2011 is also the year I started practicing yoga. I had been interested in it for a long time, and when a studio opened between my engineering school and my apartment, I decided it was a sign it was time to try. In France, yoga is still seen as a sorta hippy-culty-new-agey thing, so I had no idea what to expect. Well, I was completely out of shape, so it kicked my ass; but it also made me feel great. So I kept on going, and when I moved for my PhD, I kept on practicing, and as the benefits were proving everyday more and more, some of my friends got inspired and started going as well, others started asking me to teach them, and I got enrolled into a teacher training.
The body is such an amazing work of engineering. I have and will always be fascinated by its mechanics; I really think that Iyengar yoga is a great exploration tool and a complementary way of thinking about the body to my scientific research. But in the end, both my research and my practice are aiming at the same goal: a better understanding of how the body works. By the way, my favorite word EVER is proprioception. If you don’t know what it means, it basically is the awareness of your body in space. This is one of the things that yoga improves dramatically.
Four years after I started, I have no idea how I was dealing (not) with physical pain, stress and frustrations before I started practicing yoga. Teaching and assisting, I see how people get trapped into their bodies and don’t manage to communicate with them. I sometimes feel frustrated when people complain about their pain and aches and don’t want to give yoga a chance. While I know leading by example is the only way, I really want to shake them and tell them “you KNOW it’s good for you! WHY won’t you give it a try??”. And I’m not saying that yoga is a cure-all; it’s not. I was at a workshop with Garth McLean this past weekend. He has Multiple Sclerosis; and while by sustaining a dedicated yoga practice he has managed to reverse some of the lesions in his brain and spine, he still has MS. The disease is rampant, waiting for any weakness to reappear.
A couple of years ago, I was at my uncle’s house and I fell down the stairs, right onto my tailbone. I was afraid I had broken my coccyx, but I only ended up with a gigantic bruise. At least that’s what I thought until I went to the osteopath a couple of months later and he told me my pelvis was displaced. He put it back into place, and suddenly the pain I had been having during my period disappeared.
If you’re a woman reading and you have very intense period pain: whatever you’ve been told in middle school biology, period pain is NOT normal. Go see your M.D., gynecologist and/or osteopath. And while I’m at it, it’s incredible the number of women who do not know they should not be taking aspirin during their period: it’s a blood thinner. Paracetamol and Ibuprofen are fine.
Honestly, I cannot believe how much pain I endured just because I had been told in biology lessons that having pain during your period was normal. It’s not. Period. (Get used to the poor puns).
Anyhow I have to be careful with my pelvis / sacro-illiac joint; this year while I was practicing a pose modification called block setu bandha, I displaced my pelvis again. I recognized the symptoms immediately; and it was too painful to wait and go to my osteopath back home so I went here in Utrecht; the face of the osteopath when I told her “I think I displaced my pelvis” when she asked why I was coming was priceless. I guess it’s not a usual occurrence!
It was the first time I seriously hurt myself during practice (other than the usual bruises which made my mom say “I’m glad you’re single otherwise I would think your boyfriend beats you up”, not it’s just the ropes and weight bearing exercises – I know, I know, not using my core enough) and hopefully the last. But I can still feel that I am also, on my own level, walking that line between courage and caution. One mistake, and my pelvis is gonna pop out of place again. But if I don’t do anything, it’s never going to improve either. So I practice, I try, carefully, new things, different ways, see what helps, what not. It has been a great learning experience, so I am at least grateful for that. And waking up without feeling my SI joint is a victory everyday that it happens. Linked to this SI/pelvis issue I believe, is (was!) my anterior pelvis tilt which is slowly reversing. I wish I had taken a photo of it last year; compared to now you would see how incredible the improvement has been.
Why has this been so important for me? Simply because reversing this, as well as strengthening my back muscles, made my back pain vanish, so that I am not considering breast reduction as an option anymore.
It sounds like I used to have so many pains and aches I had a serious illness or something. This is definitely not the case. But the more I listen to my friends, the more I hear complaints about health. It all adds up. Most of them are not even 30 years old, yet they already have to take medication. I think this is seriously crazy. How did we get to this point? The point where young, educated, relatively wealthy and active people are living with chronic pain and getting accustomed to it, not knowing what to do about it?
Don’t misunderstand me here. I am not against medication, at all. Even though I have had a personal bad experience with Western medicine, I wouldn’t be doing my PhD in the field I’m working in right now if I didn’t believe that medicine cures people. But I also think that we’re not giving people the means to their ends. There are too many contradicting messages about nutrition, what you should do and shouldn’t do.
Even in yoga, people telling you that you shouldn’t do x pose whereas others will tell you its amazing benefits – my general opinion is that people complaining about one pose should indeed not teach it since they are not able to make it safe for themselves.
I believe that starting is the most difficult part. If you want to turn your life around, it’s very hard to know where to start. We need to have state programs that help people who want to change their lifestyle and be healthier. With people who can guide them and help them step by them on how to cook for themselves, find an exercise regimen they can maintain, and a space where they feel understood, not judged. Hopefully with M.D.s who are opened to holistic, integrative approaches to our “first world problems”. So that everybody can experience what a bliss it is to live in a pain-free body.