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About 8 years ago I was diagnosed with a bulging disc and severe degeneration of the spine. The MRI showed that there was hardly any space at all between the vertebra of at L5-S1 located at my lower back and I was in agony. Several times my back locked altogether, the pain was so excruciating that my body literally froze and refused to move. Despite the severe pain the specialist advised me that I was not a suitable candidate for fusion surgery. I was devastated as at that point I would have agreed to anything in order to be pain free. Instead, I was referred to a pain specialist who advised steroid injections to numb the pain. These in themselves are surgical procedures. I was sedated and they injected the steroids into my spine. Resulting in one side of my body being completely numb and I was unable to walk, stand or feel anything for at least 24 hours after. I had this done twice but unfortunately it didn’t work. When I went back to the consultant and he suggested a third attempt but I told him that the pain at this stage was everywhere. It was in my neck, my shoulders, my arms, hips, back …. Literally everywhere. So he diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia and gave me a script for antidepressants. Apparently if taken at night they numb the pain signals to the brain, basically they are meant to knock you out so that you sleep but other than that there is no known cure. It’s chronic pain for life.
I could not believe that this would be forever. That this pain would consume me. I couldn’t sleep, I did not want to take antidepressants, I couldn’t sit for too long, I couldn’t stand for too long, I couldn’t pick things up off the floor, I couldn’t even put my own socks on. My job at the time was in an office and I remember several times sitting at my desk in floods of tears because I was in so much pain. I was 40 years old.
At this point I want to say that I don’t speak for everyone with Fibromyalgia. My belief is that it is a different experience for everybody. I am not an expert nor am I qualified in any medical way whatsoever but as far as I know there is no scientific test for Fibromyalgia. It’s basically a term that doctors use when you are in chronic pain that they can not diagnose. They don’t know what causes it and there is no real treatment or cure for it. Pain killers don’t really work so the only thing they can offer you is antidepressants which basically switch you off so you don’t feel it as much!
Personally, I could not except that I was going to be in pain forever. I tried several other treatments, physio, chiropractor, osteopathy and they did help to bring some temporary relief but I was still in pain. I spent so much time researching, looking for a magic pill, a magic answer, a magic cure.
Not long before all of this happened I had started practicing yoga and as soon as I was able I went back to it. Sometimes it was really hard, sometimes I had to leave early because I was in just in too much pain to continue but I didn’t give up, I just kept going back. Something was telling me that it was the right path for me. I did my teacher training, we converted the studio and I left my managerial office Job.
Over my 6 years now of teaching I have completed many subsequent trainings which have all helped me to understand my condition better. I have researched through my studies and my own personal curiosity (which will be forever ongoing) the effects of stress on our minds and our bodies and I have come to the conclusion that my diagnosed “Fibromyalgia” (all over physical pain) was caused by a combination of the initial physical trauma and deep emotional stress. Initially my back injury was caused by a combination of damage from an old accident, degeneration of the spine from years of working a desk job and then running outside of work for exercise on a compressed spine and weak core. The Fibromyalgia was then switched on by a result of the severity of the initial pain and consequently how I dealt with that mentally. Mentally I saw myself as broken, damaged, a failure. What good would I be now if I could no longer do the most basic of things?
For me, Fibromyalgia is in my head. I know people with Fibromyalgia get very upset if a doctor tells them that but please understand I am not saying the pain isn’t real. And maybe most doctors don’t explain that statement very well, after all they are not experiencing it so how would they know. Doctors are there to diagnose and subscribe and most of them have no training whatsoever in emotional support. That is not what they signed up for. The pain that I feel most certainly is very real. It is physical pain which is triggered by my feelings, my anxiety and deep-rooted long-term stress. My parasympathetic nervous system has been switched on for far too long and my body is screaming at me for help. All that time I spent looking for a magic cure, an external source of relief, something, anything to fix me. The only source of relief for me is to find inner peace and strength. To learn to switch it off I need to deal with my anxiety, my relationship to stress, and my self-confidence.
