Reflection On The Experience Of A Form Of Ethno Medicine – Yoga

I chose Yoga. My mom is a devoted practitioner, and she and her best friend often participate in Yoga Retreat events, in which practitioners meet and exercise together. When I was a teenager, my mom took me with her to one of the Yoga meetings. It was very cold November afternoon, and the guide words were the following: “We are seeing the big warm sun in front of us”, and I joked saying, this lady must be insane, there is no sun in the room nor outside. Eventually, the group including my mom, kicked me out because I was disturbing them. Therefore, seeing my mom practicing, I always knew Yoga has healing properties such as calming her down and making her feel living her best life, and this is the reason why I am going to experience Yoga in the form of ethno medicine.

I’ve decided to do Yoga each morning at 5:30 am. Initially, I wanted to do it at 5 am, but my Yoga Morning Retreat was postponed due to oversleeping, starting from 5:30 am. I did Yoga for seven days straight, and after each session, I took 10 minutes to document my experience for the purpose of this paper. Here is what happened:

Day 1: I overslept. I had a very hard time waking up because during the weekend I tend to stay up until later in the evening. I woke up, took care of after my hygiene and played a Yoga Challenge on Youtube for seven days. Each Yoga video lasted for fifteen minutes. The Yoga video started with instructions on how to breathe, in and out. Breath in from the nose, hold on and release through the mouth. Honestly, this gave me a minor headache. My nose felt so open, a feeling similar to when during swimming water enters the nasal cavities. Then, the instructor began showing the exercises. Beforehand, I played forward, and I was surprised how the exercises seemed so easy. Little did I know. At the beginning of my first stretching exercise, I felt how bad my balance and posture were. I kept on leaning towards unwanted directions which kept me off track to the point at which I began to feel anger. Nevertheless, I continued and finished the cycle with the hope of a better performance the next day.

Day 2: I woke up on time, and I was feeling fresh. I was still somewhat discouraged from my performance and the minor headache during the first day but I gave it a try. This time, I didn’t have high expectations, and just dived right into it. However, during the breathing exercise, I felt that nasal pain again. The other exercises went well, and I think I had a better balance this time. I found the stretch of these exercises to uplift my morning mood which is usually very cranky and unpleasant for the human beings around me (according to my roommate I am a train wreck in the morning).

Day 3: I am not going to lie, I really wasn’t looking forward to the experience, just wanted to make sure I did the job, wrote the paper and that’s it. I woke up, took the yoga mat and begin breathing. Surprisingly, my nasal cavities were fine, my mind was naturally awake. Nothing like the two days before. I felt somewhat happy. I felt positive towards what I was doing and somehow had certainty that my balance was going to be good as well. And I was right! I was doing the exercises right (or the closest I could get to “right”), and I even felt muscles I didn’t even know I’ve had. I was amazed by how I didn’t know my body. The idea of getting to know and control my body excited me for the next morning.

Day 4: Thursdays are usually the busiest days of the week for me. However, I woke up and did my Yoga. I am not going to lie, my attitude towards the online instructor was as if I was rushing her in my mind, already knowing what she was going to say. All the exercises were pretty similar to each other including breathing and extensive stretch in comparison with the previous three days. I am not sure if it was the tension I had for the upcoming day or just the fact that I had an exam that day, but my experience wasn’t as pleasant as the one on day 3. I didn’t feel complete as I did before. I just felt like I completed a chore, and I knew that this was not the purpose of my journey.

Day 5, 6 and 7: I am putting these days together because the feelings I’ve encountered were of a very similar nature. During Friday and the weekend, I don’t have classes and I’ve decided to change my exercise to a longer one. On the 5th day, I chose a 40-minute Yoga for beginners and followed the same routine for the next two days. And wow. I don’t know if this would make sense, but this time I felt complete. I felt like I was doing the right thing, at the right time, the right way- all for myself. I dived in, completely maximizing my stretch to the best of my abilities. The pleasure of the stretch even for 2-3 seconds felt similar to the following experience. Imagine you have a body part that is itchy but you cannot reach to scratch it and ask someone else to scratch it for you. However, they scratch around the itchy part and not on it. You guide them and eventually, they scratch on the itchy part. They scratch exactly where you need it. And you feel amazing, relieved. My experience was the same, but I needed no one. I needed only me to feel that way. And I did it for 7 days. Until that moment I didn’t realize how badly my body needed it and how relaxed I felt. Therefore, this was not only a task for me. It was a way of finding how to make my life better. The rituals of waking up at 5 am, putting on sports clothes, rolling the mat on the floor and performing the exercises truly made it a challenging but very pleasant and unique experience.

