No doubt your inbox is flooded with messages, courses, offers, promotions, and promises of a “New Year, New You!” Just this morning I was tempted – for a few moments of forgetting that I already have too much to do – to sign up for an abstract painting course!
Anyway – you will be happy, and perhaps not too surprised, to know that this isn’t any of that!
I come with news that Healing Space is gently downing tools in 2022.
It has been on my mind for a while. I have had a ‘proper’ job as a health care chaplain now since 2018, and thus my vocation has turned to ministry (as I believe it always was!) However, balancing that with running a yoga training has been challenging. In 2020 I added a Master’s course in Public Theology into the mix, and then of course the pandemic happened. I was working in the NHS then, so… you can imagine!
In July this year started work as a Hospice Chaplain. In Hospice I have found a place I really want to be. The work is beautiful and necessary and intense. I find that I have little physical or emotional energy to give Healing Space the time and focus it deserves.
To be honest The Yoga and wellness ‘industry’ right now is – quite frankly – deeply toxic. Those of you who know me, know how I feel and have always felt about all of that. But the pandemic has brought the worst aspects to the fore, and I don’t have the stomach for it. This, and my own spiritual journey has moved me in a very different direction. To those of you who are still out there doing the work and avoiding the toxicity, seriously, a deep bow!
So, what is the plan?
I do, of course, continue with my own practice, and there is a plan for Healing Space to be nurtured going forward. However, things are lying fallow for this year. And the time is right for me to focus on other things.
The Healing Space website will stay up, as will lifetime (or as long as the Teachable website exists) access to the online content for those enrolled. I I continue to teach on the yoga for cancer day or weekend modules on the Yoga Therapy trainings with Yogacampus and the Scottish School of Yoga Therapy. And of course, I highly recommend you buy my book!
My ‘Not Yoga’ work
If you want to follow what I am doing elsewhere, you are welcome to come and find me at judemills.com where you can read my blogs, and listen to my podcast.
I said this last year, and it definitely bears repeating….My wholehearted call and invitation is to take care of yourself, your loved ones and your wider community. If you are struggling, reach out to others, but I also invite you to do things for others. It has proven benefits for our wellbeing. Let’s work together to create, promote and sustain a loving and supportive community that will see us all through this period, and beyond.
With much love and many blessings for this coming year.
“This practical guidebook explains how to adapt physical poses and breathing exercises for people with cancer.
Offering guidance on meditation and relaxation techniques as well as providing an essential overview of living with cancer, treatments and side effects, the book emphasises the importance of physical space and demonstrates the personal and professional skills required to hold a place of safety for those who experience life-threatening illnesses.
Covering key topics such as scope of practice, boundaries and appropriate language, Adapting Yoga for People Living with Cancer is an essential guide for yoga teachers looking to hold cancer-inclusive classes.”
It also acts as the textbook for Jude’s Yoga for Cancer courses.
Comes out in April – you can pre-order your copy from the usual online bookshops. Remember to leave a glowing review when you do!
There have always been those in the yoga and ‘wellness’ communities who have distrusted science and ‘conventional’ medicine. However, it does seem to be a growing – or at least more visible- trend, along with a distrust of experts of any kind, with many claiming that it is part of some global conspiracy (There may be a conspiracy – but that isn’t’ it!) Those of you who are, or who know, scientists involved in research know this, and find it laughable. Science is a good thing. The word ‘science’ comes from the Latin for knowledge. It is how we know things.
Yoga cures old age (no, not really!)
There are many claims, like the one above, in the widely read yoga texts about the benefits of asana and pranayama practices on the various organs and systems of the body, and it is still common to hear yoga teachers saying some of the more questionable claims as though they were facts.[i] However, it is specifically yoga’s effects on the immune system that I want to talk about here. This was prompted recently, by Russell Brand (who is not a yoga teacher) sharing an ‘immune boosting’ Kundalini yoga breathing exercise on his Instagram page.[ii]
I have many issues with this, but the first and perhaps most important one is – can a yoga exercise ‘boost’ your immunity?
The short answer is no, ‘boosting’ the immune system isn’t even a thing. The longer answer, is, our immune systems are way more complex and less easy to influence than that. That yoga, or diet or supplements (or any of the other things that people have to sell) can make for a better immune system misunderstands and misrepresents how the immune system (not really a system at all) actually functions. I link to some videos below for an excellent overview.
What is Yoga good for then?
There is good evidence for yoga’s efficacy in reducing stress, and thus influencing the ways in the which the body negatively responds to stress, such as reduced immune function. So, whilst yoga might play a role in helping to restore healthier immune function, to say that this means yoga ‘boosts’ the immune system is a stretch. To make such a claim is misleading and it’s unethical. I link to a review of studies below, for evidence relating to yoga and immunity.