During my 8 year journey I have built both physical and mental strength. I have taken the time to look inward, to reflect, to understand myself better. It has not been easy. I still have days when I feel that I am not enough. We all have days of self doubt, we are human after-all, but with my continuing practice I am learning to put the yet at the end of each sentence that arises. I am not good enough … yet. I am not strong enough … yet.
My physical pain to me now feels more like tension. When I have forgotten, or it is too difficult to put the yet at the end of the sentence my body starts to stiffen. Everyday movement becomes difficult and painful.
Whereas before, I would maybe go to bed, feel sorry for myself, fill my head with more self doubt, now most of the time I go to my mat. I do my practice, I breathe, sometimes it’s the slow passive stretch of Yin Yoga that I need to create space, to remind my body how to relax and my mind how to let go. Other times it’s a stronger Yang flow of Hatha or I’ll stretch and hang upside in my hammock to distract my mind and remind myself that I can move and I can release it. In practicing I put aside whatever is bothering me and I reconnect with my body. I feel strong, I feel confident, I feel powerful, I feel happier and I feel better.
During this lockdown I have had even more time to delve deeper into my personal practice and I have been drawn to the exploration of arm balances. To be honest I never thought that I would be able to do them. Firstly I was faced with the fear of the physical pain that I might feel from falling but I always wondered how amazing it would be to have that much control and connection to your own body. I always thought that it was more about physical strength than it was about mental strength. I was wrong. It is so much more about the mental strength, the belief that you can do it, that you do have the strength. It’s about trusting yourself, building confidence and then of course learning the technique.
Not everyone will the desire to stand on their hands and it does not have to be part of your yoga practice at all but for me it’s the ultimate “in your face” to the last 8 years. It’s the taking back of the control that I lost. It’s the proof that I can overcome pain, that I am physically and mentally stronger than I have ever been. This year I turn 48 and I as far as I am concerned I am only just beginning.
Additional Note: My hope by telling you my journey so far is that it gives you the inspiration to keep striving towards your goals, to what is important to you, to have the confidence to think I can do it, I am amazing, I am powerful and I am strong enough to keep driving myself forward.
Sending you much love & positive vibes, Tania x
Yama - Ethics & Morals - Non-violence, Truthfulness, Non-Stealing, Continence (Self-restraint), Non-covetousness (desire for possess things that belong to someone else)
Most people that have tried inversions in one form or another will resonate with that complete feeling of relief when you turn your world upside down. The reason for this is the reverse of gravity on the body and the mind. This feeling is greatly enhanced when you use a yoga swing or hammock to support you because you can completely let go of any tension and relax.
When you invert fully the gravitation pull on your body is reversed. Therefore, the flow of all the fluids in your body is also reversed. The circulation is improved with an increased blood flow to the brain giving it more nutrients and oxygen. This improves the brain function, allows for better clarity and focus. Therefore, the brain also produces more endorphins – our happy hormones.
Inversions also cleanse and refresh the lymphatic system, and spinal fluids helping to flush toxins for the body.
Inversion classes are not only great fun but they improve self-confidence, self esteem and of course physical strength, flexibility and muscle tone.
As with anything, you can have too much of a good thing! So it is best to start slowly, begin with just 1 or 2 minutes to a max of about 7 and have someone with you, preferably a professional who is trained in inversions, in case you need assistance.
Also please be aware of your own physical health before inverting and get advice from a medical professional. Due to the increased flow of blood and oxygen to the upper body, heart, lungs and head it is not recommended for anyone with a heart condition, low or high blood pressure, glaucoma or issues with pressure in the eyes, brain or cervical spine (neck). It is also not advisal in pregnancy.
As we age we actually start to shrink! The constant pressure from gravity on the discs between the vertebra means that they are permanently squished. The only time this pressure is relieved naturally is when we are laying down at night. Have you ever heard it said that we are taller when we wake in the morning?
