and breathlessness. One thing I learned from this retreat is that you don’t need a yoga studio or any equipment to do yoga. It can be modified to be used even with bedbound patients. Patients with limited mobility can benefit from the breathing exercises.
Yoga was started in India thousands of years ago, and has now come to be practiced all over the world. Yoga has been in western countries for quite some time now, but I think it’s a testament to how we can learn from other cultures, and adapt ideas to help anyone.
Hospice nursing, more than many other specialties, focuses on holistic caring of the patient’s mind, body, and spirit. Yoga integrates all of these. It may not be for everyone, but I am excited to have one more thing in my toolkit that can potentially improve quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses.
More than just yoga poses, I learned about how to show more compassion and love to myself and to others. I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Bhud, and all the other participants, who shared in this experience with me. It will be one I will never forget, as I carry the lessons with me in my day to day life.