Movement as Medicine
Posted On Aug 12, 2016
How going to the birthplace of yoga yielded unexpected relief for arthritis pain.
By Kevin Garrett
I have never been the kind of person who lets much get in his way when experiencing all the wonders the world has to offer. You might say it inspired my life’s work as a photographer, which requires an open mind, a creative eye, and an agile body. So when the opportunity arrived for a second trek through India via Micato Safaris, I knew I needed to focus on more than where to point my lens. I had to deal with the crippling osteoarthritis with which I’d been suffering for years. Heading East, the solution was clear: yoga. Like 52 million Americans—two-thirds of them under the age of 65—I suffer from arthritis.
I’d dabbled in yoga before, yet my initial attempts left me frustrated. I couldn’t keep up with the poses. I felt stiff and off-balance.When yoga is offered as part of my itinerary, I decide to give it a new try. The osteoarthritis in my neck, back, and knee—activated by a decade-old car wreck—prompts me to seek solutions where I can find them… even halfway around the world.
On my first day, a rickshaw driver awaits me in the lobby of the Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, and takes me to a special session set up by Micato at a hillside park in the shadow of the Taj Mahal with Yogi Atul Vyas, who comes from an acclaimed family of yoga gurus (with star followers like Kate Winslet). I spread out my mat and soon find myself following the gentle rhythm of the yogi’s poses. There are no mirrors, no comparisons, no pressure to move beyond my body’s limits. I am simply encouraged to breathe deeply and calm my mind. I discover that my range of motion gradually increases along with my sense of peace.
Over the next two weeks, I follow a morning ritual of tea and yoga. I ask why I feel so different in my practice in India. One of my yogis offers that in India, yoga is a lifestyle practiced by young and old alike. In the U.S., it’s often taught as an exercise option. I think of the times I’d felt pressured to do poses that hurt my back and neck. More than 20 million Americans have embraced this 5,000-year-old practice. Injuries were once almost unheard of in association with yoga.
Yet in the U.S.— where people tend to bring a competitive edge to almost any physical activity, and hot yoga studios regularly perform difficult poses in rapid succession— injuries are now an everyday occurence. With each session in India, I grow more confident in my own practice and my own body. Despite a rugged travel schedule, the inflammation in my joints subsides, my strength returns, and my posture improves.
Although I feel silly at first during a yoga session at the Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore, the yogi encourages us to breathe by laughing as loudly as we can. By the end I laugh so loudly I wonder if I just might awaken some nearby Bengali tigers. The more I feel the benefits accumulate, the more willing I am to trust. Says my yogi: “Yoga is about letting go of ego.”
By the time I ascend to our last stop, Ananda in the Himalayas, I feel to be the most at peace I have been since that life-altering car accident from years ago, which creates such pain in my body and confusion in my brain. As I head to my suite, a kind attendant points from my balcony out onto the Ganges, the holy river of India, and the nearby city of Rishikesh, thought to be the cradle of yoga. I see why the Beatles made their pilgrimage here in 1968. It’s incredible. I understand the spiritual draw of this practice, and this amazing land. My new understanding? Sometimes I just have to let it be and accept where I am—right here, right now.
BENEFITS OF YOGA
Flexibility by increasing range of motion in your joints.
? Strength because the poses require you to tighten your abdomen and use your own body weight.
? Better posture because you strengthen your core muscles.
? Better balance because you are continually working on it.
? Improved sleep since the meditative aspect calms your nervous system.