How can I do a mysore class when I have no short-term memory?

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Anja with Neil

Neil Richardson, Ashtanga yoga teacher at Hands-on Health, discusses Anja Thys’s story.

I find one of the best things about teaching yoga is the great feedback you get from the students. The majority can’t wait to tell you how life feels so much better, and how the problems they had been experiencing with their health seem to be fixed, or at least are in the process of being fixed.

Of course helping any physical problem is a great side effect of yoga, but it is the effect on the mental side of things that has really sparked my interest lately.

One student in particular has, in a very short time, had some great results with her recovery and she has very kindly agreed to share her story.


Reason one: to inspire others

Reason two: to invite any feedback that might be a help in the future …

Here is Anja’s story:

Anja with NeilI started yoga at Hands-on Health in September 2013.

I have two major injuries, from two separate incidents. As a result I have a fragile right shoulder and neck, and from the other incident, a very particular bad balance and short term memory loss.

After the neck injury, I was not even able to carry a shopping bag or wear a rucksack. I now find it is no problem at all. For many years, I have not tilted my head back, as that was the cause of the herniation in my neck, but I am now feeling that my neck is stronger and I feel more confident tilting my head back – not for very long each time, but improving every time. I can do shoulder stands and am staying up increasingly longer… I still do not feel strong enough for the head stand, and I don’t think I should actually put pressure on my neck by standing on my head, but the preparatory exercises are great and are giving me more confidence.

My inner ear was damaged during a fall on an ice rink. I fell so quickly I did not even have time to put out my hands to break the fall, and I landed on the left side of my face, breaking the zygomatic bond underneath my eye. It left me with very bad balance, and short term memory loss. Going on anything that moved (cars, escalator, office chair, train, plane) made me ‘nauseous’ and I had a hard time remembering new things (names, sequences to dances, etc).

I did some Zumba and medieval dancing after the accident, and I found it very difficult to remember the steps, although there was the music I could link steps to, even the music sounded ‘new’ to me every time they played it…. So needless to say, even though there was a certain amount of repetition with the same dances coming back being danced to the same music, it was a surprise every time the music started….

So I started Ashtanga yoga in September and I realised it would always be the same poses, and up until April, there was no logic to it at all, at least not for me, I did what Neil said to do, I could not link poses together and I did not know what pose was next. It seemed to me to be a random thing. Every class seemed different…

Anja ThysThe first few times doing the balancing in yoga I realised that if I did more it would get better, and indeed it has. It still depends day by day, some days are better than others, but in the beginning, I could not even stay upright in Trikonasana…. it has improved immensely…

So when Neil said that I would be making more progress if I was to come to the Mysore class, which at this point I thought would be good for me to do more practice, I realised I would have to try and remember the sequence of poses. I printed off a chart of the primary series and I started looking at it and even managed to remember parts of it, and I study this every day, and particularly on yoga days. I find during the class things make more sense and I know what’s next most of the time…But it is not sticking, not transferring to my long term memory, so I have to keep studying each time… 

What I tried to memorise after the accident I have not been able to…  it just doesn’t stick, I cannot remember, while the things from before I can remember … So I am hoping now that with keeping on studying, and actually doing the poses, my body will help me remember it and will eventually transfer it to the long term memory. Only time will tell! 

Since starting Ashtanga yoga, I have become more toned and flexible, and I feel much more confident again… and all the improvements I am feeling to the discomforts I have due to my injuries mean that as it turns out, starting yoga was one of the best decisions I could have made…. All I wanted was a bit of exercise, what I got is so much more….

Of course this has a lot to do with Anja’s hard work but Ashtanga yoga and its healing effects are really getting things working again. Is it just the positive effect that the yoga gives us that makes this happen or is it healing parts of the brain?

There are many students with depression who say that it has just lifted or is at least starting to. It just makes me think what other things regarding the mind or brain can not necessarily be fixed but at least helped and managed with Ashtanga yoga?

Thank you so much to Anja and other students I have spoken to regarding this subject for their time and enthusiasm.

Thanks as always to my teacher Nancy Gilgoff for her ongoing teaching and inspiration.

Be well and be happy.

Any thoughts please contact me.  I would love to hear anything on the subject:

Neil Richardson

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