Bending My Way Into Health01 February 2016 Written by By Don Huntingtion
Published in February 2016 Articles
The Brentwood yoga teacher, Andrea Stuart, is helping students find in the practice of yoga the fundamental resource for creating physical and spiritual wellness that played such an important role in bringing Andrea’s own body, soul, and spirit into harmony and equilibrium.
Most people think of Yoga as a series of poses to be mastered. However, yoga poses turn out to be only one “limb” — the third one actually of a set of eight “limbs” for overcoming afflictions of the mind and body. Yoga’s eightfold path becomes a way of life focused upon nourishing body, mind, and spirit. Yoga lifts the practitioner to a fullness of life and life-sustaining mechanisms. The mastering of yoga’s healing modalities leads to healing in mind and spirit, in accordance with Buddha’s instruction to“Keep the body in good health....” Then his rationale for doing so, “Otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
Andrea is a Hatha Yoga Teaching Instructor and owner of Vitality Yoga. She has been practicing yoga since her early teens, when it provided a pathway out of a state of anxiety and depression that she had fallen into.
Andrea was an active child — always brimming over with energy and a sense of joie de vivre that led her to engage in interactive arts and disciplines of many kinds including dance, karate, choir, theater, and violin lessons. She was an avid reader and enjoyed writing poetry.
The course of Andrea’s life took a downward turn on a rainy day when she was 16 years old and riding with her friend in the friend’s 1980 Honda Civic. Andrea was going through a period of rebellion against authority, but had confined her resistance to such seemingly innocuous acts as refusing to wear a seatbelt in a car.
However on this particular day, Andrea said, out of nowhere came an unaccountable impulse to put on her belt. Just as she snapped the belt into place, her friend crashed into a Crown Victoria that was sitting in the roadway. The force of the collision was so violent, Andrea said, that the doorframe beside her was pushed a whole foot out of place.
Andrea said that at the moment following the crash, the world grew completely silent and she seemed to be in a place of peace and serenity. The silence ended abruptly when she realized that her friend, who was still sitting at the steering wheel, was screaming and crying out to Andrea, “Why are you so calm?”
Andrea’s impulse to put on her seatbeltprobably saved her life but left her with a seatbelt-shaped bruise stretching from her right shoulder to her left hip. She said that the narrow escape led her into a period of soul searching, trying to find answers to questions and ideas that were suddenly flooding into her mind and eventually inspiring her to become more involved in her own healing.
However, Andrea’s pathway to self-actualization led her through a dark valley. She became anxious and fearful. A growing number of panic attacks had an enervating effect on her life. The music, art, literature, and sports-related activities that formerly had been sources of such joy and energy had now become exhausting and overwhelming. “I became fearful,” Andrea said, “and lacked the capacity to leave my room and get involved with anything that required energy and engagement.”
Andrea’s mother, Annette, began to take her from one doctor to another in a fruitless search for some treatment or medicine that would help alleviate the panic attacks, anxiety, and arrhythmia that plagued her. All the specialists gave
Andrea a clean bill of health, so they eventually recommended the services of a psychologist. Andrea admitted that the subsequent counseling provided some coping mechanisms for dealing with her symptoms, but didn’t attack the root cause of her problems; they failed to decrease the stress on mind and body that she was experiencing. Andrea was frustrated by the failure of the medical community’s efforts to bring her to health. “I didn’t know what I needed but I had learned what I didn’t need,” she said. In retrospect, Andrea felt that she had been looking at the superficial manifestations of her problems, which was like skimming over icebergs. She eventually had to stop and look at what was lying beneath the surface.
Andrea’s mom is too pragmatic a woman to submit to the “insanity” that Einstein famously described as repeatedly doing the same thing in hopes of getting a different result. Annette had the kind of mind that compelled her to search for answers to whatever she was confused about or interested in, so she began searching outside the boundaries of Western Medical Science for possible solutions to her daughter’s issues. She began searching in libraries and finding books. Her research inevitably led to the disciplines of natural healing, nutrition, therapy, hypnosis, Chinese medicine, and yoga. Her mom’s efforts got Andrea pointed in the right direction, but Andrea’s own curiosity together with her background in language arts and a natural gift for introspection soon carried her forward into her own investigations. “I gobbled up everything I was reading about,” Andrea said. She still hadn’t become thoroughly convinced of the science behind the unconventional philosophies and practices she was reading about but was enamored with the idea of finding healing through balancing mind and body.
