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.
Yoga saved my life.
Pretty grand statement, I know. And perhaps other people say that, too. I guess depending on where you are in life or what you happen to be going through, there are a lot of things that can save your life. A good book could do it, a sign from the universe or maybe even a strong martini. But when I say that yoga saved my life, I mean it truly came into my life during one of the darkest moments I had ever experienced and gave me back my desire to really live — fully and entirely.
A few years back, I found myself completely paralyzed with anxiety. I couldn’t go to work, drive my car or even leave my house without a potential panic attack. This anxiety made me angry. It made me resentful. But most of all, it made me an entirely different person. I became a shell of what I used to be. A lot of people thought I’d stay that way. Full disclosure: I thought I’d stay that way too.
Raise your hand if you’re sitting down. Now raise your hand if you’re wearing shoes that have a heel height of an inch or more (running shoes and men’s dress shoes count).
Hand still in the air? Chances are, your hamstrings are tight. Really tight. Which means you’re more prone to damage in the knee and hip joints, pelvic floor disorders and low back pain.
What do these two seemingly unrelated things (your shoe choice and the likelihood you’ll be sitting most of the day) have to do with your hammies? Here are a couple basic things you need to know to connect the dots:
Ever felt yourself going through the motions of a yoga pose without focus or purpose? I think most yogis who’ve been practicing for a while have this experience, at least sometimes.
Several years ago, I found myself rushing through the Sun Salutation, praying for the series to end so I could move on to asanas I enjoyed more. I hated the way the pose strained my wrist and left me breathless, and it seemed to take forever to get through five or six of them. But since appreciating whatever you’re doing is a key spiritual teaching, I knew I had to do something to change my perspective.
2010 has been a tough year for many. People are working harder than ever (if they are lucky enough to have a job) with less pay, fewer benefits and uncertainty about their job security. It has truly been a stressful grind for our minds, bodies and spirits.
Pain, numbness, tingling? Do any of these describe the feelings you have when you come out of an asana? Please heed these warnings! Not all yoga poses are safe for all people. Just follow expert yoga teacher Patricia Sullivan’s story in the October 2010 issue of Yoga Journal. She painfully details a journey of denial in which her headstand caused (yes, caused) crippling nerve pain that eventually culminated in her falling asleep at the wheel and driving off the road into a lagoon.