Wendy Swanson, the owner of Be Yoga in Charlotte, is an open-hearted yoga teacher, acupuncturist, healer, and transformational leader who uses a beautiful combination of alternative health care modalities, yoga practice, and personal development work with her students. Along with running her studio, she has been leading retreats around the world for fifteen years. She recently spoke with us about her healing journey, her upcoming retreat, and the powerful awareness yoga brings.
I got involved with yoga about 25 years ago due in part to my first job after graduating from college. I suffered pain from sitting at a desk, which—as many of us know—is not good for the body over an extended period of time.
After discovering yoga through my church, people started noticing that my usually high-strung, Type A personality was less pronounced. I was a little more balanced. For those who study Ayurveda, I’m pretty vata, so yoga, breathing, and meditation helped to settle my energy.
From the start I found myself sleeping better and feeling better physically. I was in my body much more rather than getting caught up in my head so often. So, yoga had a huge effect on my whole being and helped me to relax so my true self could be expressed more fully.
But, as I continued on in the same career, I became miserable. I had a sales and marketing job in a very corporate environment. I was practicing yoga but was unhappy in my day to day working life. I knew that I was meant to do something different.
When I received an acupuncture treatment from a close friend, I was blown away by the results. I was also intrigued by the fact that it’s an ancient medicine with thousands of years of history. After I began to study acupuncture rigorously along with my yoga practice, I knew I was on my path.
Practical, Real-life Approaches with Miraculous Results
For so many of us, it’s impossible to give up our desk jobs because it’s the way we make a living. I work on methods for balancing this working lifestyle with numerous patients and students. We often hold ourselves in a scrunched, hunched-over position, sitting rigidly behind a desk or steering wheel.
While yoga asks us to assume shapes that may look kind of odd, these positions help with the six rotations of the spine so that we can feel elongated and free in our bodies. It is so amazing that once we feel good in our bodies, that translates to feeling good in our minds.
I really feel like my life purpose is to help people get out of the fight or flight stress response so that they can return to being present in their bodies. Both yoga and acupuncture help us move out of the sympathetic part of our nervous system which triggers the fight or flight response, and engage the parasympathetic nervous system, in which we can rest, digest, and renew.
Yoga and acupuncture go so well together that I often combine the two. I do a lot of restorative yoga and I’ll actually add in some acupuncture because this combination is extremely effective in calming the nervous system.
When our nervous system has been calmed, we make better decisions in that. We’re able to deal with our loved ones in a more compassionate and loving way, and we’re able to feel better in our bodies.
I have my own chronic pains from accidents and injuries, and yoga and acupuncture help me to stay in balance with that. It’s not about making every ache, pain, and problem disappear, but rather about how to be present with these things and how to lead a life that feels more open, more loving, and more fulfilled.
How to Slow Down Time
The meaning behind the name of my retreat, ‘Celebrate Being Through Yoga,’ is acknowledging, honoring, and embodying our true selves. To celebrate being means to practice being authentically ourselves. It means showing up for our families, our friends, our jobs—whatever we may need to show up for—and feeling that we are enough. This is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
For me, showing up means being present in the little moments that make up our days. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of getting in the car, then arriving at your destinations having no idea of how you got there. Many of our day-to-day activities become habits. So showing up also means slowing down.
We still have to accomplish the tasks in our daily routines, but we can savor each moment more fully. We can really taste our coffee and feel it’s warmth when we sip it. We can pause and feel the connection when someone asks how we are.
So, it’s not necessarily about changing anything. It’s simply about noticing. By noticing, it’s possible to expand time. As we get older, time moves more quickly, and sometimes life gets very busy. So this practice allows you to truly enjoy and be there for the moments you get to spend with your child, for example. You may not have hours and hours, but when you can be present in the time you do have, it’s enough.
Yoga teaches us to be present by tuning us in to each and every breath. It teaches us to get in touch with what’s going on in our bodies. We get ourselves into some really odd shapes, and then we notice the sensations along with the breath. Some of these shapes might feel great, and some might not. But when we are present with and experience these uncomfortable feelings in yoga, we are better able to handle life when it doesn’t feel so great.
We remember that we breathed through whatever unpleasant sensations or emotions came up in yoga, and those sensations didn’t last forever. Then, we felt something great in the next pose! When we practice yoga we are practicing being present for the joys and struggles of life.