Monday, March 13, 2006

My Dad, The Yogi

My dad and I had a conversation about his blood pressure a couple weeks back. It made me think of this article I wrote about him back in 2002. I hope you enjoy it. Here it is...

Not long ago, after several long car trips, my dad found himself with serious back pain. He’d spent time in bed and missed many days of work before we finally got together to see if what I’d learned from yoga could help him.

I’m happy to say that I could see my dad relax and be more at ease as we worked together. He left that day without the limp he’d been living with for too long.

Unfortunately, the weeks of compensating for one pain had set him up for others that took many more weeks to resolve.

During those weeks we met several times. At one of those visits he told me a story that amazed me, and still does. Many years ago when he’d hurt his back, a co-worker with a long history of back pain taught my dad two things he believed were essential to resolving back pain. My dad has used these two techniques throughout the decades to take care of himself.

The first of these is hanging. He described supporting himself with stiff arms (like a gymnast on parallel bars) in the corner of the kitchen counter. From there he lets his legs dangle free. The weight of his lower body tugs on his spine and relieves the pinching and irritation of his nerves.

My dad’s friend also emphasized how important it is to regularly practice progressive whole-body relaxation. He taught my dad to start at one end of his body and one-at-a-time relax every part of his body.

My dad obviously mastered this skill. He told me that he has used his ability to relax to lower his measured blood pressure on demand. He’s done it at his doctor’s office. And on one occasion he did it to change his rating on a life insurance policy, so he could get a cheaper premium payment!

I immediately thought of the stories I’d heard about when yoga was first introduced in America. Swami Rama came here in 1969 at the invitation of Dr. Elmer Green of the Menninger Foundation in Topeka. There he demonstrated body control that Western science had never documented before. Here’s one description:
“He amazed scientists by his demonstration, under laboratory conditions, of precise conscious control of autonomic physical responses and mental functioning, previously thought to be impossible. Under these scientific conditions, Swami Rama demonstrated his ability to stop his heart from pumping blood for seventeen seconds, to produce a ten-degree difference in temperature between different parts of the palm of his hand, and to voluntarily produce and maintain specific brain wave patterns on demand.”
When my dad told me what he’d done, it hit me like a ton of bricks: just like Swami Rama, my Dad is a yogi!

Hatha yoga is not about learning to perform stunts that astonish your friends. It’s about looking inward and paying attention. Your body then becomes the vehicle for a journey that extends far beyond the performance of sideshow tricks.

So if my dad’s story is not about performing some Houdini-like feat, what is it about? I believe it’s about self-help, to borrow from the sign over the bookstore shelf.

My dad and his friend both sought as much help from others as they could. But at some point they received all they were going to get. As with most chronic issues, the solution was up to them. Each had to resolve his difficulty through a practice or a discipline that he adopted and used over time.

The paradox of ‘doing it yourself’ is that most of us learn what to do to address our concerns from a teacher. My dad learned two simple techniques from a friend that he still uses to address his pain today. His friend was his teacher.

While my dad is lying on the floor in the middle of the night practicing his relaxation, his friend isn’t there with him; neither is his doctor. Dad’s doing it himself. His friend can’t feel his pain. His friend can’t make it go away.

But in an equally real way my Dad is not there alone. The gift his friend gave him by teaching him to care for himself is a lasting gift of great value. When someone has taught you to care for yourself you’re not alone at all.

I’m grateful for the friend who taught my dad to relax. I’m grateful for Swami Rama’s teacher who led him on the yoga path. I’m grateful for all of my teachers, who’ve shared with me what their teachers gave to them.

I’m inviting you today to share some positive experience of yoga with those around you. Even if it’s something small, show them yoga. You never know what lasting effect it may have, maybe even decades into the future.

The old saying goes like this:
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
People are hungry. Feed them.

Don't just read about it. Get up. Experience it. Experience yoga!

Kevin Perry

p.s., The Sanskrit word of the day from my last Daily Yoga Tip was svana. Svana means dog, as in adho mukha svanasana, downward facing dog pose.

p.p.s., Today's Sanskrit word of the day is vajra. I'll tell you what it means next time.

p.p.p.s, Don't miss the Experience Sanskrit workshop coming up in Downers Grove, IL on Saturday, April 8. You can register here. Don't delay. The price for the Downers Grove Experience Sanskrit workshop goes up to $75 on March 18.

Our Experience Sanskrit workshop in St. Charles, Missouri (March 18) is sold out. Sorry!

The Experience Sanskrit workshop is the fun and unforgettble way to learn and remember the Sanskrit names of the yoga poses you already do! It's four hours of energetic fun. And you get a 120-page course manual to keep and use when you go back home. Find out more at

Copyright 2006.
All rights reserved, Mo Yoga LLC.
Kevin Perry
Mo Yoga LLC
905 Eastland Plaza Suite B, #106
Jefferson City, MO 65101
(573) 680-6737


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