Perhaps more significant, is Brand’s influence. He has 2.2 million Instagram followers, and that particular post had over 173,000 views, with many positive comments. Such reach and influence carries power and responsibility. He does say that he’s not a qualified Kundalini yoga teacher at the beginning of the video, but even if he was, the health claims are spurious. Does he know what he actually means when he tells people that the practice will ‘boost’ their immunity? Really?
Furthermore, this ‘immunity-shaming’ dog-whistles a much more insidious and inherently ableist narrative that has additional classist and racist undertones. Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been a constant, unrelenting rhetoric amongst ‘wellness’ professionals about Covid-19 and immunity. The suggestion (and in many cases outright claim) being that ‘healthy’ individuals with a robust immune system don’t have anything to worry about. Added to this, is the oft repeated ‘existing medical conditions’ qualifier, presumably used to reassure the rest of us that – don’t worry- it’s only sick, old and disabled people that are dying.
What do people actually mean when they say that it’s only people with ‘underlying health conditions’ who are dying from Covid? That these people are expendable? That they are somehow responsible for, and therefore deserving of, their fate? Even if they could try and justify that attitude for – say –smokers (which, by the way, they can’t) what about those people classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ who have conditions that have absolutely nothing to do with their lifestyles? [iii]
Many people live with health conditions and disabilities, or receive medical treatments which mean that their immune function is inherently compromised. I have a relative, for example, who doesn’t have a spleen because it was surgically removed.[iv] I also work with people whose immunity is compromised because they are going through cancer treatment.
That serious health inequalities exist amongst those with low incomes, precarious housing, and among people of colour, makes the whole ‘let’s do yoga to boost our immune system’ conversation even more distasteful. It promotes ideas of health and wellbeing that are – like the privilege of eschewing essential vaccination – blinkered, unscientific and, frankly, harmful.
[i] The Yoga classic BKS Iyengar’s ‘Light on Yoga’ is full of such claims.
My favourite A&P resource Crash Course present no-nonsense, factual, well researched and entertaining videos. Below, two on the immune system for an excellent overview. Worth noting is the difference between innate and adaptive immunity.
One of the things that I get asked most often by people enquiring about my yoga for cancer training, is ‘what’s the difference between your course, and some of the others on the ‘market’ at the moment?’
Firstly, it is important for me to state my position in ethical terms. This is at the heart of my personal and professional practice. I have never sat very easily in the yoga ‘industry’. Those of you who have read my previous blogs will know my discomforts around this. But, competition is the way that our economy works, and like it or not, yoga is a huge industry with its own economy. Inevitably, there will be more than one Yoga for Cancer offering out there. I wrestle daily with whether my offering can compete. The truth is, it can’t, so I don’t even go there. I work part time in the NHS and I offer this training as my life’s work and heart-song. I cannot speak to the quality or content of anyone else’s course, nor would I. I can, however, talk about some of the defining aspects of my course, which you might find helpful.
1. Course length and teaching hours
The Healing Space course is a 90 hour training. This is as a minimum. The self-paced learning can easily encompass many more hours if the individual student has a taste for research. However, this is what our accreditated course covers. 90 hours is not a requirment to register and accredited further training course for yoga teachers, and other courses are shorter. My feeling and experience is that 90 hours is only just enough to cover what I feel is important in this work.
2. Not ‘off the shelf’
The Yoga for Cancer course, and the book (coming out April 2021) is about preparing teachers to feel equipped and comfortable in working with people living with cancer. A lot of this is about developing our own capacity as practitioners to ‘be with’. As such it is a preparation to be present to someone, as they are, and to be able to adapt an yoga practice for them that may or may not include asana. The course has no set sequences, and I resist offering them for this reason. You cannot know everything there is to know about cancer (which is over 200 diseases, not one) but what you can do is develop your practice, skill and ability to research. The rest is about learning to be present. That takes time and commitment.
3. Emphasis on personal practice and development
I don’t know about you. but I have spent a lot of my career pursuing certifications, and I could – literally- paper the walls. If I look at my pile of certificates,there are perhaps three or four from courses that I could say gave me something life-changing. The others – well – they were useful for gaining skills, and getting insurance and they serve a purpose. What I am saying is, this is not that sort of training. I wholeheartedly believe in the transformational potential of yoga. For that reason, I believe that those who choose to teach it should not hold it lightly as a responsibility.
I am really not a self-publicist. What I mean by this flippant section is that different teachers are right for different students. I have a teaching style and presence that you might engage with, and which you might not. I encourage everyone who is thinking about the training to have a chat with me to see if we are a ‘fit’. And if we’re not, I will totally not be offended. I will equally be honest with you if I don’t think the course is the right one for you. I do urge you to choose all of your learning on that basis, and on content, and not on price. In an online world where I have seen a yoga teacher training for less than £100, I think we all need to be very discerning!
