Poppy Life Care yoga instructor Lori Lipke was 18 years old when she first practiced yoga. Although she did not understand yoga, she enrolled in class, attended some sessions, but she did not come back.
Years later, however, reconnecting with yoga gave her tools that enabled her to better cope with anxiety and to live her life peacefully.
“Yoga allows for being in ‘the now,’” Lipke found, and not to avoid feelings and emotions that stir up. “This can be very healing if you are open to it.”
After many years practicing yoga, Lori Lipke knows how to better manage her anxiety.
Today she works as an Account Manager in Sales role Monday to Fridays, in addition to teaching yoga for Poppy Life Care. She gets out of bed by 5 AM and she listens to personal development books on her iPhone as she gets ready for work.
Until 4 PM, she comes back home and gets ready to attend a yoga class. Afterward, she comes home, streams some of her favorite music, and sometimes spends about 15 minutes practicing some yoga poses that her body needs or that she tries to improve.
Before she goes to sleep, she fits in some time for meditation. She uses her sound healing tools for balancing and practices a little Reiki, a healing technique based on the principle that the therapist can channel energy through his hands to activate the natural healing processes of the body and restore physical and emotional well-being.
Weekends will have a different routine for Lipke, however, and every weekend will vary depending on her plans. She prefers to do yoga classes in the morning these days. Sometimes she does a home practice, or she shows up at the studio.
Lipke is most passionate about yoga’s challenging postures. “There’s something exciting about practicing a pose for several months, not knowing if I’ll ever be able to do it, and then be able to do it with grace. It took me six months of religiously practicing Bakasana (crow pose) before I could finally do it.”
But it is all about the process and not the goal, as she suggests. It’s about paying attention to those frustrating and painful moments and having the resilience to continue to practice despite the frustration, “just like ordinary life,” she says, which is always a goal for her students to learn when giving back to the community in her own yoga classes.
Wood flooring and bright colored walls. Clear-white lighting illuminates the room. Bolsters, straps, blankets and blocks are arranged on the floor. A relaxing feeling of joy and occasional music soothe the environment along with the diffused essential oils that fill the classroom with a peaceful fragrance.
As they walk into class, students find their spots in the room. They are experienced, intermediate, or beginners.
As the yoga instructor, Lipke stands at the very front, but walks around the room and interacts with her students. “Yoga is about inquiry,” she says, so she makes posture suggestions, and asks questions throughout the class.
“As you lift your leg up, can you keep both of your hips level?” Lipke asks.
“As you are in this challenging posture, can you soften something?”
“Is your breath smooth and slow, is it short and rapid, or did you stop breathing?”
She asks throughout class whether her students are breathing because that is the most important part of the practice, and students tend to hold their breath when challenged. The questions are also meant for students to pay attention to their bodies, breathing and mind.
As Lipke suggests, in paying attention to the questions, a student might notice that their right hip is stiffer than their left hip when in a lunge posture, or that their lower back is sore when in a forward fold. Maybe they need to back out of the pose if it’s causing discomfort. “It’s about exploring and observation,” Lipke says. But perhaps the student is not paying attention and their mind drifts, in this case the questions are really meant to bring them back to the present — a part of the practice Lipke learned when trying to cope with her own anxiety.
From an early age, Lipke’s anxiety followed her into her adulthood until she realized it was already affecting her workspace.
When she was promoted to a management position at work, many responsibilities and commitments walked into her life.
Lipke was now not only responsible for her own performance, but for everyone on her team and for various project assignments. She worked many hours a week, including weekends, and she felt as though the workload just kept piling on her shoulders.
When seeing how much work she had ahead of her, anxiety would make Lipke feel paralyzed physically, emotionally, and mentally. She would have a hard time concentrating, she felt stuck, frightened, and insecure.
Her days would go unorganized. Some days she had no appetite, and on other days she overindulged. And she sometimes had a racing heart, all of which made her distance herself from people and overreact to some situations unintentionally.
“I cannot remember exactly how much time went by in this role before I confided in my physician. I told my physician that I had anxiety, especially at night and couldn’t sleep, and asked if he could prescribe something for me and thankfully he did. It took a lot of courage for me to engage with my physician about this because I was fearful of what he may think of me. However, he never made me feel judged or like something was wrong with me when I disclosed this,” Lipke said.
Further back in her childhood, Lipke’s anxiety started as discomfort and fears. She remembers visiting the nurse’s office constantly at school just so her mother could take her home and she could feel safe. But although the signs manifested through stomach pains not due to underlying disease, anxiety was a topic unlikely to be discussed at home; therefore much less likely for her parents to find that their child could be dealing with it and search for a way to cope.