The root meaning of “yoga” is “To yoke or harness,” which points to its essential character as a set of disciplines for body, mind, and spirit. Andrea began her journey with focused meditation and later moved on to practicing poses. Without any teacher or class, but simply with a set of books and articles that she used for reference, Andrea began her road to wellness by practicing yoga alone. She eventually became involved in the local network of yoga practitioners and would ask questions when she needed information or direction but continued to confine her learning and practice to her bedroom. She meditated on her experiences and insights, and captured her emotions and ideas in poetry. “Anything that didn’t translate into a poem,” Andrea said, “translated into my yoga practice.”
Andrea’s daily regime of exercise and poses gradually developed into a lifestyle, incorporating a set of, what Andrea describes as “organic principles for making healthy decisions.” Yoga incorporates some aspects of spirituality. It is not a religion but readily adapts to any philosophy or system of religious beliefs. In fact, yoga encourages and even imposes disciplines of body and mind that enable serious practitioners to become more effective in whatever religious, philosophical, or spiritual path they are following.
As Andrea became more involved in the deeper and more enriching parts of yoga, she began to associate with other members of the yoga community, both local and worldwide. After two decades of private practice, Andrea decided to get some formal training and enrolled in Sandy Carmellini’s Brentwood Yoga Center.
Andrea said she benefited from both private and group lessons. The one-on-one experiences with a teacher drew her into yoga’s finer aspects in a way that classroom lessons couldn’t. On the other hand,
Andrea discovered that something unexpected happened during shared learning experiences in the group lessons. A principle of synergism seemed to operate in which the students increased the energy in the room by sharing it with each other.
Andrea enrolled in Sandy’s Advanced Teacher Training program, where she spent 200 hours in focused yoga instruction, which qualified her as a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT). Andrea’s only intention was to use the high-level training to increase the level of her own practice of yoga. However, after completing the course, Sandy asked each of the participants what their intentions were, now that they had completed the training. Andrea said she opened her mouth to say “For personal development” but what actually came out was, “I want to be a teacher” — an action that was just as baffling and, in its own way, as dramatic as the decision years before to buckle that seat belt.
Andrea immediately enrolled in the subsequent teacher’s courses with the goal of achieving 300 more hours of training. Even though there are no legal or professional requirements for a yoga teacher to conduct classes, the registration serves to reassure students that the teacher has sufficient knowledge to guide them on their path and to protect them from the adverse consequences of ill-informed and under-trained teaching.
Following graduation, Andrea immediately began teaching several classes a week plus working with private students. She discovered that the role of instructor fit her well; she enjoys assisting her students in starting down the same pathways to physical, mental, and even spiritual freedom that yoga had brought her to.
When she began teaching, Andrea made the pleasant discovery that she seemed to be learning as much from the effort of teaching and from her students as they were learning from her. She said that as she tried to move a student through some complicated sequence having to do with alignment, for example, she would draw upon her own experience to explain what the student was trying to do when a sudden synthesis would take place in her understanding. She would have a revelation that was always inspiring and sometimes exciting as she suddenly understood at a deeper level than before how the body actually works.
Andrea has been practicing yoga for decades, but the fact is learning yoga is different than learning to drive a car or learning math. Mastery is always a journey and never a destination. Andrea says she plans to remain on the path, continuing to listen to her body while embracing the yoga lifestyle, and inviting those healing energies into her life — always expanding her knowledge of how her body works and how to better preserve it in a healthy state.
Andrea learned from Sandy to regard the practice of yoga with a sunny perspective. Andrea loves to interject a ¿ playful aspect into her yoga exercises — doing them on a beach, mountainside, or even in a playground while surrounded by playful items. Yoga is flexible and adaptable. Andrea said that she recently injured her back while on a trip back East so she began doing poses while in the airplane seat on the trip home, standing in the aisle, or even in the back of the plane waiting in line for her chance to use the bathroom.
“Yoga is fun and practical,” Andrea said. While practicing by herself at home, she is smiling, engaging in humorous dialogue with herself, and even laughing.
Andrea summed up her current manner of life by saying, “Everything I can do from this point on, I will do with light and joy. I will follow my heart wherever it takes me; I’ll stay open to every opportunity.”