September is Yoga month! A month designated to raise awareness, spread the health benefits of yoga and induce a healthy lifestyle. This month we bring an inspiring story from our customer and guest blogger, Donna O'Sullivan.
1. Can I do Yoga?
This is what I was asking myself back in the spring of 2018. But let me start further back… 10 years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and degenerative spine disease. And then 3 years ago, I experienced my 2nd prolapsed disc in my cervical spine resulting in bundles of prescribed pain killers, steroids and other awful stuff with horrid side effects. Fast forward to right now and I’m in week 2 of a 200-hour Yoga applied Anatomy & Physiology Diploma. Yikes...
I went to my first yoga class ever, at a gym in Cairns, Australia in 2005. It wasn’t yoga as I know it now; there were no breathing techniques and the warm up poses were in fact Tai Chi. It took a few sessions to get into it and every time I looked up, the rest of the class appeared to be moving gracefully and harmoniously, whilst I, on the other hand, appeared to be back to front and inside out. After sticking with it for 6 sessions or so something ‘clicked’ into place and I felt that eureka moment; I began to synchronise my breathing with the movements and my God, it felt so good! Probably because I didn’t look like an idiot for the first time.
Upon hearing the news that a second disc had prolapsed but this time trapping a nerve in its wake, I was advised that I had 2 options. 1.Long term physiotherapy or 2.Surgery. I chose my own option - 3.Yoga! Because of its known exemplification of strengthening and conditioning the body. Only this time, I went to a real yoga class.
Recently, I spoke with a colleague who advised that they “couldn’t do yoga”. I asked “why not?”. They advised they weren’t flexible enough. Armed with the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the past 3 years I gushed on to inform them that yoga is not just an exercise; it’s not about being thin, or flexible and you don’t have to be super fit or flip upside down or twist and shout (not like the previous gym days anyway) to experience it. I could say for example, “I sat on my mat with my coffee this morning, I took some deep breaths in and exhaled some long, deep breaths, simply feeling present in this moment. And I did this for 3 minutes or so… Then I made some positive affirmations for the day and then I was done. This was my yoga practise, for this morning” And can you believe it- they didn’t believe me! Oh, my word, I feel like I have a lot of work to do as this newly fledged yoga teacher here in the West. But then I must not be so hasty to judge because I used to think the exact same thing. I was apprehensive in my first few real yoga sessions.
There was incense burning in the background, the faint twings and twangs of Indian sitar music, drifting dreamily through the air from a Bluetooth speaker. There was an atmosphere of quiet calm, some people already lying prostrate on their mats, eyes closed, others in quiet conversation also on their mat. The class began with us lying down with instructions to close our eyes and to ‘connect with our breath’ (Am I not already connected? How am I breathing??). There was a good 10 minutes of this lying around and deep breathing before movement was introduced. A deep connection with my own body was received and thus began this wonderful dance of mind, body and spirit integration they call Yoga.
2. Who Can Do Yoga?
It was the end of my gym session a few days ago, everyone was lying on the floor, wheezing and sweating after a really sweaty workout. There’s a large man in my class, he looks around my age, around 40. He’s holding his breath, face turning purple (it’s possible, I’m a witness) desperately trying to reach his arms over his tummy to touch his toes.
“I’m so stiff”, he said into the air, to no one in particular.
“You should try yoga”, I offered. In response I received a loud resounding LOL from everyone in the room.
My (sadistic) fitness instructor (all fitness instructors are sadistic in my opinion) blurted “Can you see Terry doing yoga??! Seriously!?”
And it made me think…… Why on earth not?
See this is the problem I’m facing as a yoga student, soon to be yoga teacher. I live in Rothwell, a small, rural market town of only 7,000 people situated on the A14 between Leicester and Northampton. I’ve tried to find local yoga classes but they are sparse. The impression I’ve been given by so many friends, colleagues and family is that yoga is for fit, flexible, skinny and strong people. They are simply wrong and I feel it’s my duty to let them all know this! Flexibility, strength and fitness can potentially be a direct consequence, resulting from a regular yoga programme (and/or fitness can be applied here but what I’ve found in my experiences is, that by applying yoga techniques I’m able to become more consciously aware of the decisions I make regarding food i.e. choosing a home cooked meal over a fast food takeout).
Anyone can do yoga! It’s my aim, after I qualify in the autumn to offer an Absolute Beginners Yoga course which will focus on sitting correctly and comfortably but most of all, simply breathing! Just lying supine (lying down on the ground with your face facing upwards) and connecting with our breath by inhaling long, deep belly breaths, eyes closed, relaxed….. This is yoga. I’ll be teaching my students that by breathing in a very particular way, we can hack the body’s systems and induce states of calmness or heightened awareness. Yes, this is yoga. I’ll be teaching them how to master Savasana or Corpse Pose with guided meditations designed to induce deep states of relaxation. Yes, this is also yoga.
It’s my aim to dispel the myths and bring yoga into the everyday person’s home. We will not overcomplicate things and we’ll speak in words that are easy to understand and pronounce but also educate along the way; each posture within yoga has a meaning you see and once mastered can have very particular effects on the body. Yoga is for everyone and anyone and everyone should experience the rewards yoga brings. But most importantly we’ll be starting from the ground, from the deepest foundations and building ourselves up from there. It begins with the breath…...
3. What Is Yoga Anyway?
I’m entering week 5 of a 200 hour Yoga Diploma of Applied Anatomy and Physiology and I’ve just handed in my first batch of homework to cover the previous month. One of the essay titles is “What Is Yoga Anyway” and I’ve had to do my own research into this very question. There are many different types of schools that teach different types of yoga in very specific ways. We have a class teaching Vinyasa- an aerobic, calorie burning yoga class that aims to get the heart pumping and energy raised. We have another class called Yin which involves gentle, passive yoga poses designed to restore, regenerate and relax the body and central nervous system. And we have Kundalini classes which involve sometimes, bizarre breathing techniques where you breath in through one nostril, breath out the other whilst doing yoga with your hands. And there’s another type of yoga which requires you to adhere to a set of rules and values every single day! So you not only set aside time for physical practice, but the choices and decisions you make every day are based upon the values set by the Yogic School. This one is called Ashtanga or Karma Yoga. There are many, many more different kinds, far too many for me to go into at length here. My first impression was that yoga was in actual fact a religion but I was wrong; I’ve come to learn it’s a philosophy.
The word ‘Yoga’ loosely translates to ‘yoke’ in Sanskrit. The Yoking here is of the mind and the body through the breath; reconnecting our bodies back to our minds through the use of breathing techniques. I can hardly go a day now without practising an alternate nostril breathing technique called Nadi Shodana. (No, it’s not the name of a spell from Harry Potter). It balances my mind and leaves me with a clear, focussed feeling that I kinda like having in my life!
Now I don’t suffer from any extreme psychological conditions such as schizophrenia or manic depression. But I, like many, am dealing with stress on a day to day basis; deadlines, school runs, money issues etc etc. There is an increasing interest amongst psychologists and psychotherapists that recognise that through breath work and prepared movement, improvements in both physiological and psychological conditions are being made. The roots of yoga are unclear but the agreed general academic consensus is that it’s at least 5,000 years old. Through my own research I’ve come to believe that it’s a complete and utter physiological and psychological system designed to not only restore, but also to maintain the body's physiological and psychological systems. For all my aches and pains, I can think of a lot more ailments I can find the solution to; Yoga. For everything! For me it’s perfection.
Neitiv Guest Blogger | IG @goldtorusdesigns
‘My Yoga Journey’ - breathing and diet associated with all my ailments and how I’m overcoming them.
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