Raise your arms to the sky as high as you can. Now bring them down like a fan opening, reaching as if they were the rays of the sun.
Now greet the day: “Salutations.”
We do not breathe enough. We do not stretch enough and the result is aches and pains and toxins trapped in our muscles, not to mention digestive problems.
Western medicine has a pill for that. But those involved in Spokane’s Alliance for Greater Well-Being have a mission “to transmit and integrate the vital practices and principles that inform and inspire healthy, mindful living into contemporary life,” sans prescription medications.
“We are teaching a set of skills that enables individuals to move away from suffering and in the direction of true and lasting well-being,” says Mike Hannum, executive director and co-founder of the alliance.
“Something as simple as breathing and moving with awareness can be the most healing thing in the world because it enables us to cultivate a quality of mindfulness that can help us make wise choices in every area of our lives,” he says.
“Mindfulness” is a universal concept, simple yet often overlooked.
As we go about our day-to-day living, our minds are filled with regrets over the past and anxiety over the future while the present passes quickly.
To rid ourselves of regret and anxiety, we turn to instant gratification, quick fixes that include emotional eating and self- medicating, prescription or otherwise.
Regret and anxiety cause stress which, in turn, causes physical ailments. It is a vicious circle of “unmindfulness.”
The Alliance for Greater Well-Being wants to break the circle by teaching skills including mindful movement and yoga postures, breathing techniques, mindfulness meditation and the fundamentals of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
The alliance came to fruition about a year ago when a group of yoga enthusiasts and others decided to bring the practice into mainstream society.
“We are super- grass-roots,” Hannum says. ‘Our biggest goal is to make what we do as inclusive as possible.”
The group got its nonprofit status and began bringing its ideas to area community centers, the Airway Heights Corrections Center and Contract- Based Education, a West Valley School District alternative high school.
While some people believe that yoga is a religious practice that carries with it Indian beliefs, Western culture has transformed it to become non-religious and free of dogma.
While still maintaining the goal of attaining a state of true well-being, the practice serves as a sort of personal quiet time focusing on breathing and posture, resulting in strength, balance and flexibility for body, mind and emotion.
About six years ago when Mandi Walters was caring for others as a social worker, she was stressed out and decided to try yoga. Two years ago she became certified and now teaches yoga through the alliance.
“I see yoga as a kind of physical and mental therapy,” says Walters, who teaches mindful movement weekly at CBE. “It calms the mind.”
Her favorite reaction from one of her students was, “Yoga’s the bomb, homey.”
The alliance began working with CBE after perceiving a need there.
“Many of our at-risk students suffer long-term stress at home, including family fighting, parents who may not have graduated from high school, pregnancy, drug use/addiction, being bullied at school, homelessness, low academic skills, depression, sometimes social anxiety, and lack of belief that completing school will result in a better future, leading to a high dropout rate,” Carrie Lipe, a teacher at CBE, explained in an email.
“Without healthy coping strategies for managing stress and emotion, many or our students self-medicate through the use of various substances to temporarily get a break.
“They also get sick a lot due to high levels of stress, poor diet, and lack of sleep. All of these factors also lead to difficulty managing emotions.”
In her Psychology 101 class, Lipe teaches about the survival response and effects of stress.
“We naturally produce the stress chemicals such as adrenalin and cortisol that support a freeze, flee or fight response,” she says. “Chronically high levels of these chemicals in our bodies weaken the immune system, eventually producing a state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion.
“However, it’s much more difficult for our brains to move into the relaxation response. We, in fact, need to consciously train ourselves how to relax, especially if we live surrounded by multiple chronic stress factors.”
After five years of teaching the 101 class, Lipe decided that having the students learn how to relax was valuable. She heard about the alliance from a friend and the relationship began.
Lipe also teaches mindful movement at CBE and by the start of next school year will be certified in “yoga calm,” a program designed for teens.
At a recent class at CBE, students entered, grabbed a mat and sat. As soft music played in the background, they were led through poses that include cobra, child’s pose, lunge, mountain, butterfly, downward facing dog, pigeon and crow.
Eric Clinton, 18, has been taking the class twice a week for about two months.
“I love it,” he says. “I feel stronger and calmer.”
Samantha Jensen, 16, initially enrolled in the class to get physical education credits, but now she’s hooked.
“It’s calming and relaxing,” she says. “It allows me the quiet time I need.”
Zoe Wagemann, 16, says the practice stretches muscles that aren’t normally stretched.
“It’s about stretching, posing, breathing and relaxing the mind,” she says. “It gives a natural high that benefits the body.”
We are a hunched-over society, carrying a heavy weight of regret, anxiety and stress on our shoulders. We are plagued with physical and psychological ailments.
The alliance hopes to help. Breathe, stretch, live in the present and be mindful of your choices.