Sudha Lundeen

The Healing Power of Yoga

Posted on July 10th, 2014 by in Yoga

Statistics show that people in the United States and abroad are practicing yoga in ever-increasing numbers. Some call it a fad that will eventually fade away. Yet the profound physical and psychological benefits that so many experience lead me to think otherwise. As medical and yogic research expands, empirical evidence places yoga therapy among the most effective complementary therapies for a variety of diseases and common ailments, including anxiety, heart disease, arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer.


More and more mainstream medical practices are adopting yoga therapeutics, as growing research shows its efficacy in aiding recovery, especially from stress-induced conditions, and improving overall health and vitality. Statistics show that 60 to 90 percent of the complaints that people bring to their doctors are stress-induced, and yoga can be an effective means to mitigate and even prevent stress-induced conditions, restoring a sense of balance and ease.


Hospitals are beginning to open integrated health care departments, adding yoga therapeutics as part of their complementary approaches to health care. Professional organizations, including the International Association of Yoga Therapists, are supporting and researching these efforts. Psychologists are incorporating specific breathing practices with anxious, stressed-out clients.


While group yoga classes use postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and deep relaxation (yoga nidra), such classes may not be well matched to the sensitive needs of some individuals. For those, working one-on-one with a trained yoga therapist who can adapt and customize a variety of approaches will better suit their specific needs and temperaments. This individualized approach is known as yoga therapy (or yoga chikitsa in Sanskrit), a holistic approach to health maintenance that includes Ayurvedic practices, specific meditation techniques, daily lifestyle practices (dinacharya), and purification practices (kriyas and panchakarma)—all customized to the individual.


Developing the skills for working with special populations has been a long and, at times, very personal journey for me. I can trace this process back to my sophomore year in high school when my father (a college football and swimming coach) coaxed me to help him teach swimming to students with physical disabilities. He taught me how to investigate their individual needs and come up with unique ways to help them learn. I loved the experience, and thought I would become a physical therapist in order to work with this population full time.


Instead, I went into rehab and oncology nursing, and from there shifted my attention and energy into what we then called “alternative”approaches to health and well-being. I moved to Kripalu, immersed myself in personal sadhana, and began teaching yoga and training in other modalities. Graduating from Kripalu’s Ayurvedic Health Counselor Certification trainings, I found that I approached my private clients with a deeper and more holistic spectrum of skills. Being a trainer in Kripalu’s 200- and 500-hour yoga teacher trainings has been a rich and deepening experience on both personal and professional levels.


I am grateful to be part of this ever-unfolding ancient healing path, and pleased to see these tools being incorporated into contemporary medical thought. Like two wings of a bird, these old and new approaches balance and support us in achieving the health and well-being we seek.


Sudha Carolyn Lundeen, E-RYT 500, RN, is a Kripalu Yoga teacher trainer, Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant, and experiential educator.


Click here for a link to the full article.

Excerpt from Richard Faulds Book: Kripalu Yoga: life on and off the mat

On Page 210,  Sudha addresses the question “How did you get into Yoga?


Life is full of surprises. An Oncology Nurse at a large Boston hospital in 1985, joining the Kripalu Staff was the farthest thing from my mind. But I had been diagnosed with breast cancer the year before, and that catalyzed a willingness to make some major changes in my life. I had also been studying and practicing complementary healing modalities, such as Therapeutic Touch, to help patients recover from the rigors of cancer treatments and was impressed with the results. When I began my own treatments, I explored additional ways to help me deal with the side effects. I looked for practitioners who knew the value of treating more than just my body. Eventually, I took a deep breath and set out for Kripalu Center and what I thought would be a two-month stay.


Living at Kripalu, my eyes and my body discovered the new world of healing and nurturing possibilities I was looking for. In yoga classes, I found that I was not only strengthening my body, I was also learning how to relax and be present to the sensations and feelings that came up. The compassionate mindfulness I practiced on my mat began to integrate into other areas of my life. As I peeled away layers of fear, I started unlocking doors to parts of myself previously unknown. My yoga and meditation practice became the ground from which I could overhaul some old and limiting belief systems. Living this healthy lifestyle, I felt great. My six-month medical check ups said I was doing great too.


