Nicole Bienstock said her tattoo “sums up her life.” The phrase that comes from a Buddhist value, reads in black italics letters on her right rib cage: may you become like the lotus flower and rise from the mud of your existence to grow toward the sun.
On Monday evening, Bienstock stood in front of about nine students lying quietly on their mats at a small art studio in Gallatin. She moved her arms up and down and then walked to check on each student as she said “Inhale, let the ribs in. Exhale, lift your heart towards your toes.”
She is the president of the Gallatin Yoga Club, which meets twice a week to address members’ personal issues through a yoga practice focused on the mind and its connection to the body. She came to NYU two years ago from Fair Lawn, New Jersey to study Mind/Body Connection and Mind/ Body Medicine in Gallatin.
She is confident in what yoga (as a physical activity and a lifestyle) has helped her to overcome. She has Crohn’s disease and Fibromyalgia, but is now in remission. She said yoga was a vital part of the difficult process. When she was sixteen she was on steroids and an immunosuppressant.
“It is the sickest I have been,” she said. “It felt like living in water and fire all at the same time. I was kind of like in a prison in my body. I couldn’t take a flight of stairs without loosing my breath and my heartbeat racing. I was a swimmer and I couldn’t swim two laps in a pool leisurely without my heart getting to 180, which is a lot.”
Steroids flood the body with stress hormones so that you don’t feel the pain that comes from inflammation, she said. “So my body was in a lot stress all the time. And Crohn’s disease already feeds on stress.”
Stress can be translated to deep muscular pain, digestive problems, and ultimately to inner bleeding in Crohn’s disease patients.
With the aim of releasing her from that stress, her mother signed her up for a yoga studio, where she took a beginner’s series many times in a row. “I was a 16-year-old in a room full of 40-year-olds, and I had more physical issues and pain than anyone. So the teacher was particularly interested in my case. I became an image because of how much my body needed help,” she said.
Yoga helped free her from the pain and distress her body was in as a result of drugs. “I suffered from panic attacks for a very long time. which isn’t part of the diagnosis, but there’s a certain kind of personality that goes along with having those diseases and anxiety is usually a part of it. I genuinely cured my panic attacks through the breathing part of yoga called Pranayama,” Bienstock added. “One breath in particular called Nadi Shodanam, that harmonizes the two hemispheres of the brain and the left and right side body — I literally cured my panic attacks with that.”
She makes sense of Yoga’s soothing impact on her body through physiological explanations of how yoga loosens any stressed person. “In our society most of us breathe into our chest. We also have a skinny society that makes us suck in our stomach. By making both of those actions, we are unconsciously triggering our sympathetic nervous system…we are all in sympathetic overdrive pretty much all the time.” She said yoga makes a tremendous beneficial difference to the nervous system and thus in the body and the mind.
The spiritual aspect of Yoga also helped her. In fact she said Asana, the movement of the body, is only one eighth of the practice.
“The big picture is, she said, that seemingly empty space is not empty. There are molecules and particles everywhere and we as organisms are just vibrating at lower frequencies and have denser molecules. Each molecule and atom and element that we are comprised of is the same for every material in the universe.
“So the boundaries between me and you and that wall are just perceptual…so it is about understanding that perception is relative, and that everything is one.”
Accepting that helped Bienstock relax because “it makes shit like school and deadlines and conflicts with people seem so small…I can choose to get wrapped up and swept away with this human stuff, but it’s about forgiveness and about compassion towards yourself — knowing that you’re only human.”
She sees herself as an embodiment of society’s problems and of how yoga can help anyone overcome the impact those problems have on individuals. That is what inspires her to focus her career and most of her time on bringing awareness and presence into her life and into the lives of others.
Bienstock trained at Yoga to the People during her freshman year at NYU. She now focuses her experience on catering to students through the club that’s open to all NYU students.
“She gives us kind of mini lessons on the anatomical part of position while we’re activating a specific part of our body. That really helps you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing and what you’re supposed to be feeling,” said Kyle Richard, freshman in Gallatin.
The principle common to every type of yoga is to be immersed in the moment with every fiber of your being, Bienstock added. “Being present can save your sanity. So as a college student and as a human living in New York, it is very appealing,” she said.
The Gallatin Yoga Club is hosting a sound healing session in November the 8th with Sara Auster, a sound therapist. Check out their Facebook page for more information on free yoga classes and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Article By Rachelle Krygier on NYULocal on October 19, 2014.