Fifteen years ago, I was not acting my age. Since I would recoil from any form of exercise, as well as any green foods, I was overweight, inflexible and debilitated by lower back pain. The 40 extra pounds on my frame — plus tight, shortened back muscles and weak abs — left me moving like an 80-year-old version of myself.
I suffered daily from sciatica, back spasms, limited mobility, weakness, you name it. When I got stuck in my car one day, unable to swing my legs out because of my sciatic pain — at age 23 — I realized, “Something’s gotta change.”
I started reading up and realized a shocking number of people suffer with chronic back pain, partly from hours spent sitting in a way that flattens the lower back curve. (BTW, Gaiam’s Balance Ball Chair, the very one I’m sitting on as I write this, is a great tool to help build core strength and re-align your spine.)
Then, I found yoga. Over time, using some of the same poses I’m showing you here, I built a lean and pain-free body.
I’ve been practicing yoga for close to two decades. The awareness and grounding it offers has steadied me through cross-country moves, crazy deadlines, tragic breakups, getting married and becoming a mother. Yet when I had the second of my two kids in just over two years, I gave up all forms of mind-body practice cold turkey. I just couldn’t take on anything that wasn’t directly related to keeping those kids alive and cared for.
In 2006, Rodney and I had the privilege of taking a few classes with Mr. Iyengar. When it came time for Headstand, I informed the yoga master that I didn’t do them — I have a seizure disorder that I always felt was aggravated by Headstands. He told me, in no uncertain terms, to stand on my head now! And I did. I stayed up, and only came down when he said it was time.
By then, the rest of the class had moved on to Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose), and, trying to be a good student, I came down from Headstand and sat right up to join the rest of the class. That’s the point at which he slapped my back and said, “That is your problem, not Headstand: You transition too quickly and mindlessly. I am sure that you do this in your life as well. You never let anything settle in.” Wow, what an acute teaching for a chronic issue!
This year, after 15 years of yoga practice and transforming my body, I found myself hitting a plateau. Though my practice regularly involves power moves like jumping forward into Crow Pose and holding Warrior Pose for a long time, my muscle tone seemed to be stuck on autopilot: never decreasing, but never really going to that next level, either.
One of the great things about yoga is that you don’t need to invest in a bunch of equipment to reap its benefits. As long as you have a yoga mat and some stretchy clothes, and you’re good to go. And yet there is one yoga prop I wish I could magically disperse to every household in America. Heck—the whole world! And that’s the humble yoga bolster.