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Yoga: A Functional Medicine Approach by Holly Dunn

July 14, 2017

When asked to write a blog for TPYC, I jumped at the chance to share my experiences about yoga and how this extraordinary practice has shaped and influenced my life over the past 6 years.

Motivated and inspired, my mind went into overdrive – I simply didn’t know where to start. In many ways, it is hard to extricate yourself from a practice that has become ingrained in most aspects of your life – from physicality to mentality, ethicality and emotionality.

As sensational as it may sound, there are no limits to yoga’s influence on my life (in the relatively short time period I have been lucky enough to enjoy it). My views and perceptions of the value of this ancient practice, however, have certainly evolved over time. In fact – in many ways – they have done full circle!

At the outset, an essentially physical ritual for me, I have learnt to harness some (not all!) of the cerebral benefits, and even embraced some of the more ornate and abstract philosophies. Only now am I truly beginning to understand the significance of yoga to myself as an individual, but also to the modern society in which we live.

Yoga asanas, the postures and exercises, are just one of 8 systems within an overall system of ‘Union.’ Yoga is a philosophy that describes a way to optimize a human life within these 8 interconnected and flowing sub-systems. What I find so incredible is just how relevant and remedial this remarkable tradition is becoming to our lives today. It has without a shadow of a doubt promoted personal changes and aspirations both past, present and future.

1. The Yoga Body

femaie photographer in London .Vera Bardo-5

It may or may not surprise you to hear it was the physicality of yoga that first tempted me to step into a yoga studio. I hated gyms and sought an antidote to the impacts of running. In my mind, yoga seemed to offer a more authentic form of body conditioning.

Hyperkinetic by nature, I was drawn to the highly dynamic and adaptive style of Power Yoga –but really this was still just another “exer-scuse” to move in a way that allowed me to sweat and ultimately re-exploit nature’s analgesics on a yoga mat!

It took some time to appreciate a few subtle shifts that were taking place and, before long, not only was I hooked, but my perception of the “yoga body” began to change.

We are the only species that have engineered mobility out of our lives – we build chairs to sit on, escalators and cars to carry our bodies, and weight machines, treadmills and rowing machines to exercise them. As a consequence, we have lost touch with some of our natural ranges and virtuosities of motion. Instead, we have replaced these with the aches and pains of chronically underused muscles, poor posture and unsupple connective tissues. Yoga restores dynamism to our bodies – strengthening, lengthening and recalibrating some of the lost art of human movement.

The more I learnt about yoga – the more I listened and practiced – the more it became apparent just how much more nourishing these movements become when they are linked to the highly potent visceral mechanism of breath or pranayama.

At a time when so-called lifestyle diseases are connected to blockages and unnatural activity in the human blood circulation system, yoga offers ways to improve circulation through the union of breath and movement – and ultimately to sustain a fully functioning human body. The asanas or postures, once they are unified with pranayama, utilise your body, your weight, inversions and twisting to drive out stale blood and wastes so that fresh oxygenated blood and nutrients can renew your cells. When the system works perfectly then the human system is self-correcting. And what is more, the energy generated, the residual buzz, “life-force” or prana is there for all to feel.

In so many more ways than I had first imagined, the definitive of the yoga body seemed to me to be: the functioning body.

2. The Yoga Mind and Spirit

femaie photographer in London .Vera Bardo-6

In spring 2016, I enrolled on TPYC’s Teacher Training programme under the guidance of Erin Prichard. I am hugely indebted to the experiences I gained during this time. In particular, it was a chance to deepen my knowledge of the intelligent and philosophical elements to the yoga tradition.

This time it was the ancient wisdom of the Yoga Sutras, the applicable Yamas and Niyamas (ethical codes and moral principles that govern the basis of the modern yoga tradition), that appeared to apply more acutely to modern life than I had previously thought possible.

But how and why should the philosophy be so important today? Perhaps because we are some of the most anxious and troubled guests on this planet. No other species questions why it is here and what it is trying to achieve. We have evolved a complex interaction between the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual systems – each human mind, a habit machine running a personal programme called – ego. Yoga provides a means to experience more and to suffer less. It reveals a path to becoming a much more content guest on a stunningly beautiful planet.

3. Yoga Union: A Functional Medicine Approach

femaie photographer in London .Vera Bardo-9

The next stage of the journey for me has really been one of integration – in the truest of yoga states – one of “yuj” or union.

Last year yoga played a major role in my professional life. It enhanced my motivation to change my existing occupation and I set out on the path to a new and exciting career.

Alongside teaching, yoga has heightened my passion for functional medicine and has given me the incentive to further studies in nutritional therapy amongst other naturopathic disciplines. The Yoga system has impelled me to ask, specifically: why is nutrition so important?

The health of our bodies and the integrity of our immune systems is directly proportional to the quality of the inputs we choose to have in our lives. Nothing highlights this quite like yoga. Over the next year, every single cell in our bodies will be made up of what we eat, drink and breathe, supplemented by some necessary sunlight. We are what we choose to consume, how we choose to move, in the environments we choose to live in. Everyday each human needs 60 minerals, 2 essential fatty acids, 16 vitamins and 12 amino acids alongside adequate hydration to maintain health. We need to breathe in oxygen and cannot survive without it for more than a few ​moments. Yoga teaches the value of purity of inputs (a principle known as Saucha) and to understand when enough is enough.

More still, yoga’s focus on treating every aspect of the individual – the whole person – is at the very heart of functional medicine. At a time when there has been an explosion in lifestyle diseases such as cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, autoimmune syndromes, obesity and diabetes – modern attitudes to human health are increasingly becoming sensitive to this vital approach.

The more I learn about the body, the more I am astounded just how much yoga, nutrition and lifestyle can do to reset the biochemical imbalances underlying these conditions. Both my continued learning and teaching are giving me the opportunity to explore the integrative sciences of yoga and nutrition in what I hope is a practical, positive and meaningful way. I consider myself so very, very fortunate to be in a position to do this.

So, whilst it may not be for me to describe the reality of yoga and its connection to human life, nutrition, exercise, contentment and philosophy – it is for you to explore, or not explore, an ancient system designed to promote human health and wellbeing. What is true for you is true for you and just for you. I can only share what is true for me and just for me.

femaie photographer in London .Vera Bardo-50

Yoga is ancient. Yoga is today. Yoga is timeless. Yoga is free. There are no yoga champions. But everyone who tries yoga is by definition a Yoga Champion.

Dedicated to TPYC, its remarkable Founders and wonderful Teachers that challenge and inspire me every day. Thanks for keeping it real. Thanks for keeping it safe. And above all, thanks for keeping it fun.

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