RED WING, Minn. — Throughout time, humans have tried to find ways to become stronger and more efficient. But life takes its toll on the body, and there's more focus on the mind-body-spirit balance. One practice that has stood the test of time, and can benefit almost anyone who seeks a healthier life, is yoga — an ancient physical, mental and spiritual discipline that many people have used to markedly improve their lives.
Arlene Wellemeyer, a Hastings, Minnesota, resident who retired in 2014 was looking to relax after decades at a demanding job. "When I retired, I thought I could finally move around and do everything I want to do," she says. "But retirement ended up being more stressful than my working years."
Six months into retirement, Wellemeyer and her husband welcomed a disabled, elderly family member into their home so they could care for her. Soon Wellemeyer noticed some numbness in her fingers, which she didn't consider major. The relative eventually moved into a nursing home. Around that time, Wellemeyer's husband had to undergo melanoma surgery, resulting in the loss of his left eye. Between nursing home visits and caring for her husband, Wellemeyer's body began to break down. She began experiencing excruciating pain throughout one arm and was diagnosed with a pinched nerve in her cervical vertebrae. Her provider recommended physical therapy.
Wellemeyer found physical therapy to be helpful, but she still had pain in her lower back after treatment ended. She began looking for a solution that could help her physically and emotionally. "My doctor told me that yoga works well for people looking to reduce anxiety and stress," she says. "So I looked on the Mayo Clinic website, where I read about private yoga therapy sessions with Michele Hoffman, a certified yoga therapist at Mayo."
Research has found that yoga therapy is effective in treating chronic low back pain. "Most yoga in the United States is exercise focused. However, yoga can also be applied therapeutically to reduce or eliminate symptoms," says Hoffman, who has completed a four-year program in yoga therapy accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. "Yoga therapy is not a substitute for Western medicine, but is an effective, complementary therapy to treat and manage many health conditions, including chronic pain."
Other health conditions that may benefit from yoga therapy include:
- Hypertension and other cardiac conditions
- Diabetes, fibromyalgia, arthritis, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis
- Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cancer — during and after treatment
- Anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder
- Preparation for surgery
Yoga therapy is an integrated practice that considers the whole person. "In yoga therapy, our goals are to strengthen what's weak, release what is tight, and bring balance to the body," Hoffman says. "A patient's main goal may be to reduce back pain, but if they are also suffering from anxiety or COPD, I can design a yoga practice to address those issues, as well."
Based on a patient's medical history and observations of posture, breathing and movement patterns, Hoffman designs a customized yoga therapy practice that the patient can do at home. This usually requires a minimum of three yoga therapy sessions.
Wellemeyer, who sees herself as a perfectionist, says that Hoffman was excellent at relieving any feelings of awkwardness or apprehension during her private yoga therapy sessions. "Michele talked with me for quite a long time to find out who I was and what my issues were. We then started with really simple poses, which she demonstrated by getting right down on the mat with me," says Wellemeyer. "She was patient and went slowly."
Yoga therapy uses the breath to focus the mind, support the spine, and make the movements safe and effective. "Physical therapy was necessary in the beginning because it gave me most of my functionality back, but I am convinced that yoga is what helped me get it all the way back to health and maintain it," Wellemeyer says. "Breathing was an important part of it, and learning to relax and control my breath led to better muscle control. I felt improvement within a week of first meeting with Michele."
Wellemeyer worked with Hoffman for about a year providing private yoga therapy sessions and faithfully continuing her home practice. Eventually, she got to the point where her back was strong enough for her to join a weekly therapeutic group yoga class, and she still does her home practice. "Yoga takes long-term practice," she says. "It's a physical skill as well as mental intention. You learn it, and it just becomes a habit."
Wellemeyer says her yoga practice has helped her gain perspective on situations that seem daunting at first but are only temporary. "I feel incredibly fortunate that I'm in this health system," she says. "I have gotten a lot of help and have no complaints whatsoever. I couldn't have found a better teacher."
For more information or to schedule a yoga therapy appointment at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing or Cannon Falls, call Michele Hoffman at 651-385-3338.
Michele Hoffman, certified yoga therapist
Press ContactKristy Jacobson