My love of Yoga started twenty-six years ago in 1994. At the time, I was a wife with a husband in graduate school and a mother of two children under the age of five years old. I had graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Social Work in 1993, where I had worked full-time on my master of social work degree with two children under the age of two years old while also teaching on a part-time basis at Seneca College. I had already started my career in social services and was advised to formalize my plans with a post-graduate degree.
Luckily, I was hired post-MSW as a contract researcher with the National Health Information Research Board where I worked on developing models to analyze epidemiological large scale data and processes required to support health investments across the country. Needless to say that I was very busy.
I had been raised by a strong mother whose belief in her children was staunch and unwavering. She taught us to do our best in all things, and to reach as high as possible in our studies and career aspirations. My mother had immigrated to Canada during the early fifties, when women’s access to and rights to financial independence were greatly impeded by real systemic blocks. As a wife, my mother had NO financial freedom independent of her husband and my father. My dad had to co-sign on any loans, accounts, and large purchases. My parents differed on their views about family finances as my mother had a savvy business sense without any real possibility to develop it. My dad did not support her financial suggestions. Like many immigrant men of his time, my father was a very hard worker and truly worked hard his entire life first in construction and then in custodial work for a local Shopping Mall. Subsequently, our family enjoyed the comforts of home similar to other working class newcomers to Canada.
My deeply entrenched view that women could have it all was well-established before attending university. I was one of two or three married women in my graduate program who had already had children. I was the first woman to successfully appeal for a one year deferral into the program due to pregnancy. Prior to my self-advocacy, women would have to re-apply and take their chances around being accepted into what was widely agreed to be a very competitive post-graduate program.
I seemed to manage juggling many balls at the same time until all of this busy-ness and stress finally caught up with me. Like any other human body, the toxic impacts of stress and exhaustion began to take its toll. I have since learned that stress impacts the body the same way in all of us. In fact, I would go as far to say, that no human body is immune to the toxic impacts of stress, worry, anxiety, and trauma, and that we all suffer in the same way. Common symptoms include hypervigilance to risk and danger, sleeplessness, ruminative thoughts, increased heart rates, shallow breathing, and digestive problems.
Some people are simply better at managing stress, balancing irrational thoughts caused by worry and anxiety, and regaining or maintaining composure in emotionally volatile situations. Individuals who learn effective self-care strategies early can mediate both short and long term negative impacts of stress on the body and mind. Yoga was one of the most effective strategies I learned early in my career to re-align my breathing with movement. All the clinical training provided both in class and in field placements referred to as a “practicum” in social work assisted in building skills used to mediate vicarious stress caused by working with individuals and families in crisis. However, I intuitively grew my own personal Wellness Strategies needed to work in the field as a healthy practitioner over the long term.
Around the same time that I began to take Yoga classes offered through my local community center run by the City of Toronto, I also took a Beyond Stress class offered by the Eli Bay Institute in Toronto.
I was certainly beyond stressed at that time, and remember this program as pivotal turning point in my self-care regimen. The class was filled with mainly client-based human service professionals including physicians, surgeons, and lawyers. We were taught about the ways the human body responds to stress and how it accumulates over time. We were also taught about the powerful strategy of “mindful breathing” to release habitual corporeal stress responses like shallow breathing, racing thoughts, and rapid heart rates.
Of course, years of yoga practices and mindful breathing exercises was rewarded professionally with assignments characterized as the “hardest to serve”. I often felt like the character Mikey from the cereal commercial who was called to “test” food as he would eat anything. In my early years, I developed a reputation as “fat file Lisa“, the resident clinician who could and would work with clients who had not yet progressed under care. Solution-focused therapy (SFT) coupled with Strength-based client-centered care was the best fit as my clients were truly experts of their own problems. Helping individuals and families to shift perspectives to include solutions was challenging and highly rewarding. Helping systems to make a similar shift, especially in light of professional wellness needs remains difficult.
One of the most important aspects of Yoga is the lessons of self-care it yields often after each class. With a more developed nuanced practice, each Yoga session with yourself will teach you something about your self or your life in the moment in which you find yourself. Yoga is not a competitive sport to me. I have withdrawn from classes where the competitive energy in the class was palpable. It does provide opportunities to deepen self-understanding and to notice the subtle ways that your own body stores stress that may or may not belong to you.
During the first Covid lockdown, I found myself working more than ever. I neglected my Yoga practice and opted to walk with some neighbours and friends instead. During these last several days of the holiday season, I have resumed Yoga using YouTube and especially enjoy the Flight Master Classes with Leslie. I encourage you to consider doing the same.
The Wellness Industry has provided so many benefits to professionals in corporate sectors. The impact of this shift is now shaping options workers have through Employee Assistance Programs and personal health insurance plans.
It is not selfish to centralize your own Self-Care into your professional work. Your own body, friends, and family will thank you all for the investment of energy and love that you have poured into your self as you age and model for others what health does, thinks, and feels after years of hard work. My own health and wellness is not an accident or good luck, it is a result of years of intentional daily practices that include physical exercise, nutritional care, food prep, and positive social interactions with people who make me feel good.
I intuitively developed a self-care practice that mitigated professional burn-out, ineffective clinical interventions, boredom, poor self-worth or low self-esteem. I am currently working to support you in your personal journey of wellness, so that your ongoing health and wellbeing is not left up to chance or a gamble. Choosing to do, think, and feel well may in fact result in making some fairly significant changes in your life. We are here when you are ready!
Sunny dispositions deserve to shine!!!!
Dr. Lisa Romano-Dwyer