Yoga isn’t something I thought someone like me could benefit from. To me, yoga seemed…well…irritating. Sitting on my “sit bones” for the count of six deep breaths? I need to walk around while I’m brushing my teeth! Needless to say, the way I was functioning started to take its toll on my body.
A couple of years ago, I went to the doctor because I was experiencing a variety of physical symptoms like difficulty sleeping, migraine headaches, stiff neck muscles, heart races and difficulty keeping weight on. He wanted to prescribe anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills. Taking pills for things I didn’t need for survival was not my thing. So I threw out the prescriptions the doctor gave me and researched more holistic ways to heal my body.
I’d heard a great deal about the benefits of yoga. In fact, Analea, a friend I worked with at the time, practiced yoga every day and seemed so calm and easy-going. I kept thinking Man! How can I feel that way?
When I approached her to ask about the secrets of yoga, her response was very simple: “The main benefit of yoga is flexibility of the body. But in order to achieve that, you have to be able to relax the body and focus your mind first.”
Essentially, she meant that our bodies respond to how our minds perceive situations around us. In other words, stress in the mind puts stress on the body. It still seemed a bit “Ghandi-ish” to me but I was willing to give it a shot.
During my search, I came across a video entitled Yoga for Dummies. It was a beginner program for those with back or minor health problems preventing them from doing the more intense forms of the exercises. Perfect! I admit it: I procrastinated getting started. I knew it’d be a huge challenge for me. Aerobics? No problem. I can jump around. Weights? Sure. I can pump iron (in lower weight levels). Walking, running, or swimming? Love it! But ask me to stand still while someone talks in a monotone voice telling me to be relaxed? Challenge.
The first time, I just sat on the floor and watched as Sara, the yoga expert, performed the poses. After all, I wasn’t going to bend myself into a pretzel when there was no one around to straighten me out. Sara’s friendly face and calming voice were not unlike Analea’s so I felt more at ease to give it a go.
It wasn’t trying to get into a poses I found hard; it was holding them. You see, each pose has to be held for six breaths. Not rapid in and out breathing or even the normal way we breathe but slow, deliberate breathing. But I tried my best.
I went to Analea a week later and excitedly told her I’d bought a yoga video. I thought perhaps she’d be able to tell me why after a week I didn’t feel relaxed but even more tense than I did before I started the yoga.
“Well, tell me how the video is set up and what you’re doing,” she said.
As I explained to her how Sara’s practice was set up and how I performed the poses, her smile widened. Apparently, breathing normally and fast-forwarding through to the next pose was not the correct way to practice yoga.
“It’s not something you can rush through, Chynna,” she explained. “Yoga isn’t aerobics; you don’t do it as fast as you can. And you aren’t doing cardio exercises here. You’re supposed to ease into it and it’s supposed to relax you. I guess it’s not for everyone.” She gave me that side head tilt you give to someone when you’re saying “Tsk. You poor thing.”
Deep in my stressed-out heart, I knew she was right. Rushing through exercises that are supposed to be calming was ineffective and a waste of time. After all, it was my rushing-through-everything behaviour that created my health problems and, also, what triggered me to want to find something calming to counteract the behaviour. I realized if I truly wanted to change my lifestyle and improve my health, I had to give this yoga stuff an honest effort.
That evening, I grabbed my video off the shelf and looked at Sara on the cover. Ok, Sara. Let’s do this! Dressed in my yoga pants and equipped with my sit bones towel I popped in the video and did everything exactly as I was instructed to: moved slowly, stretched as far as I could, sat on my sit bones and held poses for the slow count of six breaths.
It was still difficult, as I am not the most flexible person, but by the end of the video, I was so relaxed I was actually awakened by the white noise screaming from out of the television letting me know it was time to rewind. I couldn’t believe it. After a week of doing my yoga practice the right way, the tension in my neck went away, I didn’t have one headache, and, for the first time since I was in my single-digits, I slept through the night. It was a miracle!
I’m so happy to have discovered this wonderful practice and have now added Pilates to my routine. It does take self-discipline, concentration and dedication but I know I’d much rather spend half an hour every day relaxing my body than putting pills into it. And the one thing I’ve learned from this experience is that contrary to what it says on the outside of my video box, yoga is definitely not just for ‘dummies’.