Subhead: Nearly three years ago, Brian collapsed on a morning run due to a genetic heart condition. In a medically-induced coma for 48 hours followed by angioplasty and two stints in his heart, Brian is alive and well today, doctors say, because of his disciplined yoga practice and overall physical condition.
Only 20 percent of people who have the experience Brian Landers did live to tell about it. Of that 20 percent, only one percent survives without long-term physiological and cognitive problems. Brian represents the one percent.
Nearly three years ago, the Sprint Human Engineering Manager (also a well-respected Kansas City-area yoga instructor) was attending a Sprint Application Developers Conference in California when he collapsed on a morning run. Without oxygen for more than five minutes, Brian was placed in a medically-induced coma for 48 hours to allow his brain to heal before doctors performed angioplasty and put two stints in his heart. The ordeal was triggered by a genetic heart condition Brian didn’t know he had. He’s alive and well today, doctors say, because of his disciplined yoga practice and overall physical condition.
“I got very lucky because I am one of a small percentage of people who use the third ventricle artery well, so I ended up with no tissue damage to the heart,” Brian says. “This artery likely developed in me due to physical conditioning. Today, nothing is holding me back, nor will it ever.”
In keeping with the July Well-Being Wednesday theme “Health for the Whole You,” Brian shares his well-being philosophy, both from the perspective of a yoga instructor and a Sprint employee who believes in being the best you can be, breathing through life stressors, and never letting set-backs hold you back.
Here’s Brian’s story:
How often do you practice/teach yoga and what other activities do you participate in? Paint a picture of your fitness life.
“I teach three to five 1.5 hour yoga classes a week and practice on the mat four to five times a week. I also run two or three times a week and have a goal of 10K steps per day as measured by my Jawbone (a fitness tracking device). I’ve also raced cars and played rugby and softball.”
How do you find the time for it all?
“I don’t have kids, so I do have more flexibility and time than most. I also have to stay highly organized. To practice yoga as much as I want to means that I have to get up early in the morning. I hold the belief that if you are going to show up and be present in the world for others, you have to invest in yourself.”
Is yoga effective at relieving stress, depression and anxiety? If so, why?
“Yes, a big part of yoga practice is focusing on the breath. Breath focus (pranayama practices) helps to eliminate the citta vritti (scattered/chattering mind). The breath has a direct effect on the nervous system. Think of a time when you have been anxious. Do you remember your breath? It was likely short and shallow in the chest. When the breath is short and shallow it stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight mode). When the breath full and deep, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated (balanced/calming).
“In yoga, you learn to challenge yourself physically while keeping the breath under control and the mind in the present moment. Yoga is not only called “practice” because you are practicing postures … it is also called a practice because when we encounter challenging/stressful situations on the mat, we are better prepared to handle challenging and stressful situations off the mat.”
Would you say that practicing yoga helps you achieve better focus and productivity in your work? If so, why is that true?
“Yes, for a couple of reasons. When you practice yoga, you will improve your ability to rein in your mind and thoughts, giving you the ability to focus quickly. There is also an endurance factor, as yoga classes can last anywhere from one to two hours. Also, when the body is tense, you will be more reactionary. Because of my practice, I am more mindful or calm when stressed instead of reactionary.”
What advice would you give to your Sprint colleagues who may be experiencing stress and anxiety?
“Breathe! I know, it sounds cliché, but taking time to focus on the breath will release tension and be calming. Try this:
Sit up tall in your chair.
Close your eyes.
Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your heart.
Breathe a full breath in through the nose until the hand on your abdomen pushes out and the hand on your chest rises with the breath.
Focus on the breath; visualize the breath coming in and out.
Hold the breath for a count of 3 to 5.
Exhale the breath our slowly through the mouth.
Practice this for two to five minutes when stressed or anxious.
Also, find a yoga class/studio that is right for you. There are several different styles of yoga from restorative to high-octane power yoga and many in between. Ask questions, give different things a try, and don’t get discouraged! Remember, it is not about achieving a pose. It is about creating a happy healthier you!”
This month’s Well-Being Wednesday theme is “Health for the Whole You.” What does that mean to you personally?
“To me, ‘Health for the Whole You” is wellness of body, mind and spirit. If you choose to put anything in your body, mind or environment that does not serve you, you need to ask yourself ‘why?’ Yoga on and off the mat is a great practice for giving you the tools to be a whole, healthy you.”
Editor’s Note: Brian teaches yoga in the Kansas City area at Darling Yoga, 11711 College Blvd., Overland Park, Kan. 66210, (913) 498-1144; and at Yoga Gallery, 7941 Santa Fe Dr., Overland Park, Kan. 66204, (913) 432-5568.