During a time of crisis, listen to your ancestors
By Michelle Andrie
In my yoga therapy practice when a client is struggling with a negative physical or mental samskara (deeply embedded pattern), I often ask about their parents and ancestors. According to yogic philosophy, we’re born with a karmic inheritance of mental and emotional patterns—samskara. We can cycle through these over and over during our lives until we choose to change.
This understanding of inherited patterns is accepted in Western medicine as well. As the Mayo Clinic explains,
“You inherit half of your genetic profile from each parent. Along with the genetic information that determines your appearance, you also inherit genes that might cause or increase your risk of certain medical conditions. On the other hand, you might have a family history that indicates you are at a lower risk for certain conditions. A family medical history can reveal the history of disease in your family and help you to identify patterns that might be relevant to your own health.”
The emerging study of epigenetics takes this idea of inheritance a step further, showing that the conditions under which our forebears lived—including the stresses they experienced—directly affect our own health. Epigenetics is a bit like intergenerational samskara.
Choosing our history’s expression
Yoga therapy is very much about accepting who and where we came from and learning to be with whatever is arising in the present moment. The past shapes us, but we recognize that we have the power to choose what to bring forward.
Many yoga therapy clients in my practice wish to be the stopping point of a samskara, genetic disorder, or inherited pattern. The first step in creating real lasting change is awareness. In the case of inherited genetic patterns, we need to know our ancestors—where they came from, what health issues they experienced, and how they dealt with their life challenges.
A gift from my ancestors
During the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve been thinking about what my ancestors experienced during their lifetimes. I’m fortunate that a cousin has been sending me pictures of my father’s ancestors.
Being able to see the people I came from has been rewarding. I can see the resemblance between my dad and my great-grandfather. I have been sending these photos to my dad, and he tells me about these strong, resilient Northern Europeans.
These photos and Dad’s stories are bringing the people I came from alive for me. I see their struggles in the shapes of their bodies. As I hear of their challenges, I gain strength from their beautiful human faces. They encountered so much during their time on this Earth.
My dad’s voice grows warm as he tells stories of tuberculosis, how he rode his bike to the sanitarium that housed TB patients. He liked looking up at the building and waving to his sick aunt stuck inside. She survived her brush with TB, but dad thinks those visits caused him to be a TB carrier.
This winter, Dad had a bout with pneumonia while visiting me in Hawaii. When I took him to the hospital and a chest x-ray revealed scarring on his lungs, the doctor asked about his family history of lung issues and his own lung health.
My dad’s physician thought that TB exposure on the lawn of the sanitarium could be behind the scarring and told him that whatever had caused it, Dad must take extra care with his lungs.
So fascinating. I’ve suffered from bronchitis for years—is it a samskara?—so neither Dad nor I are taking any risks with coronavirus.
Dad’s voice grows strong as he talks about his parents and grandparents, who survived the Great Depression. Dad is grateful for the hunting, fishing, gardening, canning, and cooking skills he learned from his parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, who needed those tools to survive.
Dad still uses these skills today. When I stayed with him in Northern Minnesota last summer, we picked vegetables from the garden and pickled cucumbers, canned beans, made tomato sauce, and pulverized cabbage into sauerkraut. Most evenings, we headed out to fish for Walleye on the lake.
World War II
Dad was too little to remember WWII, but he remembers his uncles who served. I can hear how proud he is of these larger-than-life men who helped to shape Dad into the loyal, courageous man he is today. My father can fix almost anything because these men were brilliant mechanics.
Honor thy ancestors
Although I know not everyone has the same relationship with their ancestors, I’m now more aware than ever that I stand on the shoulders of strong, resilient people. I also know that these people were not perfect. They made mistakes, drank too much, and suffered from anger issues. As I look at my dad’s ancestors, I don’t recognize myself in them. I know I inherited my physical features from my mom’s side of the family. She was adopted, so my family tree contains some gaps. Like many others, I don’t get to stare into my ancestor’s faces and recognize my own.
What I do know is that I’m grateful for the pictures of my dad’s ancestors. I accept and I am honored to know that these Gypsies, Vikings, and pioneers are my forebears. I gaze at their photos and am thankful for the stories Dad tells of their challenges. They are helping me through this difficult time.
A practice of rooting down
Build your own awareness and feed the relationship with your ancestors by seeking out photos and stories of what your older family members have lived through. Allow them to be a source of healing, empowerment, and nourishment.
Maybe even take a meditative moment to push your energy down into your legs and feet. Visualize roots growing out of the soles of your feet and into the earth. Picture these roots as your ancestors. Connect to their experiences—the plagues, wars, and depressions. Open to their wisdom. Lean into their strength and resilience. After all, they have been through great difficulties and likely learned how to survive and thrive!
Michelle Andrie, C-IAYT, founded Age Less Move More, where she offers unique movement practices to create a body you adore, a life you love, and the energy to sustain it. Connect with Michelle, who has more than 30 years of experience with therapeutic yoga, on her blog as well as on Facebook or Instagram.
I try so hard to find out more regarding my ancesters,to no avail. No one on either side of mother or father are alive. Ihave been told my mother was Irish and my dad, was Native american(Cherokee). I do know Ihave my Fathers facial features strong.My skin color is the same as my fathers.
Thank you for sharing this, Phyllis. It’s so interesting to consider the various ways, genetic and not, in which we have all come from somewhere…