As a lifelong caregiver who has devotedly served her patients and community, Susan Turnage, RN, CYN, RYT 500, knows about burnout. Susan suffered from stress and fatigue before finding Yoga and experiencing the benefits that regular practice brought her. Inspired to share those benefits with others, she began teaching Yoga to nurses and those suffering from chronic health conditions. In the following article, Susan shares her personal journey, speaking to the importance of Yoga as a part of one’s self-care and for overall health and wellness.
Ask, “Who is Number One in your Life?” and the answer will most likely be some version of: my children, my husband, my parents, or my job.
This was my journey as well. The more involved my passion was to serve as mother, daughter, wife, nurse, and community volunteer, the more tension, anxiety, insomnia, and stress pursued me. A friend recommended Yoga, but I resisted allotting a whole hour a week to something just for me. Disaster did not strike the world, I found, while I disconnected myself from stress for one hour; and through my Yoga practice, I found that I was not breathing well at all. As my shoulders relaxed, my chest opened and my anxiety lessened. I slept better and got more done. Yoga was restoring my health, and as I breathed deeper and fuller, I allowed myself two Yoga sessions a week. My profound personal changes inspired me to teach others about Yoga.
During Yoga teacher training, I explored ways to bring this healing to other nurses whom I saw in the workplace putting themselves behind the care of their patients, families, and community. Compassion fatigue was taking its toll, and nurses were burned out and sick. There was plenty of continuing education for nurses about diseases, but none about self-care, no healing for the healers. YogaNursing® does this; it changes the nursing culture by changing the nursing consciousness, one nurse at a time. Its holistic approach to self-care for Nurses and workplace wellness translates to improved patient care. As a Certified YogaNurse, I teach this practical approach to my brother and sister nurses. It is safe, easy to do, and everyone can do it.
Patient education has been the primary focus and joy throughout my career. During Yoga teacher training, I also knew that I had to bring this healing through the relaxation of Yoga to my rural community in Central Virginia. I now teach twelve therapeutic Yoga classes a week in community centers to a diverse group of men and women with chronic health conditions. Through chair and mat formats, I help my students explore the anatomy and physiology of the body and the slow restorative medicine of Yoga. My philosophy is this: if you have a skeleton and at least one lung, Yoga is for you. For two years, I have been honored by a devoted following of students who are now reporting better sleep, blood pressure improvements, more stable blood sugar, and they feel happier! “I can breathe,” they tell me. They now recognize signs of stress and use their breath to manage it; waiting in a doctor’s office, they do three-part yogic breathing! Standing in a grocery store checkout line, they do tree pose! They teach their homebound and hospitalized friends to breathe and move the small joints if that is all they can do.
In the last two weeks, two new students have joined my Yoga classes. One of them is a man referred by his oncologist. The oncologist told the student that Yoga would improve the outcome of his cancer therapy. The other is a woman just diagnosed with brain cancer. Her treatment team recommended thirty minutes of Yoga or movement five days a week would improve her prognosis by 50%. This holistic approach to healing, an approach endorsed and recommended by physicians who are reading the Yoga research, speaks to the exciting convergence of Western and Eastern treatment modalities. It is the relaxation response of Yoga that enhances healing, a perfect adjunct therapy.
It is the mission of YogaNursing to create a global army of modern nightingales, Yoga nurses, to uplift and expand consciousness in healthcare, relieve stress, anxiety, pain and suffering and create health, peace, and wisdom for nurses and their patients worldwide. The movement is growing every day, endorsed by the Watson Caring Science Institute’s Theory of Caring Science. My guru, Dr. Dilip Sarkar, a physician devoting his life to teaching Yoga to physicians and his community, is one of our YogaNursing Advisors.
I invite you to consider counting yourself Number One in your life and try Yoga. It’s as easy as one deep mindful breath. Your self-care is the heart of your selfless service to others. From now on, when you stand in the grocery store checkout line, do your own SingleLeg Standing Pose, and don’t be surprised to hear from the person behind you: “I’m in Susan’s Yoga class too!”
Learn more about Yoga as a treatment for chronic illness in Yoga Therapy in Cancer and Chronic Illness YCAT: Level 1, a workshop for Yoga teachers and health professionals, on March 17–26, 2017.