By Keeley Michael

She walked in to the studio, her shoulders noticeably stooped and her voice soft. She had pain in her middle back and had come for relief. As she began to unfold her story, she said her husband had died the year before. Through the support of family and friends, spiritual guidance, and meditation, she believed she was mentally and emotionally moving through a healthy grieving process. This was true, but it was apparent that grief was still trapped in her body.

When we experience difficulties in life, we create coping strategies that can become chronic, holding patterns in the body (and beyond). Her stooped shoulders played a specific role in her emotional process — it was a physiological way to protect her heart.

In yoga, we are made up of five dimensions: body, breath, mind, personality, and emotion. What happens in one dimension affects the other dimensions. So let’s take a closer look at her problem: Physically, her hunched posture created weakened back muscles that resulted in pain. Because of her collapsed chest, she was unable to take full, nourishing inhales, which caused low energy. Her rounded posture kept her small, which decreased her confidence and personal power.

All dimensions were affected. Why does this happen? Our system is a product of our experiences. What happens on one dimension affects the other dimensions. When we change the quality of our experiences, we can change the quality of our life.

Yoga can create different, positive experiences that bring the system back to balance. Yoga uses tools (movement, breath work, meditation, chanting, and more), and each tool of yoga influences the different dimensions of our system.

As she and I worked together, we focused on strengthening her back and abdominal muscles to correct her posture, movements to open her chest, and breath work to increase her capacity to inhale and exhale. Over our three months together, she experienced new postural and breath awareness, enhanced strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance.

More importantly, her yoga practice created ritual, which she lost after her husband passed. It created an opportunity for her to be still and present with herself; an opportunity for her to get to know herself in this new phase of life. Through her dedicated, daily practice, she formed a new relationship with her body that energized her physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In the end, all dimensions were affected.

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