What can stretches and breathing do for your health and wellbeing? Quite a lot, actually.
What do you do when you can’t bend down and touch your toes? Odds are, you accept it and move on with your life. That’s what I did too. Now, I can not only touch my toes, I can get my hands flat on the floor, and it’s something that I never thought I’d do again. How? Yoga.
When I was 12, I fell on an ice rink. As I landed, I hit my tailbone and, unbeknownst to everybody, I twisted the base of my spine. I couldn’t sit down and was in a lot of pain, but we all thought that it was bruised, and it would heal. For a while, it seemed to get better.
Things changed two years later. Suddenly, I couldn’t bend down and the pain was back with a vengeance, all over my lower back. It took a while to solve the problem, but physiotherapy revealed that my muscles had clenched to protect my twisted back and the right side had never eased up.
The upside was that I didn’t have to do PE for a whole year. This sounds like a dream to the athletically challenged, but it was actually really, really boring.
The first time I tried yoga, it didn’t really help
My physiotherapist recommended that I try yoga to help stretch and ease my muscles. I started going to a weekly class, but I found that I was tight and in pain the next day. After a few months, I stopped going.
When I was 15, things eased off and I settled into the status quo of knowing my limits. I could bend my back and was back in PE classes (under heavy supervision and with restrictions, mind), so life went on.
Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better
Two more years went by with incident until I reached the age of 17, and more problems appeared. I was getting intense pain in my right hip and at its worst, I wasn’t able to put any weight on my right foot without searing pain going up and into the leg joint.
The ice rink was still causing damage and this time, the muscle tension had spread down from the lower right side of my back to the muscles around my hip, and I was diagnosed with a condition called trochanteric bursitis. The fluid in my hip was inflamed and was being forced through the joint instead of smoothly gliding. This meant that my hip actually felt like it was grinding as I walked. Not nice.
So I started my second round of physiotherapy, this time using ultrasound waves to break up the fluid and stretches for my muscles. Once again, things eased off, and I had a new set of limits to live within.
Finding the flow
Back in January 2016, I was drawing up a list of New Years resolutions and decided that I wanted to do more exercise. I wasn’t ready to sign up to the gym, so I decided on trying yoga at home.
I found my old mat started following Yoga with Adriene on Youtube, and she was sharing her 30 Days of Yoga series. She is the reason I can finally touch my toes! Her style is real and approachable, and she understands that things take time. Most importantly, her mantra is to ‘find what feels good‘ because she knows that yoga practice is as individual as the person practising it.
In her 30 Days of Yoga series, I was able to reach my toes by day 20. The best part was that I didn’t even notice at first! I did the stretch, held my toes, and after a few seconds I finally realised what I was capable of. The novelty of being able to bend forward and reach past my shins still hasn’t worn off.
My old office also started weekly yoga classes, and I was able to learn so much from having a teacher who was able to explain, demonstrate and correct my technique.
We practised Ashtanga yoga, and with this style I’ve been able to learn my strengths and weakness (I’m looking at you still, right side). I’ve seen real improvements too, particularly with lowering myself to the floor from plank position. This sounds simple but trust me, it’s not easy when you have no core or upper body strength.
I’m now in a new job, so I don’t have the weekly classes anymore. That being said, I’m so much more confident in my home practise and remember my old instructor’s words of advice and instructions.
Tips for your practice
Take your time – if you’re unsure of what you should be doing, ask for help if you’re in a class, or pause and watch if you’re using a video. It’s always better to check than to rush and potentially injure yourself.
Don’t worry about gear – you don’t need expensive clothes and equipment to practise yoga. All you need is a good mat, comfortable clothing and maybe a block if you need to use one.
Remember that everyone is different – don’t compare yourself to your teacher, or people you see practising online. They probably have years of experience, and might be unable to do moves that you find easy.
Breath and enjoy the experience – I’m kind of cynical, so believe me when I say that yoga really does help clear your head, improve your mood and help you sleep better! It might take a while to see the difference, but with time, it’ll happen.