Yoga can ease stresses of COVID-19 pandemic: Johanna Goldfarb

Guest columnist Johanna Goldfarb, MD, is a professor emeritus at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine Case Western Reserve University, where she continues to teach pre-clinical medical students in microbiology and the art and practice of medicine. Additionally, she is teaching yoga for the Wellness Department at Cleveland Clinic and at the JCC.

With the ongoing pandemic and an evolving new normal, we are all experiencing high levels of uncertainty and stress. What has helped me – and others – find relief during this time is turning toward yoga.

The word yoga in Sanskrit (the language of Indian yoga) means union, or yoke, and refers to the union of mind, body and breath. Yoga has a long spiritual history, recognizing the connection among mind, body and breath.

As a trained yoga instructor and a physician, I know how much a yoga practice can help with managing stress, especially during these times.

It is for this reason that I started a free virtual “heart-centered” class that is accessible to all, regardless of abilities and geography, on the National Council of Jewish Women / Cleveland’s (ncjwcleveland.org) Facebook page every Thursday (@NCJWCleveland ).

You do not need to be athletic or flexible to enjoy the benefits of yoga.

Here are the top three ways yoga can benefit you.

Yoga can teach us how to become deeply relaxed.

By linking movement (poses) and slow, even breaths, yoga can cause the body to respond with relaxation.

This response has been called the “Relaxation Response,” a reflex first described in the West by Dr. Herbert Benson in the mid-1970s. It is clearly associated with physical benefits, including a calming of the body and mind – something we could all use right now.

When yoga is practiced consistently, muscles are gradually strengthened and stretched.

The asanas (poses or postures) of yoga cause gentle stretching and contracting of each muscle group. Balance is also improved, as it is required to maintain many of the postures.

The physical component of yoga is part of a healthy lifestyle. The strength we build on the mat helps us be strong out in the world, as well.

The spiritual part of a yoga practice teaches us to be kind to ourselves and others.

In these pandemic times, frustrations often build up, causing us to be mad at our own limitations and at others whose actions we cannot control. A central part of yoga is learning the importance of non-harming and loving-kindness, beginning with ourselves.

Unlike other forms of exercise where we may be told to “feel the burn,” yoga is never about pushing. but is about gentle practice.

The meditative parts of yoga can sometimes allow us to see and process emotional issues that may be hidden or painful and part of stress responses.

When we learn to treat ourselves with kindness, it is easier to treat others (people, animals, the Earth) with kindness.

In fact, the traditional namaste which is said at the end of practice can be translated as: “I see the light (holiness) inside of you, and it is the same light within me, and in that way, we are one.”

Wishing you all namaste.

To take part in Johanna’s classes, go to National Council of Jewish Women / Cleveland | Facebook on Thursdays at 10 am (@NCJWCleveland).

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