Last night, I cried on my mat at the end of a particularly intense hot vinyasa flow session. It was a release of frustrations which have built up over the last 6-8 months in various aspects of my life, together with longer-serving injuries rearing their heads. There I was, laying in savasana, dripping with sweat, surrounded by 30 strangers – anonymous and exhausted – and out the tears poured.
It got me thinking about the effects yoga can have on people, and more importantly, why I started practicing and why I will continue to do so.
I’ve always been a particularly active person; at age 4 it was ballet, which moved to climbing trees and riding my bike with the local kids in my village. During school it was rounder’s, tennis, netball, hockey, even long-jump and javelin at times. At aged 15 I started playing rugby and found a sport I excelled in, before injuries started to set in. I was diagnosed with chondromalacia patella (a condition where the cartilage on the undersurface of the kneecap deteriorates and softens). Physiotherapy and some painful strapping seemed to sort that out, but then it was the torn cartilage injury and the fractured ankle from rugby and more recently lower back-pain from a hyperextended lumbar spine. Rugby was pushed aside for more gentle swimming and strengthening gym-work.
In February 2015 I was in the gym when my knee gave way two days before a weeks’ skiing trip and I was rendered useless on the slopes; struggling to keep up with my friends and in absolute agony for much of the week I found myself in an incredibly negative relationship with my body. I didn’t trust it; it had let me down and I didn’t know how to take back control. I started through the NHS referral system, being bumped from X-Ray to MRI to physio with no real success.
After 3 months of no exercise whatsoever, feeling negative and sluggish, it was yoga that got me back to caring for my body. It was the only exercise I knew I could do without placing unnecessary stress on a still painful and unpredictable knee. My boyfriend and I discovered Yoga with Adriene on youtube and started our practice at home. I immediately had a connection with the practice. I remember my first yoga class was at university some 4 years before and I had found the whole experience confusing – I was surprised at how hard it was going to be, frustrated that I wasn’t as good as those around me, and yet wildly invigorated in equal measure. But practicing at home meant there was no-one to compare myself to, which the competitive sportsperson in me found refreshing. I could go at my own pace, listen more to my body rather than push to get into the pose because the girl on the mat next to me could do it. I focused on the power of breathing and started to reconnect with my exiled and neglected body; realising I was stronger and fitter than I thought I was.
In September of last year my boyfriend took a job in Brussels and moved out there to further his career. I wasn’t ready to go with him, and instead we packed up our beautiful home we’d made together, split up our possessions and while he got on a train to Belgium, I moved into a house-share with friends in central London. To distract myself from our impending long-distance struggle I threw myself fully into the yoga. I’d reached a point of more confidence by this point and decided it was time to progress and deepen my practice with a proper teacher. I class-passed around the city, took advantage of introductory offers at studios and did my best to keep up my practice as affordably as possible.
3 months’ later things took a turn at my work and I made the decision to look for a new position. It took 4 months to leave, amidst low morale and disillusionment among my fellow colleagues and in that time I also struggled to juggle the cost of travelling back and forth to Brussels, so chose to leave my friends in the house-share and move yet again.
In August of this year I found myself seeing an ineffective physio, struggling to settle into my new job, unable to plan my life with my boyfriend and in need of something more fulfilling. In a frank conversation about our future with my boyfriend he said to me, why don’t you just go, do yoga, and travel for a bit? And so the decision was made; to quit my job, take the trip I have been putting off for 10 years and learn how to deepen my practice further.
It occurred to me; over the last year it hasn’t mattered how frustrated I have been, with my job, with life, with my body; there’s always something I can do on my mat to relieve the stress.
Last night was no exception. All I really wanted to do was go home after a challenging day and get into bed. Instead I decided to head to a gentle open-level yoga class for some light stretching. I was early, and was too lazy to wait around for 30 minutes for the class to start, so without really thinking I plumped for the 1 hour 15 minute hot vinyasa flow session which started 10 minutes after I arrived. I’d never done it before and as soon as the class started and the music started pumping I was overwhelmed. I’d made the wrong decision – I didn’t have the energy for this. But before I knew it my breath kicked in, I unthinkingly passed through the poses as if they were second nature (which, I suppose, they are now) and I ended up pushing myself further than I ever have before.
I achieved at least 3 new poses and felt more strength and balance in my knees than I have in a long time. Despite this, towards the end of the class the lower back pain reared its ugly head and I felt the elation of seconds before come crashing down. Frustrations rushed back and the tears flowed. Immediately afterwards I knew that this is why yoga is so important. It’s teaching me to listen to my body, and recognise my limits, but at the same time to be proud of those things it can do.
I read somewhere that yoga is both about strength and flexibility, and most people who are strong are not flexible, and vice versa. It’s not about touching your toes, or even being able to do a handstand; it’s about connecting with your body’s capabilities, and its limitations and recognising how to take that knowledge further in your life; as Adriene says “finding what feels good”.
I’ve realised that I am capable of achieving more than I am currently in my work-life. I’ve realised that what feels good to me is being with the people I love, doing something I love, on my terms. I’ve realised that my body is amazing, considering the pressures and expectations it has endured for 27 years.
If any of this resonates with you then I urge you, get on your mat, join a class, go online now, and let yoga start to heal you, as it continues to do for me.