Heal thyself: Practicing yoga as therapy
Bob Ash, Certified Yoga Therapist
DevPrayag Yoga Therapy
The year was 2006, and Bob Ash seemed to have it all. Armed with a business degree from the University of Southern California, Ash had built a successful Bay Area drinking water systems company that continued to steadily grow.
He enjoyed a variety of expensive hobbies, but none more than skydiving. While in the air, he said, he felt a sense of freedom and joy.
He had been a competitive skydiver for more than a decade when he met a woman, Shannon Dean, who loved to BASE jump — the sport of jumping with a parachute or wing suit from a cliff or fixed structure.
As time passed the two fell in love, became engaged, and Ash sold his company, which seemed to have outgrown him. Their future seemed full of limitless possibility.
Yet just a few short weeks later, everything would change. One day, Ash set up his camera to film his fiancée jumping off the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho. Little did he know he would be filming her death.
“When she fell, I was filming quite a distance away,” said Ash. “I was on my way to her when all of a sudden I absolutely ‘felt’ she had died. I dropped to my knees. For the first time in my life, I felt like there was something more beyond this life.”
When he returned to the Bay Area, Ash found himself trying to make sense of what had happened.
“Through my grief I began to feel love as an experience, not just an idea,” he said. “I wanted to follow that feeling.”
One day a package showed up on his doorstep, wrapped in stitched cloth. It had been sent by a friend who had been traveling in India — it had taken six months to arrive.
The book was “Miracle of Love” by Baba Ram Dass. Ash was moved by Guru Maharaj Ji’s stories about love that were included in the book.
“It became a real therapeutic tool for me,” said Ash. “I kept getting signs that I should go to India with Shannon’s ashes.”
He set off on a long journey through India, just “letting things happen.” He hiked through the mountains and sat with yogis.
In this third month, he met a Brahmin priest near the holy Himalayan headwaters of the Ganges River; it was there that he released Shannon’s ashes. He was 41.
When Ash returned home, his whole perspective had changed, and he was eager to write a book about his experiences. A friend who lives on the San Juan Ridge encouraged him to come up and spend some time writing in solitude.
“One day I drove by Ananda and a sign said that new yoga classes were beginning the next day,” said Ash. “I spent the next eight years taking yoga and have been practicing it ever since. Initially I meditated for about two hours a day and wrote. I felt a real change.”
Ash now lives in Lake Wildwood, and has been teaching yoga for the past seven years.
He has recently become one of the first Certified Yoga Therapists under the new International Association of Yoga Therapy (IAYT) guidelines.
He sees himself as a bridge between traditional yoga and Western medicine — as even the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has now recognized yoga and meditation as demonstrating quantifiable improvements in soldiers diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Ash served in the U.S. Army in the 1980s in Germany.
“Since I am both a veteran and victim of trauma, I feel I am uniquely qualified to help those who are suffering after serving our country,” said Ash. “I hope to act as a resource to the local community not only through treatment, but also by sharing the most up-to-date research on how yoga therapy treatments are affecting particular conditions.”
Ash’s company, DevPrayag Yoga Therapy, is located inside the nonprofit Inner Path bookstore and boutique in Nevada City. In addition to veterans, Ash’s other passion has become working with seniors.
“I want to meet people where they are and bring healing,” he said. “I’m interested in the people who are afraid of yoga classes — I want to bring in people being treated at the hospital who have never tried yoga — not students from Wild Mountain Yoga.”
Over the past decade, yoga research has been overwhelmingly positive, said Ash, and studies have continued to expand into a greater number of conditions.
When applied properly, yoga therapy has shown great benefit for anxiety, depression, heart disease, hypertension, cancer recovery, autoimmune conditions and a wide range of other modern ailments.
“Recently, there have even been studies showing the reversal of Alzheimer’s symptoms, which would have been deemed impossible just a few years ago, said Ash. “How can yoga therapy help with such a wide variety of conditions? It’s because we work with the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Getting healthy on a cellular level tends to promote good health in virtually every aspect of our lives.”
In addition to teaching regular classes at Inner Path, Ash will be part of an educational series for seniors at The Cascades of Grass Valley.
In June, he will be co-teaching a class entitled, “Overcoming Chronic Pain,” and in July he will teach “Yoga Therapy for Osteoporosis.”
“I know that initially yoga can seem to have some outlandish ideas to newcomers,” said Ash. “I’m not trying to take them over the rainbow, just to learn how to heal themselves. I support a person’s regular medical regiment, but I want their bodies to heal so they don’t need meds. There is nothing like seeing the light go on in someone who has been in pain for a long time. I think I’ve honored my promise to Shannon that I would take this experience and do something meaningful.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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