The Gift of Yoga

I have been a Diabetes Prevention Coordinator at SOADI since 2009. Not long after I started with SOADI and having just played in a World Cup for women’s lacrosse (Team Haudenosaunee) in June of 2009, I was contemplating the status of my lacrosse career. At the time of the World Cup, I was 32 years old and had been playing since the age of 16. 

At some point in 2012, and after having not played since 2009, I had a conversation with my co-worker Mitch Baird that opened my eyes to the concept of ‘longevity’. At this point, yoga was really taking off in the SOADI work place, as Mitch and another co-worker Amanda Lipinski were becoming certified Yoga Exercise Specialist (YES) instructors. I mentioned to Mitch how even though I missed lacrosse immensely and wanted to keep playing the game, I just didn’t feel the urge or the need to train intensely anymore; and I wouldn’t play lacrosse any other way than in my best shape. So, he posed a fundamental question that sort of eased my worry about the possibility of leaving it behind. He asked me, “At this point in your life, after having dedicated so much time, energy and bodily wear and tear to intense sport, what is more important; optimal athletic performance or longevity and quality of life?” I knew my answer right away considering a knee injury that was lingering since 1998. I remembered how it flared up towards the end of world cup ‘09. That was one of the most important conversations I ever had.

After more insightful conversations with Mitch about yoga, I quickly got on board with learning more about it and before I knew it, I was also a certified Yoga Exercise Specialist instructor. It is now a big part of who I currently am, and certainly who I will become with each passing day because it is not just a physical exercise. There is an entire underlying set of principles that serve as the foundation of yoga which I am still very much in midst of learning about. It’s a really amazing journey that I deeply identify and connect with.

There are 3 key objectives to keep in mind when doing yoga. The first and most important one is breathing. Breathing is absolutely paramount in the practice of yoga, for it is the breath that is the “life force” (prana), and all yoga postures aim to promote flow of prana. The second is body alignment because in order for prana to flow efficiently, our body must be in proper alignment and free of impingement or blockage. The third is relaxation. We should be happy and comfortable when we do yoga as it is a wonderful way to unite the body, mind and spirit if we allow ourselves the gentle freedom to release any negative energy that we carry.

Yoga has been proven to provide numerous health benefits such as improved brain function, lower stress levels, better sleep habits and mood, increased flexibility, body awareness, lower blood pressure, improved lung capacity, improved sexual function, reduced chronic neck pain, anxiety relief, relief from chronic back pain, lower blood sugar levels in those living with diabetes, improved balance, stronger bones, healthy weight, and lower risk of heart disease.

From a more spiritual perspective, one can also achieve a sense of grounding, connectedness, and focused intention through deep breathing (pranayama), meditation and relaxation. Basically, yoga provides benefits to every system of the body; respiratory, circulatory, musculoskeletal, digestive and nervous. These are only some of the specific benefits. You will be amazed at what you will learn and experience if you begin to practice yoga as well as do some of your own readings to increase your awareness. It all starts with an open mind, as with anything else.

I feel enormous gratitude for the practice of yoga and feel happy, inspired and energized from practicing and sharing with others. In this fast paced world, we encounter many thoughts, people, emotions and situations. Time alone on my yoga mat allows me to practice being fully present and to process all of my encounters, reflect honestly by looking within, and to take full responsibility for myself and my happiness. We absolutely need bodily movement in order to be able to endure our earth journey for as long as we are here. I can personally testify that yoga is an amazing, inspiring way to achieve non-impact exercise in sync with the breath (“prana” or life force), while making way for a good mind, good energy flow, relaxation, and focused intention. My only wish is to continue to share with others in the yoga journey and that they receive all that I have received. My sights are not set on a specific destination in this life, but rather on the journey itself. Every day is a gift and one which I am better able to embrace being of healthy body, mind and spirit.

Crystal MacDonald is the Diabetes Prevention Coordinator of the Southern Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative (SOADI).

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