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Ancient practice of yoga supports holistic health for moderns

September 29, 2021

Missy Crutchfield, RYT®500 Yoga Instructor at the Siskin Health & Fitness Center.

The word “yoga” invokes mental images of flexible poses, gentle moves, physical alignment and calm environments.

These images include several yoga styles that fall under the broad category of Hatha yoga, designed to strengthen and tone the body, increase flexibility and fitness and lower stress levels. But one experienced yogi says it offers much more than that.

“Yoga is a technology designed to make us realize we are the greater than the sum of our parts,” says Missy Crutchfield, who has been involved with yoga for decades. “It’s very holistic. My yoga journey brought me to the practice of focus or mindfulness.”

Missy, an RYT®500 Yoga Instructor and vegan yogi, teaches a weekly Level 1 / Gentle Yoga class at Siskin Health & Fitness Center. She points out that, when we don’t exercise, our body accommodates itself as best as it can to its environment.

“When we’re sitting at a computer all day, the body can actually start to take the shape of the chair,” she says. “The body is smart. Over time it will adapt to our lifestyle – for better or worse.”

Practicing the philosophy of yoga, Missy believes, not only restores the body’s natural physical alignment, but can also improve social relationships. Because of yoga’s focus on achieving oneness with the natural world, be it tree, sky, soil, bird or food, it’s easier to see people simply as human beings, without cultural barriers such as race and gender.

It was curiosity that first exposed Missy to the practice of yoga. She was living in New York City at the time and accepted an invitation to an ashram, a Hindu monastery or religious retreat. There she experienced yoga practice and philosophy in its natural environment and it resonated with her.

“Even as a child, I loved nature and had this compassion for other creatures,” she says. Like many, Missy was at a place in her life where she realized she needed to change perspectives and reassess purposes.

“Yoga did change my perspective. It made me more open to the perspectives of others as well,” she says. Missy credits yoga’s expansive, holistic approach to opening up her life after a frightening medical episode.

At the time, she was dealing with difficult family issues that affected her so deeply she was experiencing high levels of anxiety. An EKG was ordered prior to another medical treatment, and when the results came back, the medical staff were concerned she was experiencing a heart attack. In the ER, she was fortunate that the physician who attended her practiced both Eastern (holistic) and Western medicine. She told Missy she was not having a heart attack, she was having an anxiety attack. That’s when Missy decided to commit more time to yoga as a treatment option. She had learned breath exercise was very calming to the parasympathetic nervous system – and studies have shown the beneficial effects of regular yoga practice on stress-related disorders and age-related cardiovascular complications.

Having experienced yoga’s healing qualities in her own life, Missy started teaching basic Hatha yoga. She also ventured into Kundalini yoga, a practice in Vedantic culture that seeks to activate energy believed to lie dormant at the base of the spine until awakened, as by yoga, and channeled upward through the chakras (ancient meditation practices) in the process of spiritual perfection. Techniques include breath exercises, visualizations and mantras, among others.

Another type of yoga is laughter yoga.

“Take a minute to laugh every day – it’s an internal workout,” says Missy. “The body does not know the difference between true and fake laughter, so you get the benefits whether you feel like laughing or not.”

A natural teacher, Missy hopes her students will receive good energy, learn the practice and develop more mindfulness. “It’s so important to take the time to remind your body to realign at all levels.” It’s also about creating community, creating your tribe.

New-to-yoga students are Missy’s favorites. She explains the various yoga options to them and encourage them to go to a class, such as the one she teaches at the Siskin Health & Fitness Center.

“It’s such a beautiful, welcoming place,” she says. “Siskin Hospital has a culture of compassion, solidarity.”

She encourages new students to stick it out for two or three classes to really get comfortable with the practice. She believes students need to familiarize themselves with the setting, the activity, the vernacular and the instructor – even their bodies’ responses to yoga.

“The technology of yoga is so integrated – breath, movement, mindfulness, digestive system and more. Everything connects. Make the choice to get on the mat, eat right, breathe deeply. Every step, every breath, is a choice.”

Learn more about Missy’s Level 1 / Gentle Yoga class