This constant pressure is greatly increased if we live a more sedentary lifestyle, desk jobs, watching tv, computer games etc. If we do not move the spine and keep it flexible, we can not keep it lubricated or refreshed with the nutrient dense fluids it needs. Long term this causes toxins to build up and the discs to dry out, erode and eventually disintegrate. The skeletal bones in the spine then start to grind on each other, vertebra on vertebra, weakening our spine. Anyone who has suffered back pain will know just how much it affects everything we do. Unfortunately, for many people by the time we feel this physical pain the deterioration has been in progress for many years.
The good news is there is a solution to helping to reverse some of that damage and relieving some, if not all, of that pain without medication. We need to create space and improve the lubrication and mobility of the joints. This is one of the many reasons yoga is soo good for us. Over time, regularly practicing deep stretches creates more space in the body, allowing us to release tensions, trapped toxins and flood the joints with fresh cleansing energy (fluids and lubrication). While we practice these deep stretches we concentrate on the breath and as it naturally slows, we notice the body naturally releasing deeper, letting go of built up tension in both the body and the mind.
Deeply stretching not only benefits the spine but the entire body. Arms, shoulders, hips, hamstrings, wrists, ankles can be all become tight and suffer degeneration due to lack of use, mobility and consistent stress and tension.
This is not an overnight fix, but if you are consistent and practice regularly you will soon feel the benefits. After all, your mind and your body need regular maintenance just like a car. If you neglect it then eventually something stops working.
Of course, before starting any exercise practice, especially if you are feeling pain, it’s important to get a check-up and approval of a medical practitioner.
A combination of yoga styles can work well together. Yin and Yang – Passive and Active. We need both to achieve balance.
The most effective way to create space in the spine and reverse the effects of gravity is with inverting. However, headstands and handstands can take many, many years of dedicated practice and are just not realistic or practical for most people. Headstands, in particular can even cause more harm than good to an untrained and unsupervised student as they can compress the vertebra in the neck if they are not practiced correctly. This is why, I personally started practicing inversions with a yoga swing, why I later became certified as a Yoga Trapeze Teacher and why I am continuing my studies in Aerial Yoga. With the support of the fabric and a qualified teacher most people can successfully and safely hang upside down and feel the relief as the whole spine decompresses. Just a few minutes of suspension can have the same benefits as a whole night laying down.
There are also many ways of practicing with the Yoga Trapeze or a Yoga Hammock without hanging upside down. They can be used to support you, keep your balance, help you relax and go deeper into a stretch. As with any other prop in yoga they can be used to enhance your experience.
The most important factor is that you listen to your body. If it doesn’t feel right for you then try something different. Get advice from any (relevant to your condition) professional including the teacher of the class you are taking. However, the most important person you should listen to your inner self.
There are many styles of yoga, and many styles of teaching. There is an option to suit every body, every age, every size and every stage of life. You just need to find the one that suits you best.
Important Note: There are a few contraindications for inversions – high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, heart conditions, vertigo, travel sickness, pregnancy, when inversions of any kind are not advisable.
You don't need me to tell you that we are all feeling more stress, anxiety and tension at the moment. We are all being bombarded with restrictions, statistics, differing views and opinions. Not matter how resilient we think we are, we are all being affected. We are all spending more time in our heads ..... What if this happens? How will I cope in that situation? Are my family safe? What is it safe for me to do? By second guessing and trying to predict the future we think that we are preparing and protecting ourselves for any eventual situation but actually, we creating stress and anxiety about things that may never happen. We are putting ourselves into prolonged periods of the "fight or flight response" rather than living in and enjoying the present moment. For more on this please read my blog Stress & Our Flight or Fight Response
No matter how hard we try to suppress them, these thoughts can keep going round and round and they can be very difficult to switch off. Although the benefits of meditation are well documented and a starting a daily meditation practice can really help you to have more control of these thoughts and feelings long-term, sometimes you can feel so mentally stressed that trying to meditate can feel too challenging. We can feel too over whelmed with these thoughts and feelings that we try to avoid facing them and we throw ourselves into physical or mental distractions that keep us occupied. Physical tasks like frantically cleaning the house or digging the garden or mental distractions like sitting in front of tv or even sleeping for longer periods than we actually need. In extremes these distractions can cause us to turn to alcohol or drugs.
