Jane Roberts is a GP Partner in North Liverpool and Joint Clinical Lead for Mental Health at Liverpool CCG.
TThere is an almost incomparable sensation of bliss as I lever my leaden body, stiff after a day in surgery, largely spent in front of a screen, and yield to the welcome of the floor.
A day of clinical work can feel like having your head pummelled in a washing machine, spending the day at full-pelt in problem solving mode.
Sinking in to the yoga mat is instantly, and literally, grounding. The head is released from the pressure to think and the tired, tense body finally has a chance, often the first of the day, to communicate and be heard.
There are very few of us who are unaware of yoga as a practice. Like eating more of a plant based diet few of us could argue against the benefits of an exercise which strengthens and balances and has as its core a practice connecting the physical with the spiritual. Generally thought to be Eastern in origin the ancient roots of Kemetic yoga began in Egypt and from its African origin the practises and spiritual teachings evolved into Hindu beliefs.
We might be forgiven for being inured to the benefits of this ancient practice which is reputed to have been in existence for at least 5,000 years, given its habitual presence in church halls, community centres and now ubiquitously online. It’s even free to access – simply type in ‘ yoga’ in ‘You-Tube’ and there is a limitless offer. As a form of exercise it is inclusionary and democratic, requiring no fancy equipment.
The exercises and poses offer continuity and a calmness, like a flowing stream.
I have had a long and layered relationship with yoga.
It has been an anchor in both turbulent and transitional times such as pregnancy or relocation. Yoga has steadied me the night before many a significant life event, like preparing for childbirth or an all-important interview. My doctoral viva springs to mind, now eight years ago. The exercises and poses offer continuity and a calmness, like a flowing stream.
As with many fellow yogis I become attached to the style and manner of certain yoga teachers in preference to others. I have been soothed by their dulcet tones as they share their wisdom and I have found comfort in favoured phrases, often holding them in my head outside of the classes, and sharing with patients where it has felt appropriate.
The pandemic and our altered ways of working have taken my relationship with yoga into a different league. I now take the mat into work, tucked under my arm along with the obligatory portable Laptop for zooming, mandatory PPE gear, a scaled down medical bag and a huge lunch box to see me through the day. Seeing my exercise mat leaning inauspiciously in the corner of the consulting room, quietly ready for its uncurling in the middle of the day, can be a soothing presence.
When I surrender my aching body to the mat I can feel a welcome release. If I am able to let go of my conscious mind at the same time then I open up the possibility of creative ideas emerging. Often a problem is unwittingly solved as a new idea arises, like a flying fish out of water, once I have let go of active problem solving. And what a joy that brings.
I have learnt to value the gifts regular yoga practice confers at a time when we are all in need of additional support and succour. An emphasis on building stamina, both physical and mental offers us an alternative to the protection of a suit of armour which many doctors have built over time as a necessary coping device. The yoga alternative leads to strength through suppleness and promotes flexibility and a softness.
Yoga teaches us to be compassionate to our bodies and to our sense of self.
Coupled with developing a body which is pliant is the duality of nurturing a mind which is kind. Yoga teaches us to be compassionate to our bodies and to our sense of self which in turn fosters a kindness to our colleagues and our patients. A resource which has been depleted over these past twelve months (and longer) from largely working in isolation, yet is ever more necessary.
As we proceed into the unknown future of continuing to work in an NHS buffeted and bruised by all it has sustained, prioritising our gestures of self-care becomes a vital act of necessity. As I unfurl my mat in the consulting room it can signify a radical act of self love which in turn encourages colleagues and patients alike to be bold in their practice of self-care.
‘The body benefits from movement and the mind benefits from stillness’ Sakyong Mipham.