Yoga Therapy Prescription—Learn What Brings You Joy and Do Lots of It!

If you want to live a long, healthy life, consider doing things that bring you joy. They are the same things that bring you closer to your true self. And what brings you to your true self is the path to your well being and health.

I spent this Memorial Day weekend doing something I love–contra dance! As a French native, I have a hard time explaining what contradance is. I had never experienced anything like contra before my friend Stephanie introduced me to it last autumn at LEAF Festival’s “contradance hall” in Asheville, NC. Mind you, many of my American friends didn’t know what contra was either. I’m told it’s a subculture.

Contra is an old style of American dance where you dance with a partner in two lines—partners face each other on each side—while a caller leads everybody in a series of moves. And then, there’s the music. Contra is danced to Celtic, Southern Appalachian, jazz and blues played by live bands. Thanks to the slaves who brought rhythm from Africa, contra is full of it. During the dancing the lines of people morph into patterns–from the sky, a contra dance looks like a kaleidoscope of humans.

In contradance, I swirl, swing, circle, trade places, make eye contact, and even flip sometimes. I’m in love with it. The other day, I was told that contra is powerful, that it’s love. That speaks to me. What I also know is that contra has made me re-connect with a passion of mine—dancing—that I had given up since I was a teenager. I would never have thought that dance would come back in my life, years later, especially not in this shape and form. Life always finds new ways to surprise me.

Giving the right food to my soul

What’s contra got to do with yoga therapy? Well, everything. You see, contra brings me joy. And when I feel joy, I know I’m giving the right food to my soul. And when I nourish my soul, I’m doing one of the most powerful things I can do to heal—on whatever level I need to heal.

Whether you’re on a healing journey or just in need of more aliveness, I recommend you look closely into what brings you long, lasting joy–into what feeds your soul. Nourishing your soul brings you closer to who you are deeply. The 17th century Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, who was the champion of joy and gave the emotion the most thought, came to the conclusion that each time you grow in the direction of your true self is when you experience joy.

Letting go of old beliefs

This movement towards your true self, towards joy, may mean letting go of old beliefs. That’s what it’s meant for me. I was brought up in a family where the value of “hard work” was first and foremost with little room left for playing and enjoying life. I’ve re-evaluated the place I’ve given to “hard work,” and re-orchestrated my life so that joy has gradually become the center. You gotta do what you gotta do.

I’ll also always remember a doctor and nutritionist I met in 2004 in Paris. I had just been diagnosed with my first breast cancer. He gave me tips on how to feed my body with healthy nutrition which I still use to this day. He also mentioned this guy who had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer and who had decided to go ahead and live his dream—spend the rest of his life on a sail boat, traveling around the world. The guy ended up being cured and living many more moons. My doctor finished our conversation saying, “if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, do it. It can make a huge difference.”

I couldn’t help spending most of Leaf Festival, close to Asheville, NC, mid-May, in their contra dance hall. On the evening of Sat. May 12, we were up to 250 dancers to move non stop for hours. Photo: Patrick Olin.

Natural Born Healer

My first memories are images of comforting my mom and others. It’s kind of my destiny. No wonder I have come up with my own healing method, Yoga for Renewal.

I’m three, maybe four years old. I’m in our 400-square foot apartment, which is on the fourth floor of our building with no elevator, in the blue-collar neighborhood of Belleville, Paris. It’s the middle of the night. My dad is out of town, in another province, building a school or a hospital. Money is scarce so, at night, he sleeps in a sleeping bag on the working site. I’m standing in the middle of the flat. In front of me, I see my mom. She’s in the bathroom, standing, her head bent over the sink. The light is dim. My mom’s nose is bleeding. I see the blood dropping in the white sink, for hours. I’m scared. That red on the white sink… I don’t like it. I wait and look out for my mom, refusing to go to bed until I know she’s ok. Years later, she confirmed to me that the nosebleeds—which happened regularly, always at night and when my dad was away—did last for hours.

Panic mode

Another night. I’m around the same age, maybe younger. My dad’s away building another school in another province. I’m wrapped up in a blanket in my mom’s arms, while she, in panic mode, runs down the staircase of our apartment building. We end up in a taxi. The driver’s voice is soothing. He’s probably concerned. What are this young woman and her child doing outside, at this hour? Years later, my mom revealed to me that she had suicide impulses. She was attracted by the apartment’s windows and the height. To run away from these impulses, she grabbed me and ran down the stairs as fast as she could until the impulses and the panic faded away.

Years ago, my mom and I walked through Montmartre (Paris) where an artist created our faces' silhouette drawing.

I’m eight or nine. It’s the summer and we’re on vacation in Spain. Spain is such a joy, and my dad is with us! Nevertheless, my mom is starting to break down. She’s unable to stay standing for more than five minutes. Then she faints. No one knows why, including the Spanish doctor my parents go to consult out of despair. I walk holding my dad’s hand on the village’s port. I’m wondering what I could do to make him feel better.

Tell your story, breathe and feel your body--Deeply

For as long as I can remember, I helped heal. It’s my purpose—along with dancing. It took me a while to come to terms with it. First, my mom started her own healing path—a couple of years after the Spanish vacation. Then, she took my hand when I was a young adult, and showed me the way to heal myself from the pain and trauma that circulated from her blood to mine. I also had to set myself free from what I thought my dad wanted me to be—a “success” in the corporate world. Life has its way of pushing you onto the right path. Have you noticed that? In my case, the universe threw two cancers my way, ten years apart. They helped me find my purpose for sure.

I received the message so deeply that I’ve come up with my own healing modality--Yoga for Renewal. If you’re ready for something new on your healing journey, you can take my hand too, and join me in one of my small group classes or a private session. There’s space to tell your story, and there’s space to breathe and feel your body--deeply. “That’s exactly what you need to heal,” my mom says. She knows. She’s done the hard and brave work to heal her wounds and tame her demons. She’s my hero.