My path back to yoga

Photo Brigit Tabbarah

The way we physically carry ourselves, our posture, our gait and our physical alignment sends a message to the world conveying our mood, attitude and our perspective of how we experience our quality of living. Those that are trained to recognise how the body is moving and what kind of (mis)alignment one possesses and how to correct it, can be incredible healers for those that suffer with pain. Using Yoga as therapy and addressing the underlying causes of habitual misaligned postures, the management of chronic pain and reeducating our bodies for greater well-being is one of the focuses of my upcoming workshop: The Middle Path.

In this workshop we will focus on our Flexion Addiction.  An example of flexion addiction is illustrated by our modern human tendency to sit too much and for too long which causes movement syndromes leading to chronic back pain. This ‘flexion addiction’ creates a state where our body experiences amnesia and forgets how to contract or release, creating conditions for greater imbalance. The main objective for this workshop is to inform students on how to create pain-free movement by restoring postural balance. We will learn how to preform postural assessment and use yoga-asana and simple movement based techniques to therapeutically address the imbalances. Using the information gathered from the workshop we can start recovering from this amnesia, re-connecting and support this ongoing process of healing.
For more information on this workshop please click here.

My personal path back to yoga

When I was 20 years old I started having spasms in my lower legs and feet which would last up to eight hours. The triggers were frustratingly, very inconsistent. When I was finally diagnosed with a Talocalcaneal coalition and an inverted heel in both ankles (this is where the ankle bone and the heel bone melts together, damaging the joint movement, nerves and soft tissues) I was on crutches most of the time, being carried to the toilet and on heavy pain killers. My orthopaedic surgeon said I had 80 year old feet and that he could separate the joint, however he could not guarantee I would be free from pain. Upon hearing this news I sat at home defeated, thinking I would never be able to walk, run, carry children or ever be free from the chronic pain. I surrendered, as there was nothing else I could do to force the traditional medical community to fix me and in that exact moment a voice in my head said, “go back to yoga”.
I did yoga with my mum and her friends as a young girl, however, as a teen I rebelled as it was so boring. My time was better spent running in the foot hills of the Rocky Mountains, cycling, rock climbing and hanging out with friends being moody teens. After my rebellious stage I had not thought of yoga until I moved to the UK and became stricken with the chronic pain. When that little voice spoke to me I was aware of a few classes around the corner from where I worked in London. For the first six weeks I would go to three different teachers who’s approaches to yoga were all very different. I would sit there, listen and do the best I could to move and I would cry. I cried for two reasons: the first reason was that the pain was so intense to try and manage I thought that I couldn’t take it. The second reason was the vulnerability I felt in attending a group and showing that I wasn’t managing my body anymore. This realisation unlocked desperation, shame and an emotional mess within me. This was hard for the person I saw in myself, because she was strong, capable and independent. To need and accept help was the hardest thing to allow. Not only was I dealing with my current physical state, I also unleashed this part that was holding onto previous experienced trauma, fears of facing a lifetime of physical disability and the constant reminders of what I had lost…
I found that I was emotionally and physically melting from my foundation. About the same time of attending regular yoga classes, I saw a therapist that specialised in co-dependency family issues, and started attending regular Alanon meetings. I look back on it and see that the historical, emotional and physical healing all needed to happen together. I was able to start to see how my body walked, sat, and interacted with my life. Linking my physical chronic pain and my psychological pain together.
After some time, I remember a point in my yoga practice that I would be pain-free for a few hours. This grew to a day, two days, a week and now, I am with out pain everyday. During my first four years of practice, it unfolded a lot of other issues that my misalignment caused: sensory motor amnesia in muscles, acquired scoliosis, chronic headaches-migraines, a bulging L4 and L5 disk that caused femoral nerve misfiring; this meant that my leg would give out and stop working (falling over in the street as graceful as possible became a necessary skill of mine). I focused my time in rebuilding my body, determined to use my love for human anatomy and physiology to reeducate myself. I could see there was a line or ‘sutra’ that ran up my body linking all of it together in this matrix of emotional, mental and physical holding, that everything is connected, that nothing acts alone. My posture that protected me, however, over time was causing me further harm. I would attend every workshop, and consult every yoga teacher who knew anything about structural alignment. I was consumed with reading about the subject and filling my brain with solutions rather than focus on the problem. I give most of my credit of holistically healing to two teachers: Doug Keller and Rod Stryker, who have passed on to me the living traditions of yoga and therapeutically healing ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically.
Although I still have the coalition, I now know how to manage it. I have to keep my body strong as I have loose ligaments holding certain joints together and I have to release other parts of my body that work to stabilise my instabilities. I am conscious of my good and bad patterns. Though sometimes I may fall off my path and pain reoccurs, yoga gives me the skill and knowhow to take action to get back on my path for this continual healing and rediscovering myself at any given time.
The hard part these days is I see my ageing body with all my limitations and I look at the gymnastic yoga out there that seems to be capturing all of the attention and I wonder what is this movement really about? I catch myself comparing my practice to others and even yearning to do extreme yoga poses, which only leaves me with the residue of frustration and a lack of self-acceptance. But when I come back to my senses and recognise myself having a deeper relationship with my body over the past 18 years, with this maturity, I have accepted that I had to let go of certain yoga poses as they are not helpful to my condition and leave me in a lot of pain. I practice my yoga to create balance, to reconnect, embody and ultimately to prepare my body for my meditation practice. I want to feel good rather than look good.  As hard as I am finding it, watching the popular world of yoga follow a path I seem to be diverging from, I have learned that along with Doug and Rod, I have to place my body, my will and my heart amongst my greatest teachers. I put my full trust into them. I know that the lessons I have learned from them will continue to serve me on this path and by passing on these lessons to others, will serve my community.


Published on February 15, 2016