February is all about healing here in Ireland when we view it through the lens of Brigid. In this post I share some of my thoughts on Spring, stiff hips, healing, and yoga. It will be the last blog post that relates to health research.
Spring is in the air
February 1st was Brigid’s feast day. She is held dear in the hearts of many people here in Ireland and is associated with blacksmiths, fertility, protection, animals, and more. Brigid is also known as Bríd, or Saint Brigit.
I grew up knowing her as a ‘patron saint’, then later learned about the older, indigenous cultural view of her as the Irish Goddess of healing, fire, holy wells, and poetry. As a beloved deity, Bríd transcends many belief systems.
Shiva (2009) by artist Shalinee Kumari.
In India, and other countries, Shakti is comparable to Bríd as an Eastern manifestation of female power.
Shakti is is the dynamic feminine aspect of God or universal energy. She cures disease and is the bringer of rain. Here in Ireland the scent of the land as it glistens, lush and green, after rain is something special. Although I’ve never heard anyone thank Bríd for the abundance of craobhmhúrs* (showers of rain), she is connected to sacred water for sure.
Wellness and water
We are water, and we need to do our best to protect all sources of this life-giving liquid, just as much as we pay attention to our personal health.
Anything that sustains us though regular action, whether it be weight-lifting, walks in nature, or yoga must surely be preferable to living in a reckless way and then seeking healing when the damage is done. The same goes for uisce.** We are the ecology and environment of this world.
The simple act of sipping more water throughout the day can boost our health. There’s no point in obsessing over it all either: while it is good to care for the body as it carries us through this journey, we are never fully in control of our own navigation. Each person’s trip is full of surprises. On that note, for the next few months I’ll be blogging about changes to my health (for the better) and the parallel journey in my arts practice. This process began in earnest 5 years ago.
Winds of change
I’ve had experiences when one minute my life felt as bright and breezy as a fresh Spring morning, the next it was like walking headlong into a gale force wind with hailstones stinging my cheeks. The winds of change have whipped my heart at times, and brought discomfort as intense as ice-cold water trickling down my neck. The majority of my readers have survived phases of grief, loss, and illness too, haven’t you?
And yet, we are still here! Our capacity for rejuvenation, healing, and recovery amazes me. It is immense.
Ups, downs, and yoga.
Yoga asana and pranayama (movement and breathing exercises) have been solid supports to me for many years now. I was not a devotee at first, however in recent years, while in recovery mode after an accident, there was a lot of time for me to ponder some deeper questions. Yoga held many answers.
The physical aspects of yoga practice are a kind of body art, and the asana (pose), when held, will feel different for every person. Yoga is not just about movement or making shapes. It is a deeply personal expression and in the same moment, it is an introverted exploration.
As we evolve into stronger, more whole, versions of ourselves we are better placed to assist others and to be of use in the world. Through yoga we can develop this potential.
Most people who come to me for guidance have stiffness and pain in their lower back and hips. Some people endure constant discomfort. I can empathise, as in the past I endured years of fibromyalgia symptoms. Yoga soothes many ailments, and I advise seeing a physio or GP first if you have a health problem.
We hold experiences and stress in our hips and lower back, however when it comes to easing discomfort it is never about one body part in isolation. A variety of causes lie at the root of the problem. Likewise, a holistic approach offers the best chance of finding a solution.
Pain can stem from poor posture and tense muscles. Tightness can lead to muscle strain, and the good news is that enhancing our flexibility and balance can ease the symptoms. That is not a promise, however. Every aspect of a person’s lifestyle impacts on how pain manifests and how it may fade.
Studies into yoga are often small. One study followed participants with chronic back pain for a full year. The group experienced more mobility through regular yoga practice and were less likely to use pain medications after just three months.^ Yoga has been here for over 5000 years and keeps evolving because it has so much to offer: that’s good enough for me!
Here are four facts about movement as medicine:
- Increased flexibility allows for greater joint mobility. It is important to find gentle ways of making it easier to move your joints in the direction that they were designed to move in.
- Stretching muscles releases tension, which then makes movement easier. Stress is one reason for the loss of flexibility, along with aging and a sedentary lifestyle. As tension is expelled from the body you feel more relaxed, which in turn reduces the impact of stress.
- As the muscles become less tense, the result is less stress and pressure on certain parts of the body. This can result in less pain in the neck, shoulders, and back.
- Enhanced strength, balance, and flexibility makes you less prone to falls and injuries. For active types, yoga boosts blood flow. This improved circulation means that you will recover quicker after a workout or sports training without so much stiffness.
Plans and projects
Writer and Christian anarchist Leo Tolstoy declared that
“Spring is the time of plans and projects.”
For me that is very true. Yoga is not enough, and to truly keep well I also need to devote time to my writing and visual art. I started this blog in 2017 and recently deleted lots of old posts. I like a good clear-out every now and then, and reducing my imprint in cyber space is as important as cleaning a cluttered corner at home.
If you would like to read more in March, sign up to my newsletter below. Thanks for reading. ‘Till next time, take care.
*craobhmhúr, pronouned kray-ov-oor, is Irish for scattered rain or a light shower.
**uisce (sounds like ‘ish-keh’) is the Irish word for water.
Top photo: a rag tree. A rag tree is found at a holy well, or sacred Spring. It may also be known as a Clootie well. People tie small strips of cloth to the tree branches as part of a healing ritual. In Scotland, a clootie or cloot is a strip of cloth or rag. Read more.
^Saper et al (2017) ‘Yoga, Physical Therapy, or Education for Chronic Low Back Pain. A Randomized Noninferiority Trial’.
With thanks to Daniel Bubnis and Emily Cronkleton.
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