The other thing to consider is pedagogy (basically, the ways in which we teach and engage learners) I am a qualified educator with 30 years experience ( I feel old!) My approach is collaborative, inclusive, trauma informed, and with a blended learning model. I do as little ‘chalk and talk’ as possible. I learn from you as you learn from me. I have also written a book on this subject and I am a faculty member teaching about Cancer with YogaCampus and the Scottish School of Yoga Therapy. I should also point out, it isn’t just me on the intensive course, we also have Richard (Biology) and Sue (Cancer clinical practice) who are superbly knowledgeable in their areas of practice, so it is most definitely not the Jude show, thank God!
I wholeheartedly support the Black Lives Matter campaign, and the protests the surround it. I recognise that this is not about me and I so I have spent some time reading, listening and educating myself, before I decided what this statement should be. My wholehearted desire is to uplift the voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC)/Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people, to be vocally anti-racist and to challenge racism when I encounter it.
As someone who is involved in the education of others, I recognise that I have an opportunity to do some small part to counter unequal access of BAME people/BIPOC – and other marginalised groups – to the courses that I offer. BAME/BIPOC are under-represented in yoga spaces and have unequal access to yoga training due to many social, cultural, and economic barriers. Therefore – in addition to my commitment to activism – I wish to offer fully or part-funded access to my Yoga for Cancer online training course to BAME/BIPOC yoga teachers who feel called to do this work and who find themselves financially under-resourced.
I also recognize the intersectional nature of discrimination and inequality, and equally offer scholarship places to yoga teachers who identify as LGBTQ+, disabled or neurodivergent or who are otherwise marginalised and who are financially under-resourced.
The in-person training is offered via Yoga Campus and we are discussion about how we make this offer for their specialist courses.
In addition, I also acknowledge the ongoing enquiry and conversation that western teachers and practitioners of yoga need to be having about the decolonisation of yoga spaces, and I commit to deeper engagement in this conversation.
The Breathing Body – Breathing Practice & Meditation In this video, I guide you through an embodied breathing practice and meditation that follows the flow of the breath through the body – firstly focusing on the physical sensations of the breath, and then moving into an imaginative journey tracking the journey of oxygen molecules. Part of this week’s offerings on ‘Being with the Unknown’ essentially by practicing being with the known (in this case the breath)
Here is my second installment in “Being with the Unknown”
In this video, which also features my drying laundry (keeping it real here folks!) I offer a simple embodied practice for deepening into our connection with the Earth and our relationship with gravity as a dynamic conversation.
We can feel into awareness of our connectedness to the Earth in different ways: Physically, as literally the ground we stand/sit/lie on; Spiritually, as Mother/Home/God; and energetically as our sense of safety, survival, and groundedness (Root Chakra) I don’t dwell too much on the esoteric however in this meditation which is very much about acknowledging the physical connection.
After a fairly lengthy break for most forms of social media – apart from sharing pictures of Ralph on Instagram (he is adorably Instagrammable) I thought it might be an idea to share some thoughts and practices to help us through this time of not knowing. It keeps me out of mischief during this time of physical distancing and will, hopefully, be of benefit.
I wondered where I might start and then this morning, I got an e-mail from a colleague asking for resources that we can share among our yoga teaching community, and then I at least found a reason for the indulgence.
Fear of the unknown is the worst kind of fear. What we cannot predict, or quantify is always much scarier than that which has a known or likely outcome. When things are predictable, we can plan, prepare, do what we need to do. Even if what we end up knowing is incredibly hard, knowing is always better.
And so, I recorded a (slightly rambling) video as an introduction to some stuff I will be talking about this week about the nature of fear, and especially fear of the unknown. I will link it to my work in yoga for cancer, and healthcare chaplaincy, and in future videos, I will offer some practices. In this video, I end with John O’Donohue’s poem ‘For the Interim Time’ – words below.
For the Interim Time – John O’Donohue
When near the end of the day, life has drained Out of light, and it is too soon For the mind of night to have darkened things,
No place looks like itself, loss of outline Makes everything look strangely in-between, Unsure of what has been, or what might come.
In this wan light, even trees seem groundless. In a while it will be night, but nothing Here seems to believe the relief of darkness.
You are in this time of the interim Where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here has washed out; The way forward is still concealed from you.
“The old is not old enough to have died away; The new is still too young to be born.”
You cannot lay claim to anything; In this place of dusk, Your eyes are blurred; And there is no mirror.
Everyone else has lost sight of your heart And you can see nowhere to put your trust; You know you have to make your own way through.
As far as you can, hold your confidence. Do not allow confusion to squander This call which is loosening Your roots in false ground, That you might come free From all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here in your mind, And it is difficult and slow to become new. The more faithfully you can endure here, The more refined your heart will become For your arrival in the new dawn.
From ‘Benedictus – A Book of Blessings’ – 2007 Bantam Press
I am delighted that Healing Space Yoga for Cancer training is now being offered in partnership with Yogacampus, a not-for-profit organisation providing Teacher Training and Yoga Therapy Training, as well as continuing education (CPD) for yoga teachers, yoga therapists and experienced students in the UK, abroad, and online. You can view the prospectus here