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Saying yes to yoga


The physical and mental health benefits of practicing yoga are well-documented. One recent study focused on the benefits of yoga for nurses. In 2015, Gina K. Alexander, PhD, MPH, MSN, RN and her co-authors found that after completing an 8 week yoga intervention, yoga participants reported significantly higher levels of self-care as well as less emotional exhaustion and depersonalization than the control group, as reported in Workplace Health & Safety: Promoting Environments Conducive to Well-Being and Productivity. In addition, the Mayo Clinic indicates that “yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and lower your heart rate.”

With its potential benefits, it’s not surprising that 15% of U.S. adults practice yoga, according to the Yoga Alliance’s report, “Yoga in America 2016.” And nurses are among them.

Yoga for life

In fact, nurses who practice and teach yoga would be the first to tout its benefits for their peers and encourage them to join the ranks of people practicing yoga. As nurses and teachers, practicing yoga has become an integral part of their lives.

“As a nurse, I know chronic stress is widespread in and out of health care,” said Certified YogaNurse Kerry Churchill, RN, HN-BC. “For me, practicing and sharing yoga is an exercise in self-awareness or self-assessment.”

A Kentucky Nurses Association member, Churchill believes, “Awareness allows me to detect stress, anxiety, and pain early on. When I apply my yoga self-care tools, I feel more relaxed, calm, and comfortable.”

Chicago-based Toni Scott, MSN, RN, founder of Yogatones, agreed. “I actually stumbled upon yoga when I first moved to Chicago and recognized how unhealthy I had become,” she explained. “After the first class, I knew that I had to go back. The first benefit I got from yoga was becoming more self-aware.”

“I lost weight by doing yoga because of my selfawareness,” Scott continued. “Instead of reaching for a cookie, I would take some breaths and think about what my body really needed besides food.”

Scott is an ANA-Illinois member and chairs its local Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ Grand Challenge.

Similarly, yoga has been an effective coping mechanism for Jemme Stewart, a nurse psychotherapist and co-owner of a mindfulness studio in Columbia, SC. “It’s made such a huge difference in my life and work,” she said. In 2006, Stewart, a South Carolina Nurses Association member, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Yoga helped me during my illness,” she recalled. Shortly after she completed her treatment, Stewart’s husband passed away suddenly. “That’s when I started my teacher training,” she said. “I was attending four or five yoga classes a day, which grounded me during that time.”

Each one, teach one

Besides yoga’s benefits to them personally, these nurses are motivated to help others discover how yoga might improve their lives. For Scott, who began teaching in 2005, her main desire is to help others improve their health and well-being. “I teach because of the benefits I get from watching students change both mentally and physically,” she said. “I enjoy seeing their growth.”

Facilitating students’ growth also helps the teacher to grow, according to Stewart. “Teaching has become one of the greatest joys of my life,” she said, “and it keeps me on my toes with my own practice.” In particular, teaching gentle yoga to students primarily in  their 50s to 80s has helped her learn more about how people can develop a meaningful practice despite their physical challenges.

“I want my students to experience the sense of being more fully alive that you feel when you are stronger, better balanced, and calmer,” she said. “One of the greatest benefits of yoga is learning to live in the moment.”

Churchill, who started teaching 4 years ago, has spent many meaningful moments with her students. “By sharing my practice with others, I receive the gift of connecting with and learning from a variety of personal perspectives,” she said. “Most of my current work is with groups. I may have 100 nurses and students participate during a conference or ten people receiving care in an inpatient mental health setting.”

“My greatest joy is seeing smiling faces and noticing how many people are a little taller and brighter near the end of our time together,” Churchill continued. “It’s common for people to say that it was their first experience with yoga and they are excited to continue.”

Commit to fit

Scott, Stewart, and Churchill would encourage nurses to give that first yoga class a try. According to them, once you get started on the path to better health, you’re more likely to continue on it, which benefits you and your patients.

“Remember, even small investments in self-care add up and have a positive ripple effect on your journey to better health,” Churchill noted. “Just as we assess and meet our patients where they are, regularly check in with yourself. Notice the areas that most need your attention and meet yourself there with compassion.”

And a self-check-in doesn’t have to take a long time. “Because nurses are so busy, it’s really hard to get them to try yoga,” Stewart said. “You can do 10 to 15 minutes of yoga a day and make a significant difference in your life.” The most effective way to break through this barrier to overall good health is for nurses to educate each other. Stewart challenges nurses who haven’t tried yoga to take six classes on faith. “Just do it,” she said. “I challenge nurses to take as good care of themselves as they do their patients.”

Scott echoed this sentiment. “Be open to improving your personal health and well-being. Then you’re able to help others do the same,” she said. “I hope more nurses begin to realize the importance of our individual health and how that impacts the people we care for. Nurses lead the way in the journey to health.”

“Empowering other nurses in self-care builds momentum to create healthier work environments and safer patient care,” Churchill noted. “I appreciate the vision of ANA’s Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge, and I’m proud that my role in sharing yoga is in alignment with this important initiative.”

Apryl Motley is a professional writer.


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