Lesley Metcalf will not skip her yoga class under any circumstance. She’s 62 now and she’s been doing yoga on and off from the age of 15. That’s when her father first taught her.
“It’s been an on and off love affair since I was a teen - at one time it was off for 10 years. But regardless, yoga has always been in the background of my life.”
More recently yoga moved into the foreground of Lesley’s life. About 12 years ago she was retrenched from her job. However, her kids were all grown and out of the house, so she decided not to go back to work. She began yoga again, but this time seriously. “This time it was for me.” Says Lesley. (Picture: Lesley Metcalf and her instructor Jeanette van Wyk)
“The first couple of months were terrible. I really struggled but I was determined to stick it out. And as I did, it got easier. I followed my voice, letting it hold and encourage me.”
A year ago Lesley began yoga classes with Jeanette van Wyk, who teaches at Yoga Wisdom, in Benoni. Since then she has found a new energy. “My body is more supple and loose than ever. I have not used my legs since I was made a paraplegic at 17 when a surgery went wrong. Recently I have found myself doing things I have never done before. I feel lighter – everything feels lighter.”
Jeanette explains that with yoga the muscles are reactivated. “Yoga strengthens the body’s muscles while at the same time making them supple. The different yoga movements and postures allow energy to flow through the muscles. This energy is released into the body. You are literally opening and loosening up your joints.”
Both women have noticed a marked difference in Lesley physically since she started the classes. Jeanette normally pick up Lesley’s legs for certain movements. More recently it seems as if she is handing Jeanette her legs. Lesley agrees, describing the same sensation. “It feels like my legs are lifting to meet Jeanette’s hands. For me this is a spiritual experience. I firmly believe that the mind carries the body and if willing the body will follow.”
Jeanette is not surprised. She explains that the word yoga, comes from the Sanskrit word yuj and means to yoke or bind and it is often interpreted as "union".
The practice of Yoga is born from Hindu philosophy which focuses on meditation as a path to self-knowledge and spiritual liberation. The main branches of Yoga specified in the Hindu texts, and generally accepted by both modern scholars and practitioners alike, include: Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Tantra Yoga, and Raja Yoga.
“The word hatha means wilful or forceful. Hatha yoga refers to physical exercises and sequences of posture designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. Postures combined with breathing techniques open the many channels of the body, especially the main channel, the spine, so that energy can flow freely.
“Hatha is also translated as ‘ha’ meaning sun and ‘tha’ meaning moon. This refers to the balance of masculine aspects (active, hot, sun) and feminine aspects (receptive, cool, moon) within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies, we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose. (Picture: Lesley, who became a paraplegic at 17, finds that yoga has made her body more supple.)
“Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment.”
Again Jeanette explains that it is for this reason that by allowing the body to relax while filling it with energy creates a spiritual experience. Lesley says, “By not fighting, but relaxing, my body goes into the movement required. That is a spiritual experience.”
This experience spills out of the yoga class and into other areas of Lesley’s life. “My body, physically, is not as tight so I have less aches and pains, and more movement. The longer I continue with my classes the more I benefit. I recommend yoga to anyone people with a disability. It’s hard in the beginning but if you persevere, you will feel the benefits. You must learn to trust and to just let go.”