According to KidsHealth, for children, anxiety might often be mistaken for childhood fears. And for the several different types of anxiety disorders that can affect children, signs can be difficult to catch. According to WebMD, for example, anxiety disorder can cross in a child’s life and stop them from enjoying childhood to live fearful of it.
“How can you tell if your child’s anxieties might be more than just passing worries and fears?” WebMd asks and outlines some key signs for parents to look for:
- Is your child expressing worry or showing anxiety on most days, for weeks at a time?
- Does your child have trouble sleeping at night? If you aren’t sure (he might not tell you), do you notice that he seems unusually sleepy or tired during the day?
- Is your child having trouble concentrating?
- Does your child seem unusually irritable or easy to upset?
In Lipke’s case, although she did not know it was anxiety at the time, the lack of information prevented her from being able to talk about it with anyone until adulthood, when she received prescribed medication.
According to Lipke, however, it wasn’t until she joined a yoga studio in 2013 that she found her way to cope with anxiety symptoms.
“Not only did yoga make me feel good mentally and physically, but the teachers would say things in class that were real and true and therapeutic,” Lipke said.
Despite the number of people who, like Lipke, initially find no interest in yoga and often regard it as a slow workout, research suggests that yoga can lead to reduced levels of stress, anxiety and even depression.
According to Dr. Kishore Kumar Katuri et al, his study showed that yoga participants have low levels of serum cortisol, and according to The Body Image Therapy Center, “too much cortisol in your bloodstream on an ongoing basis causes and/or exacerbates anxiety, and can also wreak havoc on your health in many other ways.”
In “Destress with Yoga” by Linda Knittel for the Yoga Journal, Vijayendra Pratap, Ph.D., says that indeed, the practice of yoga normalizes cortisol levels. “My hypothesis,” Pratap tells the Yoga Journal, “is that yoga brings the body to balance.” Though not clear how it happens, Jennifer Johnston, yoga director and research clinician at the Mind Body Medical Institute in Boston shared her theory: “The deep breathing we do in yoga elicits something called ‘the relaxation response,’ which invokes the restorative functions of the body,” she says. “Yogic practices also help to reduce muscle tension and deactivate the stress response.”
Thus, because of the health improvements it provides, when teaching a class, Lipke, like many others in her field, recommends yoga not as a workout, but as a lifestyle where participants can apply everything learned through a yoga position to face difficult life situations.
When Lipke was going through grieving the passing of her beloved pet, she fell deeper in anxiety. Her dog was a huge part of her life, and the loss brought depression into her life, too.
At yoga classes, she would be in a pose, and sometimes cried because memories of her pet invaded her mind. But although a public space, the yoga studio gave her exactly what she needed to cope and move on.
For her, yoga became a community. It was about being in a classroom with other people that were also dealing with something in their lives. There was a healing energy, and it was very spiritual to be around. She was in a classroom with a teacher and students, all practicing together. There was no judgement, and it was one of the most gracious gifts she found in yoga, which other forms of coping could not offer her.
When she worked out at the gym, for instance, Lipke would think about everything that happened during the day. What she needed to do once she went back home, tomorrow, next week, even events happening the following months.
Her mind would constantly stir with thoughts.
But practicing yoga, thinking about questions the instructors made, made her feel as though everything was connected — her body, her mind, her spirit.
“I love that yoga is a way of life and doesn’t just happen in a classroom setting,” Lipke says. And this is where yoga philosophy comes in. “If you want to be a better person, read any yoga philosophy book,” she suggests.
Yoga philosophy is about life and being humble. If the teacher asks to remain in a difficult pose for several breaths like Warrior II in a classroom, can a difficult situation outside of class be handled? Can the fears and struggles be accepted? How are you reacting to every pose and every situation? Do you get angry? Do you blame the teacher because you are uncomfortable? If you are practicing compassion and kindness inside a classroom, can you also practice compassion outside the classroom? On the freeway? With an upset customer? With family and friends when you are not in a good mood and things are not going your way?
“When paying attention to the teacher and how my body is feeling, there is no time to think about all the other nonsense,” Lipke says.
According to Lipke, people come to yoga because they are suffering in some fashion and they look for yoga to help them with suffering. Although yoga is not a miracle cure, Lipke suggests it is not meant to eliminate all our challenges and suffering but to help us work through the suffering; it is a discipline and showing up regularly allows participants to pay attention to what is going on and to accept it rather than avoid it.
Lori Lipke is a Registered Yoga Teacher and has been practicing primarily Vinyasa yoga consistently since 2013. She completed her 200-Hour SmartFLOW Yoga Teacher certification and became a teacher to share her passion of yoga with other individuals that are seeking a journey of inquiry between the body and spirituality.
Although Lori is a teacher, she considers herself always a student, as there is no end to learning in her world. She is inspired not just with the physical practice but also with the beautiful philosophy, spirituality and loving community encompassing yoga.