Firstly, it is important to know that it is perfectly normal to have these worries and concerns, that is OK to not feel OK. Secondly, we can teach ourselves that we can not possibly know all the answers to all of the questions and that's OK too. We do not have to come up with solutions to every scenario because most of those scenarios will never happen. The time we spend worrying is valuable time that we can spend living, being here right now, trying to enjoy and find gratitude for the things that make us happy.
If meditation is too challenging for you right now then try to spend time every day doing something that you enjoy. Try to give yourself at least 20 minutes every day. For you this might be a gentle walk, a jog, doing something creative, your yoga practice or a soak in the bath. Try to be mindful during this time, how does the activity make you feel, notice the colours around you, your breath, your emotions, your sense of touch. Try not to be judgemental about any emotions or feelings that come up for you instead just observe them and tell yourself that it is OK to feel that way. You do not have to try to change it. Know that this is just a moment in time, it will pass and that's OK. Thoughts, feelings, emotions are ever changing, we can not always feel happiness and joy, equally we will not always feel sadness or pain. We need to experience the full spectrum in order enjoy the significance. This is normal, this is life and this is living.
To help you switch off, reconnect with your breath, your body and reduce the physical affects of prolonged stress, I am creating a Short Stress Busting Sequence for you in the Members area.
When we are stressed we hold physical tension in the body and over a prolonged period of time this can result in physical pain and discomfort. Each practice will be no more than 15 minutes long, targeting different areas of the body. We will move slowly and mindfully as we slow down our breathing thus releasing physical tension, calming the mind and helping us to switch back into the relaxation response. The idea is that you choose the practice for the area of the body that you feel is affecting you most, where you feel the tightness of tension creeping in. You can do one practice on its own or several together for a longer experience. My hope is that you will receive very similar benefits to that of a 15 minutes meditation practice but the slow mindful movements will help distract a busy mind and the mobility will release that stiffness in the body.
Pranayama - Working With the Breath.mp3
Pranayama is the word we use in yoga to describe the practice of working with the breath but what does it actually mean? And why do we do these practices?
Pranayama is Sanskrit word (a 3,500 year old ancient Indian language, but that’s a whole other blog). This word can be split into two parts. The first part Prana – meaning ‘vital energy’ or ‘energy force’. The second part Ayama – meaning ‘extension’ or ‘expansion’.
Prana is not to be thought of as the air that we breathe but as the energy that is present in all objects whether animate or inanimate. It is the energy that makes us who we are, it gives us focus, drive and ability. For example, we can still breathe in air but not have the motivation to get up in the morning, Prana gives up that vital energy, that motivation that vibration of being alive.
It is thought that Pranayama rides on the breath. It influences the flow of vital energy in the energy channels (Nadis) of the body. Thus when we deepen the breath, we increase the flow and expansion of our energy force in our energy channels which allows us to function on a higher level of vibratory energy and awareness.
In yogic philosophy it is said that we have over 72,000 Nadis or energy channels running through our subtle body. You can envisage them as a second nervous system or like a road map of energy channels. At the centre of body you have 3 main Nadis – Sushumna, Pinguala and Ida.
You will often here me referencing Sushumna during class, as we focus the breath I like to visualise this central line in the body and focus on drawing the breath, prana, up and down this central line in the body. Not only does this give us something to focus on, to slow the breath and turn our attention inward but it is also thought that when prana is flowing freely in this central channel we have reached samadhi – the ultimate wisdom, pure thoughts, complete joy and contentment.
