Jane Waterman

Jane Waterman

My Intention

My intention as a chair yoga teacher and health activist is to help others develop safe and helpful practices as part of creating your healing toolkit, and to make the practice of yoga more accessible to the chronic illness and pain community. My teachings are informed by the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga, a thorough grounding in the challenges faced by older students and younger students dealing with chronic illness and pain, and other physical injuries, limitations. I draw on principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, as well as compassion and mindfulness practices drawn from different spiritual traditions. If I were to describe my teaching philosophy in four words, it would be healing, compassionate, encouraging, and fun! I believe in the healing power of self-determination and self-compassion to transcend difficulties and follow your dreams.

My Journey

Letting life be what it is at any given moment is not something that comes naturally to most of us. It’s a practice that has evolved especially rapidly for me over the last couple of years.

In 1990, at the tender age of 24, my body and mind succumbed to a then-unknown illness. After years without a diagnosis – other than major depressive disorder, which was readily given – I became accustomed to a life of uncertainty. I remember getting home from my 9-to-5 job and going to bed. I’d be shattered. Life was hard. It was a battle. It was probably even a war.

Over the years, I lived the best life I could inside that war. I discovered there were no easy answers or treatments. The remedies that were offered to me by western medicine, and even some alternative practitioners, were often more than my sensitive system could bear. I have always been sensitive and an introvert. I learned from my parents the value of hard work and stoicism. So it was, after becoming ill, the harder I tried, the less I achieved, and the louder I became – a ready sign that I wasn’t functioning well, if at all.

I’ve lost relationships, friends, and careers to my various illnesses, and to the person I was in the grip of illness. I used to think in terms of the warrior analogy so many people use when talking about illness, especially chronic illness. I realize now that this kind of analogy only sets us up for an “us versus them” mentality – the mind versus the body. In a war, you have to be ever-vigilant to not let the enemy get the better of you. You have to fight to be “normal” – to be a functioning member of society. It’s exhausting. I was fighting every day of my life to be a productive person, and every nap borne of the necessity of my illness seemed like proof of my failure to overcome adversity.

In mid-2014, after 24 years of stumbling, my life changed when I signed up to be a yoga teacher. It wasn’t easy, and I encountered more challenges, but these set me on the path of chair yoga teacher I walk now. I learned quickly there needed to be a gentler path for people living with chronic illness and pain.

On this path, I became a registered yoga teacher. I finally pushed through my anxiety and, at 49, learned how to drive a car. I completed a chair yoga certification, and a gentle somatic yoga certification. All the time having afternoon naps, taking pain medications, doing self-paced cognitive therapy and practicing all the things I was learning in the yoga studio and in the schoolroom of my life.

Life stopped being quite so hard. My challenges didn’t stop, but they didn’t seem so insurmountable. The pain didn’t go away either, and anxiety remains a frequent friend. Depression still sometimes gets the best of me. What has changed is my heart, and my attitude towards myself. I still have a ways to go on this journey, but over time, I learned to soften to myself. I offered myself the compassion I had always so readily offered others.

Quite often I get home from teaching a class, lifted by the beautiful sharing within our chair yoga community, and yet ready for a long crash on the bed with my favourite heat pad, and cuddles from my beagle buddies.

There was a time I would have felt ashamed about admitting to going to bed at 4 pm. I would have called myself lazy and worthless. Those words have slowly faded from my vocabulary, after spending the last 7 years learning of self-compassion, mindfulness, and lessons from many different wisdom traditions. I – the person – who struggled to learn to teach and then drive a car to meet her students wasn’t lazy – she was resilient and determined. Instead of focussing on the things I can no longer do, I embrace the things I can do.

Life is a trade-off with chronic illness, and I don’t resent the choices I have to make. I haven’t done a lot with my life, if I tally it up in the conventional sense. However, becoming a yoga teacher in 2014 is one of the most amazing achievements of my life. Being able to open the door to the moments of peace that can be found in a yoga practice, as it was opened to me, is the most incredible gift. To lead a class, and watch people breathe and move and discover their own power is sustaining. Seeing a student truly withdraw (even for a moment) from the battle between mind and body, to find the Yoga (union) within, is astounding to me.

As I’ve learned how to better stand in the presence of “what is” – to be okay with how my life has changed from limitations to possibilities – I’ve been truly blessed. It turns out the best feeling in the world is being okay with “what is” in the present moment, if only we have the courage to face it.

It’s my intention to bring as much of that peace as I can to others on the journey.

Blessings!

Jane

BSc. (Physics), Grad Dip. Meteorology, Post-Grad Program in Ocean Science. Registered Yoga Teacher (200 hours), Certified Chair Yoga Teacher (60 hours), Certified Gentle Somatic Level 1 (21 hours), and Health Blogger at Blackbird at Night (especially Sjogren’s syndrome and depression) since 2012.