Sunday, December 21, 2014

Four Months of Yoga

In four months of Yoga, I have made progress. If Yoga is a journey, then I have assuredly begun, though I have a long way to go. Okay, let’s start with what I couldn’t do before, but can do now.

I could not do a full or even half lotus. When I put a foot on top of either thigh, the knee stuck way up in the air. Now I do a passable half lotus and can get the right knee to the floor if I work at it. The left side has a few inches to go.

I could not do a full squat and now can. I could not kneel and put my full weight on my heels, and I sort of can now. I can’t quite get my full weight there, my knees protest a little too much. There’s a position in which you start kneeling, but your torso is straight, then you put your hands behind you on your heels and arch your back, looking at the ceiling. Couldn’t do it before, but can do it now. In fact, I can even do the next more difficult version of that in which my hands are palm down behind my feet.

With my knees locked, I could only get the palms of my hands within four inches of the floor, but I can put them flat now, and with my hands behind my ankles, I can pull my nose to my knees. Sitting, I can bring the toes of my foot to my nose. That's a gain of about six inches, the goal is to bring them to your ears.

Sitting crosslegged, I can bend forward and put my elbows and forearms on the floor. Before, I could barely sit up straight, let alone lean forward while sitting crosslegged.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not magic. It’s not easy, and it’s not quick. I’ve been practicing Yoga (that sounds pretentious), doing Yoga for forty minutes to an hour almost every day. But the best thing isn’t the increased flexibility, though that’s certainly important. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all spiritual, either, though as with my nearly daily cardio workouts, there is a certain energy that Yoga brings to my day, a relaxment, an easiness. 

No, the most important thing that Yoga has done, or is doing for me, is that it is helping me finally, after about 35 years, deal with my back problems. No, not deal with them, but, and perhaps I’m overoptimistic, but fix them. Full confession: I was once given a series of exercises that might have fixed my back problems, but I didn’t stick with it. And I think that perhaps that’s because, at least for me, there’s a difference between exercising and Yoga, which makes it easier to stick with.

So, short version, though I haven’t had a recurrence for fifteen years, I have had, and still have something stiff and sore, tight, and angry in my lower back, left side. It was muscle spasms, not spine problems I was told by the doctor and physical therapist fifteen years ago. The original injury, or strain, was never really treated, so I compensated for it by putting less weight on that side when I sat, walked, lived. And those muscles got weaker and weaker over time. Consequently, they could get strained more easily and the cycle continued. The PT taught me some exercise to strengthen those muscles, and I did them just enough that the back and stomach muscles got strong enough to keep a recurrence at bay. Yoga does some of the same things those exercises did, but it is a much more balanced program of stretching and strengthening, and of course it is strengthening and stretching my entire body, not just my lower back. 

I believe, that is I hope, that if I keep it up, eventually the final knot will be relaxed, the muscles will become completely healed and strong at long last, and unless I do something stupid, as I did thirty-five years ago when I picked up one end of a 24 foot long 12”x12” oak barn beam, probably the 20th I’d helped move that day, and tore something, I will live out my life without a sore back. Oh, and I’m for the first time in my life learning to sit up straight. I can’t stand to sit in the Lazy Boy or slouch for long anymore. If only my mother could see me now.