My story would be so much simpler if I could close on that high note. Little did I know that another shocker was on its way. But this time, when I needed more cancer treatments, I had the tools of my practices and wonderful community support to help me face the challenges and uncertainties. As anyone who has been there can attest, navigating a major health challenge is no small feat. For me, these challenges were mixed with a heavy dose of grace. By facing death, I opened to life. I am well again. And I know that life offers no guarantees. This is true for all of us, of course, but with a life threatening diagnosis that truth becomes more compelling.


As a yoga teacher, workshop leader, and Lifestyle Coach for the past 20 years, I have worked with hundreds of people facing serious health conditions. When asked what has been most powerful in my healing journey, I say there are a number of key practices and principles. It’s important to breathe and stay present in your body. It’s equally important to treat yourself with compassion, not more aggression, and to quiet the inner critic. Don’t give into the temptation everyone feels to roll over and give up. Go to your edge. Remember that you are something more than your body, and learn to savor the good moments. There is no one right way when it comes to healing. Your journey will be different than anyone else’s and that's okay. These can sound like platitudes, but put into practice, they work. They make a difference. They helped me get my life back.


As a result of all I’ve been through, I have grown and changed. I’m more connected to myself. I have learned that identifying with my fears and limitations makes my world small and cramped. Being grateful for all the little joys that occur daily inspires me and leaves me capable of great happiness. When negative thought forms arise, as they do, they don’t have as much strength as they once did. Someone recently gave me a button that said, "This is not just a body, it’s an adventure." I am grateful to have found my yoga and meditation practices. They have been such key players in helping me navigate my particular adventure.

Working With Special Populations: A Personal Journey

By Sudha Carolyn Lundeen

Developing skills in my yoga practice for working with special populations has been a long and, at times, very personal journey for me. I can trace the beginning back to my sophomore year in high school when my father (a college football and swimming coach) coaxed me to help him teach swimming to students with physical disabilities. He taught me how to investigate their individual needs and come up with unique ways to help them learn. I loved the experience and thought I would become a physical therapist in order to work with this population full time. As with many of my life "plans," that never happened. I went into rehab and oncology nursing instead and from there shifted my attention and energy into what we then called alternative approaches to health and well-being. I moved to Kripalu Center and immersed myself in personal sadhana, began teaching yoga and training in other modalities. This eventually led me to lead 200- and 500-hour yoga teacher trainings and to develop a private therapeutic yoga practice.

Every one of us has experiences that inform what and how we teach. From my own experiences with breast cancer, i am very aware of its aspects and effects, not just during October, which has been slated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In fact, much progress has been made in getting information and support out for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Though each type of cancer has it's unique aspects, there are many common denominators. Breast cancer is just one of the populations I am passionate about serving. The past month I was given the opportunity to support a woman make the choices that were best fitting her and prepare for a successful surgery. Working one on one like that can be very rewarding and also asks me to reach deep into trainings and experiences of my past, not just yoga training. I sometimes think that being a good and sensitive listener is one of the most important skills we each have to offer.

I love working with clients individually and in small groups. I have learned as much from each of them as I have from my esteemed teachers. And I love sharing what I have learned with yoga students. At this month’s YTA workshop.

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Sudha Carolyn Lundeen, age 57

Lenox, Massachusetts

Kripalu Yoga


A former oncology nurse and present-day senior faculty member at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Sudha teaches yoga-based healthy living programs and Kripalu’s 200 and 500 hour Yoga Teacher Trainings.  A perpetual student, she has studied Ayurveda and yoga therapy in India and in June of 2006, graduated from Kripalu’s 18- month Ayurveda practitioner training program. 

Sudha has produced the Kripalu Gentle Yoga DVD. 

Is women's yoga different than men's yoga? 


