By Bridie Walsh
Do you follow your own good advice? If you don’t, you’re not alone. General practitioner and psychotherapist, Dr Cathy Fraser, recommended yoga to her patients and yet never found a time to do it herself. Everything changed 18 years ago after a life-changing event. Now she can boast about strong bones and a calm and focused mind.
“It was a particularly stressful time,” says Dr Fraser. “I left my marriage and was living alone when I started regular yoga classes and I haven’t stopped since.”
Yoga can be deceptively strenuous, hard work but the proven benefits are worth it. Yoga uses the resistance of your own body weight to develop balance, flexibility and strength. Many poses and sequences raise the heart rate, including popular standing poses such as the warrior sequences.
“I really enjoy feeling strong. And I love getting on the mat when I go through emotional times,” Dr Fraser explains. Getting in touch with how you are feeling physically and emotionally is a powerful tool for wellbeing, for self-awareness and learning to let go. “I can lie on the mat and unexpectedly the tears come.”
When stress creeps in, exercise is an important lifestyle habit to foster she advises. For Dr Fraser swimming, bush walking, listening to music and playing the flute for personal expression sustain her personal wellbeing. Yet it is her daily yoga practice that is irreplaceable.
Dr Fraser’s 20 minute daily yoga routine
Every morning Fraser does 20 minutes of yoga, complemented by a yoga class one to two times a week. “People say to me, ‘you’re so disciplined’, but I find it harder not to do it,” she says.
Dr Fraser’s routine includes:
· starting with legs up the wall, opening them into a V-shape
· basic standing
· dog pose
· pigeon pose
· hamstring and groin stretches
· hand stand or shoulder stand.
“I love doing a hand stand every day,” says Fraser. “I find shoulder stands particularly energising when I feel tired.”
Props such as a chair, blocks, straps and a bolster provide support. She also installed ropes in her home, which she uses in the traditional Iyengar fashion to lengthen and stretch into particular poses.
“I open the chest with the bolster,” she adds. “And concentrate on the detail of what is going on in the body. No matter what the physical limitations may be as you get older you can just adapt the poses.”
To counteract hours of sitting during her work as a doctor – 20 years in general practice and 12 years in psychotherapy – Fraser includes hamstring and groin stretches. “I’ll even do lunges between patients,” she says. “When I finish my swim I do basic yoga stretches in the pool.”
The body benefits of yoga: strong bones
A bone mineral density check several years ago proved to be so astounding the clinician double checked the results. “My bone density improved so much that it went from normal to super normal.”
Her medical doctor assumed she must be a marathon runner or gymnast. Fraser simply said, “I do yoga.”
The soothing benefits of yoga: a calm and focused mind
It is notoriously difficult to clear the mind, particularly if you are prone to stress and worry. But yoga, explains Fraser, slows the mind down. She likens it to practising music, an activity that requires your full attention. “It is about focus, you are concentrating on the details so that you actually forget about everything else.”
The doctor’s recommendation
Fraser continues to recommend yoga to patients: “I often have patients with sports injuries – yoga can be adapted for you.”
Teacher to student ratios in classes is also important, so Fraser recommends avoiding classes that are too big. “[Many] don’t realise how easy it is to injure yourself if you are not observed and corrected.” She explains it is why teachers routinely ask about existing injuries, knee and back problems. “Always speak up and make the most of the ability to adjust a pose that works within your own body’s ability.”
For Dr Cathy Fraser, yoga has become a lifestyle that she can’t live without. “Yoga attends to all the elements of good health,” she says. “The physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and creative health – the perfect mind, body connection.”
Dr Cathy Fraser regularly attends Judy Krupp’s The Yoga Room in St Ives, Sydney, where she practices a range of yoga including Iyengar. Dr Fraser is now a regular visitor to Griffins Hill Yoga Retreat.
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