The Healing Powers of Sangha
Can I just start by saying how rad the community of Love Hive is? I mean, in general, community is rad. The desire to connect with other people is strong within all of us, even if the level and style of connection we desire varies between us. We’re all looking for others with whom we share a common ground of philosophies, intentions, interests and joy. In Sanskrit we call this "Sangha". The sangha at Love Hive in particular is really special to me, because it is with you lovely folks that I found a connection that actually contributed to healing a physical health problem. Check this out…
I moved to Portland about 2 years ago from the area of Detroit, Michigan where I had spent the whole 27 years I’d been alive. I had friends I'd grown up with, I'd only ever really practiced yoga at my home studio where I was trained as a teacher, and I was really close with my family. I came to Portland knowing pretty much no one - no friends, no yoga sangha, no ties to the community. It was hard, but I was really happy because I was living an adventure in a fun new place where I saw a lot of great opportunities beginning to present themselves to me.
However, there was one really big problem I was having. I had eczema on my hands for years with varying degrees of severity that had now gotten so bad I often couldn't practice yoga (sometimes couldn't perform basic daily self-care tasks). At one point it blew up all over the soles of my feet as well so I could barely walk. I'm a really active person, so this was really hard for me to deal with -- oh, and I was in terrible pain all the time. I managed to swallow my crazy power-vinyasa-raised-ashtangi ego and started to practice a lot of yin and hatha, which definitely kept me from going off the deep end of depression but didn’t stop this ongoing frustration (or the pain).
The two most common explanations for the cause of eczema breakouts are allergies and stress. So, I locked down on my food allergies and went hard-core to make sure I wasn't eating anything that didn't agree with me. Stress? What stress? I had plenty of money saved to get me through a few months of unemployment while I got new jobs (which was already going well). I also had funds set aside so I could use that free time basking in the west coast sunshine, taking dance and yoga classes and exploring my new world. The world was my oyster.
Turns out, the problem was that it was a different oyster. Hell, a different ocean. I'd spent all my life with deeply rooted connections to the people in my community, and here I was in a new city with only seedling connections (if any at all). I'm a pretty science-y person; logical, fact-based in my beliefs. So I'll concede that there's probably a lot more we don't know about eczema and what my issue was, but I'll tell you what-- I stopped eating my allergens for weeks with little to no improvement, until something pretty awesome happened. I found my sangha. I started teaching and making connections with students, started making friends, found my teacher Audra, and even found a sangha in dance with PDX Dance Collective. That last part was pretty amazing to me, because I’ve never felt really connected with other dancers. I was always the odd-one-out in companies I’ve danced with, but this west-coast Portland lovey-ness just makes me feel so much more at home.
Right around the time I started to feel like I really belonged here, my hands healed right up. It's been almost 2 years now and my skin has been great. I used to have flare-ups with the eczema every few weeks or so, and while sometimes it would be better, it never totally cleared up. Now my hands have been free and clear and healthy and I love it! Check it out! >>>>>>>>>
Oh and I’m not the only one who’s drawing a connection between community and good health. I just read “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell (yea, that guy who wrote “Blink” and “Tipping Point”) and in the introduction he talks about this town called Roseto. In Roseto, in the 1960s (when heart attacks were the leading killers of Americans under 65) a doctor noted he had no heart disease patients, so his colleagues found it necessary to investigate this remarkable trend. Roseto is a mountain town in Pennsylvania full of immigrants from a mountain town in Italy. So the first theories were that the residents were still eating a healthy diet from the old country (they weren’t) or that something about the mountains, the air, the water, the location was a contributor (but then the two closest towns had extremely high rates of heart disease, so that wasn’t it either). After these dead end ideas, researchers went to take a closer look at the culture of the town and discovered something incredible - their sense of community. There were three-generational households, multi-family gatherings for meals, whole community involvement in events, and individual connections made consistently throughout daily life as townspeople stopped to personally engage with each other on the streets. No other contributing factor was identified by the researchers - they had to conclude that Rosetans were dying of old age instead of disease simply because they valued their culture of community.
No wonder we’re always hearing about the health benefits of yoga! After all, yoga is the "Great Union", the joining together. Even if you're practicing at home, yoga is an opportunity to connect with the self. And, when we are deeply connected with our own selves, that’s when we are best able to connect with others. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to connect with all of you. Thank you for welcoming me into this sangha.
Connect with April here www.altlifeyoga.com
Find April at Love Hive on Mondays 4:30pm for the $5.00 Happy Hour Class