Okay, so this is my first yoga blog… So…(fingers drumming on keyboard, eyes searching the room for inspiration)… what to talk about? Well, as this is an introductory blog I guess it makes sense to start with me and what brought me to yoga…
I was always aware of yoga as my mum used to practice when I was very small. I tried it out a few times and knew there was a benefit to it, but to be honest, I didn’t think it would benefit me…and I was busy. With stuff. Very important stuff… Like working in the career I had no interest in, or partying and drinking and sleeping in till it’s time to do it all again. Then of course there’s watching sci-fi and fantasy shows on tv, and let’s not forget the comedies and those wonderful teen dramas full of angst, ridiculous hairstyles, and dialogues between teenagers that you may need a dictionary to understand (American kids must be more eloquent than Irish ones. No?). Anyway, you get the point, I was busy…with Very Important Stuff.
But oh! I was stiff. I mean REALLY stiff. I had no memory of ever being able to touch my toes and the occasional yoga teacher that I went to class with didn’t seem to believe how inflexible I was as a teenager and young woman. My lack of joint mobility didn’t bother me though because I was busy…with stuff. I never made time for a regular practice…until…my knee stopped working.
My knee literally stopped. It would neither straighten fully, nor bend anywhere even close to 90 degrees, let alone allow me to sit back on my heels. I couldn’t bear weight on it. I couldn’t wear heels to my cousins wedding (well, actually I did, I just walked barefoot for pretty much the entire day, with the only time I could show off my lovely little slingbacks being during the dinner…dratted table-cloth drapred all the way to the floor).
So what, pray-tell, was the cause of my distress?? None other than tight, short muscles in my calves, hamstrings, hips and back, which were all pulling away from my knee joint which eventually gave in and said “enough”. I was in my 20s. I was too young to be immobilised but for nearly a year I couldn’t walk properly, stairs were a pain (literally) and I felt about 100 years old.
Luckily for me two very good professionals (a physiotherapist and an osteopath) recommended stretching and yoga for my rehabilitation. At first it was almost impossible, but I was determined so I found my own way to adapt asanas (postures) to suit my own particular limitations. When I was finally able to stand on one leg and do a very minor squat while using a wall for support, I found a teacher I liked in Trinity College Dublin, where I was studying for my masters degree, and started attending regular Vinyasa Flow classes.
I was the most inflexible student in the class, BY FAR! Lots of lovely ladies with long necks and lithe bodies who were well-practiced in yoga were an embarrassing contrast to my old-before-my-time, aching body. It was ever-so-slightly (read: “completely!”) intimidating. There were so many asanas that seemed unreachable for me and sometimes it was all I could do to not cry in frustration when it came to the seated-postures section of the class. Yes, I was very hard on myself at the time…not very ‘yoga’, but that was a large part of my problem as I would later learn. My stubborn nature, which probably was largely responsible for my physical inflexibility was also what helped move me on from it as I’d refuse to quit yoga once the class was over. Instead I’d go home and analyse every little bit of my body in its movement, slowing down the movement into and out of each asana to examine where I was limited and how I could release my tensions. Building up strength and stability allowed my muscles to relax and tensions to melt away around the stable foundation of each pose. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, this was the beginning of my practicing of mindfulness. It became a habit to start each day with sun salutations, in my own personally-adapted way, and end each day with a headstand – the one pose I didn’t have issue with. I believe that I was so inflexible that I didn’t need to tighten my muscles to hold the pose…they were already so tight that they just held me in place! 😉
The difference yoga made was immediate and immense. My physio, who had until recently been chastising me like a naughty puppy for not doing my exercises (when I was!), was suddenly commenting on the great progress I was making (Good Girl!). I realised that by focusing on my entire body and relaxing both body and mind, rather than simply focusing on my knee, I made huge steps forward, figuratively and literally. But the best part was that I was loving it! I had caught the yoga bug…