I don’t believe that there isa difference between the two.  A cobra pose is a cobra pose is a cobra pose.   But of course, women do have unique needs that inform their practice- like when they bleed during the month or are pregnant, have a baby and are nursing.  


Ideally, each of us would develop a practice that shifted according to our stage of life, physical health and emotional state. It’s the approach, the attitude, and the degree of awareness that we bring to the mat that makes the most difference. We need to regularly check in and ask, “What am I practicing in this moment? Is it serving to bring more joy, light, peace, kindness and balance into my life?”


In a culture that seems to be increasingly drawn towards acts of aggression and greed, I find it particularly important to have a place and time where there is encouragement to go within and drop the need to be “more” or “different” - to open to the interconnectedness of all things.   I feel it is especially critical at this time to find ways to be fed at the soul level. Being part of a yoga community can serve to support that need.



What is your current approach to practice?


What resonates most deeply in me is a slower and meditative approach to asana. Slowing down the pace helps me quiet my mind and focus on the subtleties and sensuality of each movement.  As I continue to practice with a quiet mind and attentiveness to my body’s sensations and breath, my sadhana becomes a meditation in motion. 


In this state I access a more intuitive knowing of how to move.  The willful aspect of alignment softens. There is a heightened sense of connection to my body and breath, a gentle surrendering to the directives of prana.   Creative sequencing and variations of poses emerge. 


When I am finished, moving into seated meditation feels seamless and I am more apt to carry the state of mindfulness into my day.  I am more likely to remember to breathe and relax if someone cuts me off at a stoplight, to pause before I eat and give thanks for the food, to walk away from the computer that is calling me to answer emails after 10 pm….  


How has your practice changed over time to embrace your different stages of womanhood? 


It has evolved over the years.  For a long time, I practiced two to three hours every morning and again later in the day.  My practice was more vigorous.


These days it’s gentler, subtler and more fluid. Meditation is taking a stronger hold, and restorative postures are nectar after a particularly long or challenging teaching day. 


My practice on the mat continues to extend into my life beyond the mat.  It becomes more about the practice of being present and showing up in the moment.  It’s about developing greater compassion and clarity.



What practices do you recommend to support women?


The practices that best support a woman’s well being are those that skillfully match the woman’s particular state of physical, mental and emotional health.


I don’t think just list of poses to practice here would be all that useful, so I recommend the following resources and encourage the readers to find a teacher whom they trust and take some classes:


  • The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health, Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden, (Shambhala, 2002)


  • A Woman’s Best Medicine: Health, Happiness and Long life through Ayurveda,  Nancy Longdorf V. Butler and M Brown, (Tarcher, 1995)


  • Yoga for Your Type, D.Frawley and S. S.Kozak, (Lotus Press, 2001)
  • The Viniyoga of Yoga, T.K.V. Desichachar, (Quanda Press Limited, 2001)


What do women most need to know right now?


Women need to remember that what they practice, they strengthen.


 I pray that we come to honor our own true natures and changing bodies’ needs and refuse to be bullied into thinking we must conform to the current “flavor of the month” or to a teacher whose directives feel “off," disrespectful or aggressive.


Yoga practices offer a host of powerful tools that when cultivated will stand you in good steed for a lifetime.  It’s never too late to start. Start now if you haven’t.  Come back if you’ve strayed.  The potential benefits gained by studying and practicing yoga are limitless. It is possible to have a practice even with a busy life… some creativity, flexibility and guidance will show you how.

Ask Our Expert: Yoga Journal Articles by Sudha Carolyn Lundeen

Which poses will teach you how to balance with ease? Should you exhale through the mouth or the nose during pranayama? Sudha Carolyn Lundeen, Advanced Kripalu Yoga Instructor and Holistic Health Nurse, answers these questions and more.

By Sudha Carolyn Lundeen


Pushing Your Edge vs. Surrendering
Establishing a Home Practice in a Remote Area
Alleviating Aching Hands (Repetitive Stress Syndrome)
Poses for Spina Bifida
Preparing to Become a Yoga Teacher
Hints for Balancing
How to Exhale in Pranayama