It was something that I didn’t necessarily want to do at the very beginning, however, I liked the idea of doing something different than my regular assignments. The ritual of waking up that early in the morning was hard, I am not going to lie, and during the first four days was challenging for me. My brain would try to come up with an excuse, but from the beginning, I set it up as no matter what I tell myself, I must wake up and do Yoga. I knew that after the exercises I’d feel better and if I skipped I’d feel guilty and bad. When I say feeling better I mean, better as in calmer, confident and somewhat proud that I did something good for myself as well as really completing my assignment and not scamming. The liminal part of this assignment was about how quiet it is in the morning as if the whole world is sleeping, and it’s just me doing something amazing for myself. Adapting the will of having to wake up at 5 am, would set my day straight, and I’d get so much work done before I even go to school. It gave me a sense of order, and control, which I very much enjoyed. Liminal was also the feeling of the extensive stretch, as well as the stress released when breathing out. Exhaling while imagining to be removing all my stress away with that exhale, was something that reduced my anxiety. I am usually a gym person, and the gym is the closest I’d get to liminal experience, however, this was again stress and anxiety relieving but in a different form, having its own self-beauty and impact on me. The stretch itself reminded me of muscle groups of my bodies that I’ve forgotten I have, such as the middle of my back, both upper and lower. To conclude, my yoga experience not only set order in my life, not only improved my mood but my physical form as well. I am glad I was part of this exercises and I am very thankful for the thoughtfulness of this activity as well as the lesson I learned about having a will.

A very famous ritual of healing of the Iraqi Kurdish group is Sufism. Sufism is a spiritual sect of Islam, that is mentioned in the Quran, and its fundamentals are derived from Prophet Mohammad Peace Be Upon him (Arberry, 2003). In a sense, Sufism is a practice based on religious devotion. Sufism requires knowledge, certainty and a very strong belief that healing will occur. The Sufi group spiritual healing focuses on a practitioner's emotions and degrades emotional junk that interferes with personal development (Mason, 2004). Sufi healing serves as an emotional cleanse which release anxiety and prevents from drifting of a peaceful state of mind. The aim of the Sufi healing is to get closer to God and free the practitioners of everything that makes the body suffer. The healing is achieved through prayer, strict fast, certain foods exceptions and deliberate physical harm. During a healing session, practitioners bow up and down until a state of liminal experience is reached.

Once a liminal state is achieved, practitioners stab or cut themselves with sharp objects, and within minutes healing is observed. Therefore, the Sufi healing does not only alleviate the soul and the mind through fasting but also the physical body despite the sessions of healing including physical harm on the body caused on purpose.

To practice the healing, one must not only rely on the explicit energy of a belief and certainty, but have an extensive knowledge that is usually passed from a Sheikh to a future practitioner. After knowledge is passed down, the Sheikh does not have to always be present. The energy and protection are granted to the practitioner once requested mentally from the Sheikh and closeness to God is ensured (Mason, 2004). Moreover, it is known that desire to get closer to God might also be achieved through different religions such as Christianity or the hope to heal from devastating disease.

Like Jesus and Buddha, the Shaikh serves as a mediator between the practitioner and God (Mason, 2004). This type of guidance is very important for one not to be lost. For example, Adam and Eve in the Garden didn’t have spiritual guidance such as the Sheikh and felt into temptations that resulted in the punishment through mortal pain such as pain during childbirth. The Sheikh is the leader of the Sufi cult. The Sheikh title is usually passed down from a father to a son. The lineage approach is adapted due to the fact that the future Sheikh was raised in a household in which closeness to God was of the highest priority. One of the biggest Sufi academies are in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the Sulaymaniyah village in Iraqi Kurdistan practitioners are engaging in deliberately body harm rituals such as cutting one’s tongue with blades, or stabbing their cheeks or chest or with blades in the skull. The healing does not occur by accident. One must be very well prepared before engaging in the Sufi form of healing. For example, if a person from the Sufi group gets hurt or wounded, his wounds would not heal as fast as the deliberate self-harm applied during the healing ritual of the Sufi group.

The Kurdish Sufis are known for two things. One is the “self-mortification” practice such as the deliberate body harms as well as the corruption of their leader. However, the corruption of the Shaikh and his sons doesn’t seem to influence the success of the rituals and they are often performed for important guests.

15 Jun 2020
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