Pinguala Nadi represents Sun – Yang Energy and Ida Nadi represents Moon – Yin Energy. Hatha Yoga can be translated to Sun-Moon Yoga – Ha meaning Sun and tha meaning moon.
Pinguala and Ida Nadis cross over each other as they travel up Sushumna. Each time these Nadis join together at a crossing it results in an energy centre – a Chakra. So 7 joins, 7 energy centres, 7 Chakras. If we can align all our Chakras and keep them open we can facilitate the flow of vital energy – Prana up and down the central line in the body Sushumna and thus reach pure joy, contentment and ultimate peace.
With yogic philosophy we could go deeper and deeper but it can become a little overwhelming and difficult to understand in our western culture. Like the physical practice of yoga it is a journey of understanding and discovery so will we continue along this journey another time …..
What is that about???
Many of my students and I myself, have heard this que from a teacher many times before …. ‘palms facing up, thumb and forefingers joined’ but how often do we as teachers explain why we suggest this hand gesture?
As teachers our job is to keep the class flowing and to keep the students engaged. It is not possible nor is it appropriate to explain every detail of the practice during a one hour class. However, at some stage, we have all wondered what the significance is of this often used hand gesture.
My understanding is that by connecting the thumb and forefinger you create a circuit of energy. Energy is released through the finger tips out in to the world so by joining the thumb and forefinger together you create a circuit of energy internally which allows the practitioner to focus deeper inward. Hence this practice is often suggested during Meditation and Yoga Nidra (Relaxation).
If the practitioner performs this posture with the palms facing up they are still being receptive. Their attention is drawn inwards but they are still open to the influences of the world around them, the sound of a teacher’s voice when being guided into Meditation or the sounds around them, in nature for example, as they become more present and mindful in that moment.
If the practitioner performs this posture with the palms facing down then the intention is to feel more grounded, rooted and to be more deeply absorbed inward. This positon may be more suitable when practicing a silent meditation and observing one’s own thoughts, physical and emotional feelings. This version is also more suitable in the evenings when our intention is to prepare the mind and body for sleep, withdrawing from the outside world.
The names used to describe this gesture in Sanskrit are:
Chin Mudra – Chin or Chit meaning Consciousness
Gyan Mudra – Gyan also meaning Wisdom or Knowledge and Mudra meaning Seal
The gesture is also thought to encourage feelings of wisdom and enlightenment. It is thought to help in the relief of stress, tension and depression.
This particular Mudra (hand gesture) is one of many different Mudra’s used in many different forms of Yoga and Meditation around the world. However, for the purpose of this blog today, I just wanted to give a brief explanation of this one. It is the gesture used most often in our everyday western yoga and meditation classes.
Please feel free to question or comment below J
My advice would be to think about why you want to join a class? What do you hope to achieve? What do you hope to gain? How do you currently feel both physically & mentally?
At Ashgrove Yoga I currently teach 3 styles of Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Yin Yoga & Yoga Trapeze®. They are all very different yet they all complement each other perfectly. In order to grow and evolve we need different experiences, different stimulations, and so do our bodies. Every teacher is individual as is every student so it’s about what style, location and teacher suits you best.
To help you decide what is right for you, here’s a quick description of each style of yoga, the style of my teaching here at Ashgrove Yoga and how I feel you’ll benefit from taking that class.
I often teach different ranges of classes at varying levels for Hatha Yoga depending on my student’s needs. For example; Beginners Hatha Yoga, Level 2 Hatha Yoga or Mixed Level Hatha appear regularly on the monthly schedule. Gentle Grounding Flow, Energetic Flow, Yoga for Mobility and Balance etc. are all based on Hatha Yoga and are added to the schedule every so often subject to demand.
Hatha Yoga Classes are brilliant for focusing on the mind-body connection. Your movements flow with the breath. It’s great for all over body fitness, helping you to get stronger, improve flexibility, body awareness and balance. During class we can practice meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), yoga nidra (relaxation) and of course Yoga Asana (postures).
