Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Three Weeks of Yoga

A little while ago I bought I yoga voucher for a month of unlimited yoga at a centre that is about twenty minutes from my home.  I was so excited about it, because I used to do a lot of yoga maybe seven or so years ago before I was diagnosed with MS, a little a bit after I was diagnosed with MS, before I travelled, got married, had kids and returned to uni.  I have always wanted to get into it again, but found making time really difficult.  I told my husband that I would commence using the voucher when uni broke for the semester and our daughter was on holidays.

About after a week of uni being over, my husband came home from work and gave me a gentle prod in the right direction... I thought you might go to yoga tonight.  My response was, oh I think it's the beginner’s course tonight and I'm not sure if the voucher is valid for that.  Why don't you make a call and find out.  Ok then.  So it turns out the voucher was valid and the instructor was (now) expecting me!  I quickly got ready and got my sore backed, no core strength body to the studio pronto.

The one thing I remember about my experience of yoga the first time around, was how quickly my neck pain settled and how I could stretch the whole back of my neck on the ground when I was lying prone.  It was pretty impressive because I had terrible neck pain and headaches and had gotten to a place where I thought I would just have to accept that I was a person with a sore neck, whose physio could make feel better for a while... just not permanently.  It really was surprising how quickly I felt benefits from yoga for my whole body and mind.

Even though I was not a beginner in yoga, the beginner’s course is a pretty good place to start for anyone.  The instructor takes things slowly and explains all the postures thoroughly.  But what's even better is that everyone else in the class is likely a novice, so I was not walking into a studio of elastic bands, who could wrap their legs behind their heads, which is really, really unsettling and intimidating.  I know that’s a pretty silly mind set to have... but I am just a little bit competitive.  Anyways, for good measure I still headed to the back of the room where I could gauge everyone else’s abilities against mine... and so no one could watch me stick my bum in the air.

I have done just over three weeks of yoga now - that is about ten sessions.  I definitely feel like I have been doing some form of exercise.  I really believe that my posture has improved and that I have gained some core strength.  My back still hurts in the morning when I wake up, but it is a little less sore during the day.  I bet it would be a hell of a lot better if I could just stop carting my two year old sumo toddler around.  However I do find after a yoga lesson, it is not sore at all - there is much to be said for an hour and a half of complete body stretching.  I feel healthier and as a result that healthiness carries all through my life... not that I ate really badly three weeks ago, but I think I am making healthier food choices now and shoving less into my mouth too.  So maybe yoga is suppressing my horse appetite!  I'm only a couple of kilos away from my pre-baby weight, which means I have lost three kilograms by not even trying.  Yay!

So what do I love about yoga???  I really love the discipline involved in holding the form of the poses even when the burn kicks in or the stretch is tight, some might say that I am a glutton for punishment... but not me.  After a recent class I was thinking about why I was feeling so jubilant.  During and after a really good stretch, which yoga is, where my muscles have burned and extended past where they might usually go, I feel deeply relaxed and pristinely calm.  I guess it's all those lovely endorphins flooding into my blood.  During classes I have noticed my thoughts slow right down to a single stream.  Usually that thought is about the stretch and breathing into that stretch... I'm not even sure if that is even a thought actually, or whether my mind has broken from being totally absorbed in the process of breathing and stretching to notice what I am actually doing.  I have a very, very busy, messy mind and it likes to multi-task, thus it is so refreshing when there is just one stream of communication going on in there.  The only other times my mind slows down to such an extent is if I have done a guided meditation or have had a big night, am tired and probably hungover and then just sit and observe rather than process.

These are some of the things about yoga that I think you need to know if you are a newby to the practice.  I always felt compelled to wear super loose and baggy clothes, but this is not the way to go.  Why, I hear you ask.  Well you are going to spending a fair amount of time with your head down towards your knees and the floor, if you don't believe me google downward dog.  So if your head and chest are down it is highly likely you will flash your post baby flab where your stomach used to be (in my case) and boobies to anyone else in the room who is not concentrating on their pose and is looking around the room.  Also flappy, baggy pants tend to get caught as you step your leg through a pose, causing you to awkwardly loose your balance, which is not at all a graceful, elegant or controlled look.

The yoga instructor will tell you not to eat a large meal right before a class, because digestion requires the blood that your muscles will need for stretching and so there will be a big fight for resources.  If you do eat a big meal you will probably feel sick, bloated and generally yuck - I'm sure we've all been there.  He or she might say don't eat anything within a couple of hours of the class.  I will agree with this, but in the first few classes I attended, half way through my mind started yelling at me - I've had enough of this poxy class - get me out, NOW!  It took couple of slinging matches and slog fests before I worked it out... I hadn't had enough to eat leading up to the class to sustain my blood sugar throughout it’s duration.  So while it would be ridiculous to eat a main meal right before a class, a small snack is not out of the question.

No freshly applied perfume or strong B.O Killer please.  Deodorant and perfume waft through a warm yoga class quickly.  It's ok if you like the perfume, but otherwise it is distracting, gets up your nose and tries to spilt your head in half.  It's a strange phenomenon, but your sense of smell seems to get heightened when your other senses are slowed.  No deodorant seems to go against all well taught and life long practices of hygiene, but it really is unnecessary in cold weather when practicing yoga and in summer, if you are a pongy boy, maybe a shower before a class will help or mild deodorant will suffice.

What else can you expect in a yoga class?  Falling out of poses, due to a lack of balance - I do it all of the time (thanks for that MS), odd poses that seem to just be completely against nature and how the body was designed to move and of course, giggling.  I try not to giggle at anyone else - it's hard sometimes, but I definitely giggle at myself, a lot.  For example last night the instructor was demonstrating a handstand, where the front of his body and face was right up against the wall.  It looked wrong and contrary to any handstands I've ever done up against a wall where my face and body look away from the wall... not that I’ve practiced any handstands for the last twenty years!  There was a collective "what the..." sigh from the room, and my next question, with a giggle was, how do you get down?

Farts!!! It's very likely you will hear farts in a yoga class - probably not from me, but from an older woman or man.  Clearly if you are offended by farts, then yoga may not be the exercise for you.  I try not to laugh... because it would be rude and interrupting to the class but I certainly have a hearty chuckle on the inside.  I'll let you in on a secret... when you are walking from your car to the studio get those farts out because it is really hard not to let rip in some of the more demanding poses.

This is my experience of yoga.  I love it and believe it is good for me (and my MS, husband and children) and probably you too – so get cracking down to your local yoga studio and give it a go!

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