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Ruth White - Iyengar Yoga Teacher

by Ruth White(more info)

listed in yoga, originally published in issue 13 - July 1996

Back in the Seventies, freelance photographer Ruth White was suffering from a lot of back pain. Years of bad posture and carrying heavy photographic equipment had taken their toll on her lower lumbar region and a specialist advised her that the most effective form of treatment would be to support her back in a plaster cast while it realigned itself. This seemed a very drastic form of treatment and Ruth was not looking forward to months of immobility and discomfort. It was only a chance conversation with a judo teacher that led her to try a different approach.

The judo teacher advised her to use yoga positions to heal her back. Ruth was sceptical, yoga was considered a bit of a joke at the time, but she decided to give it a try.

She sought the advise of Iyengar, an Indian guru who has the ability to diagnose illness just by looking at a person’s posture. He recommended some back strengthening stretching positions to Ruth and told her to practise them every day for a year. Within 12 months, her back problem was cured.

Ruth was so impressed with Iyengar and the power of yoga that she spent the next three years qualifying as a yoga teacher. She built an extension to her home in Cheam, Surrey, and now holds two classes a day as well as regular residential weekends.

“People do not realise what a powerful form of exercise yoga is. It is not just another type of keep-fit or aerobics. People who practise yoga regularly notice a marked change in their lives. I have seen people change after only 10 weeks of practice.

“Yoga cures stress. Most people are suffering from some form of stress – almost half of all people visiting their GPs complain about it. Stress damages our immune system and can be a determining factor in heart disease and cancer as well as lesser complaints like poor memory, low sex drive and over-eating.

“One of the first symptoms of stress is an over-active mind. You may even be thinking about something else as you read this article: ‘what’s that itch at the back of my head? Isn’t there something else I should be doing?’

“Practising yoga gets rid of toxins by working on the organs and changing and rebalancing the chemistry in the body. It stops the mind from being over active and is also a complete form of exercise in itself.”

Many sports people take up yoga to help them with an associated problem such as tennis elbow, or backache. Many doctors are now advising patients to try yoga instead of conventional medicine for minor sports injuries. Children and young people can enjoy and benefit from yoga without fully understanding it. Old people who practise yoga do not suffer from the gamut of back and joint problems that their contemporaries have.

Ruth has seen some dramatic yoga ‘cures’ over the years. One student who had been working on some twisting postures felt in a great deal of pain and had to leave the class and go to bed. During the night, she passed a number of sizeable kidney stones. She had not even realised she was suffering from kidney problems.

Another student on a residential yoga weekend had not warned Ruth that she was taking medication for manic depression. Without the consent of her doctor, she had stopped taking her tablets and put herself on a fast. After a relaxation exercise, the women was seized by an uncontrollable sobbing and shaking. Ruth showed her some postures and deep breathing exercises to calm her down. The woman now practises yoga every day and has never gone back on her medication.

Yoga can also help asthma sufferers. A friend of one of Ruth’s daughter’s who was staying for the weekend found herself unable to breath in the middle of the night. She did not want to wake anyone up and when Ruth found her she was panic struck and desperate – she had not brought an inhaler with her. Ruth showed her a series of breathing exercises to open the chest and the attack was over within 20 minutes.  “Once the body has been rebalanced, people have a great feeling of well-being, that is why yoga is so effective for those suffering from depression. The body becomes more sensitive, senses are heightened, tastes change. People often have a greater desire for fresh air, water and healthy food. It is so much easier to communicate with people when your body is in balance, and when you are quiet in mind. You feel more loving and open to people.”

A Yoga teacher will help you with ‘corrections’ – the peculiarities that each person manifests in their own body will need to be changed over a period of time. One man found that after a year of practice, his whole body had changed shape. None of his suits fitted him any more and as he had stretched his toes, his feet had lengthened too.

Most people need to practise a series of standing positions or ‘asanas’ for 10-20 minutes per day to bring their body back into balance. You can even practise forms of yoga sitting in a traffic jam or at your desk. It helps to end each Yoga session with complete relaxation – lying flat on the floor, taking a few deep breaths, then listening to the sound of your breathing; this helps to allow the mind to fall quiet.

Yoga is not an expensive form of exercise and there is no equipment to buy, although a non-slip mat is useful. Most classes cost about £4 for an hour and a half. Once you have learned the positions that are helpful for you, you can practise them at home, although it is still useful to go to a weekly class. Anyone can practice Yoga, young or old, sick or fit, everyone can benefit from its discipline and few who start it will ever give it up.


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About Ruth White

Ruth White is an established yoga teacher, who was taught by BKS Iyengar. She has two centres for Yoga, one at Fetcham, Leatherhead and the other at Cheem, Surrey. She has produced an entire range of Yoga Videos and DVDs useful for everybody's needs or abilities. Ruth conducts Teacher Training Certificated Courses and Workshops throughout the UK. She can be reached on Tel: 020-8641 7770;;


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