If watching Hamp Shuford of Conover performing yoga poses isn’t enough reason to take up the practice, I don’t what is. He’s 67, retired from his job as purchasing manager for Klingspor Abrasives in Hickory, and recently relieved of a cast.

He broke his ankle in June, continued practicing yoga with his orthopedic surgeon’s permission, and then was back to expecting his ankle’s full participation just weeks after the cast came off. He suffers no pain, no limited movement. I’m not a medical professional, but I think all the yoga he’d done before the accident — followed by sensible self-care, including yoga, after the mishap — resulted in a quick, complete recovery.

Hamp teaches yoga at Neighbors Network, a program offered in Conover by the Catawba County Council on Aging. His yoga journey began about 20 years ago and was inspired by his desire to remedy his lower back pain without surgery.

Hamp’s family doctor suggested an MRI to determine if surgery was needed. A back surgeon felt that a procedure was in order.

“I set about doing some reading about back pain,” said Hamp, “and everyone I spoke with about it and everything I read, yoga kept coming up. So, I started going to yoga at both the Conover and Hickory YMCAs.”

Long story short: no surgery. His back pain declined almost immediately. Hamp emphasized, however, that not all musculoskeletal ills can be cured with yoga. Medical intervention may be the only means of relief. Consulting a physician about engaging in yoga is crucial.

Yoga not only offered Hamp a nonsurgical solution, but it suggested a lifestyle that Hamp knew was supportive of good health: sufficient and good quality sleep, a nutritious diet, and paying attention to his body. Hamp offered seasonal allergies as an example. In Indian medicine, a device called a neti (Sanskrit for “nasal cleansing”) pot is used to irrigate the sinuses, which purges irritants and relieves congestion.

Hamp said self-care and how to approach medical issues are parts of the yoga philosophy, which includes eight limbs, or principles, meant to guide a person toward a meaningful and purposeful life. They include instructions on interacting with others, practices related to self-discipline and one’s worldview, the exercises one practices, and breathing patterns.

Breathing correctly is an indispensable part of yoga. Hamp likes to repeat, “If you know breath, you will know yoga. If you know breath, you will know health. If you know breath, you will know peace.”

Hamp became so interested in yoga that he “decided to take a 200-plus-hour teacher training class at Yoga with an Edge in Hickory,” he said. He studied under Vicki Vanderlinden, the Edge’s owner, and continues to do so. He’s almost to 300 hours of training and plans to reach 500 hours in August.

The whole time we talked, Hamp sat on the floor in the lotus position. Yoga is so much a part of his life now, that he seeks it out wherever he goes, such as classes offered on cruise ships. He’s even practiced it in a room adjoining a Buddhist meditation center inside the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. To thwart the possibility of coronary thrombosis while on lengthy airplane rides, he does seated yoga. “The great thing about yoga is that you can do it anywhere, anytime,” Hamp emphasized.

It was a long ride to India in 2008 when Hamp traveled to the South Asia country as part of a Rotary friendship exchange. Hamp is a member of the Rotary Club of Catawba Valley. While in India, he told his host he’d like to do yoga where it originated some 5,000 years ago. The host belonged to an all-male, multi-aged, 12-member group that met every morning as the sun rose. “They had old ratty cloth mats,” said Hamp. “They took turns leading.” Hamp said they “were delighted” to have him join them.

Hamp asked the gentlemen what they thought about Westerners’ interest in yoga. “One of them said, ‘You yanks are ruining yoga,’” Hank said with a smile, explaining that the men didn’t see the point in the fancy yoga clothes and mats.

Describing the Indians’ poses, Hank said, “They did a lot of inversions – anything that gets your feet up and your head down.” At that point in his yoga abilities, he could not do a headstand. He can now.

“Another thing I like about yoga is the people who do it,” Hamp pointed out. “Their character, openness, eagerness to serve and help and the fact that almost by definition, anyone who does yoga is interested in practicing good health, which in turn makes them better able to help others.”

So where hasn’t Hamp done yoga? “I haven’t been able to do it on the moon yet,” he suggested with a grin, adding that he’d love to have seen Neil Armstrong do a yoga asana (pose) on the moon.”

During the yoga class that he leads, Hamp likes to share information about the practice. One thing he makes clear to everyone is that yoga is not a religion. “Yoga is an all-encompassing philosophy. It fits right in with my theology. I’m a Christian,” said Hamp. “That’s a big misconception some people have that yoga is a religion. It is not.”

Hamp always ends his classes as other yoga instructors do: with relaxation. He talks about how the “monkey mind,” a phrase he picked up in his yoga studies, always tries to jump in when we’re hoping to clear our brains and just unwind. The monkey mind starts listing things we need to get done. Hamp’s solution is to acknowledge the list’s existence, be thankful we have the physical and mental abilities to accomplishment the items on the list, and then put the list aside for the next few minutes. I’m not going to say it always works, but I will say that I’ve come very close to falling asleep many times during relaxation.


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