If you have a stressful sedentary job where you feel the need to re-energise and get active, while still reducing stress and tension, Hatha Yoga could be a good choice for you.
For some, however, Hatha Yoga can feel a little too energetic, if this your experience, look out for the more gentle classes that are sometimes offered for example: Gentle Grounding Flow and Yoga for Mobility & Balance. These courses are designed for those that need to get the body moving in a more gentle and subtle way.
That being said, some may prefer a really strong flowing class, which is both challenging, fast flowing and energetic. If this is you, look out for the more energetic classes when they come up. For example: Energetic Flow.
Yin Yoga is a grounding, meditative, passive yet very effective practice. We move through the postures very slowly, holding each one from 2 – 5 minutes. We make ourselves as comfortable as possible in each pose using a combination of pillows, blankets, bolsters and blocks. Our aim is to allow ourselves to relax into each pose to the point of a good satisfying stretch. Over a period of time we allow our minds to completely relax, we focus on the breath and the sensations of the body. We notice how and what we are feeling, if the body relaxes and the stretch dissipates we go a little deeper. If the stretch intensifies we breathe into it, releasing tension and calming the mind, while encouraging the body to let go. Each student goes to his/her own level on that particular day, honouring the fact that each day the body can be different. We never force ourselves into a pose even if we think we should be able, we leave the ego at the door.
This practice is brilliant for deeply stretching into the fascia, connective tissues and joints in the body. It also stimulates the various meridians in the body by gently stretching them encouraging the body to send vital nutrients (chi) to the internal organs.
Yin yoga is great for everybody at any stage of life. For those who prefer a more gentle approach or are recently getting back into exercise after an illness or procedure (subject to GP’s approval of course), to hard working adrenaline seekers who are constantly pounding and working the joints. Think of Yin & Yang. Energetic practices, sports, jobs are known to be Yang in nature. Yin Yoga creates the opposite. It’s about creating balance in the mind and body. Too much Yang in life is not healthy, the body becomes over-worked, stressed & fatigued. Just as too much Yin is not healthy, the body become lethargic, lazy & lacking in energy.
Yoga Trapeze® classes build strength…. Upper body strength, posterior chain strength, grip strength, core strength. We also use the Trapeze to invert our bodies and create traction in the spine. The Yoga Trapeze® is a great tool for those suffering tension in the back, neck and shoulders.
The handles of the trapeze can be used as a suspension trainer, we can hang, row and pull to strengthen the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. We use the straps for our ankles to perform flying planks and crunches to create core strength. We can do various squats to strengthen the glutes, hamstrings and muscles in the back of the body (posterior chain) to strengthen and support the spine.
The Yoga Trapeze® is not an easy practice but it is accessible to all ages. If the mind is willing to get stronger the body will become stronger. In this practice I currently teach both male and females students from the age of 20 up to 70.
Working the Trapeze gives you an amazing sense of achievement. Strength builds quickly and students can see a rapid improvement in their abilities.
Because this is a specialised class I insist that each student completes an Introduction Course first before they can attend group classes. This is a huge benefit to the student as you get to build confidence, ask questions on a one to one or small group basis. If a student continues on to group classes, they are still very small, with a maximum of 7 students per class. Group classes are intimate, fun and supportive. I also give current students access to an exclusive Facebook Group. Where you can connect with myself and fellow students and find information, tips and tutorials on poses we have been working on in class.
A combination of all styles will work really well for all over physical and mental health, however, if it’s not possible for you to attend more than one class per week right now, pick the one that appeals to you most at this moment in your life. You can always change around and try the other classes when you feel the time is right for you.
If you are still not sure, give me a ring. We can chat over the phone or you can arrange to have a one to one class. We can chat about your current health and expectations and you can experience a combination to see which suits you best.
I’ll look forward to chatting to you soon.