I first tried yoga in college and I hated it. I came away from that first class with the impression that it was for really flexible hippies who like to show off how far they can stretch. Also, ouch.
I didn’t try yoga again until years later, when I was pregnant with Zoey. Then I tried out some prenatal yoga dvds, doing only the easier and “fun” parts: place your hands on your baby and breathe your life energy into her. Or something. Anyway, that lasted only a couple weeks until I began having frequent contractions and had to pretty much cut out all exercise (oh darn).
When I was about seven months pregnant with Zoey I suddenly started having intense pain in my lower back-pelvis-thigh region. It was so bad I couldn’t walk. After seeing my doctor and a physical therapist, I learned that my fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae were rotated and one side of my pelvis was rocked forward. It was so dramatic that the physical therapist pointed out one of my legs was about 1.5 inches shorter than the other! The pain was due to nerves, including the sciatic, being pinched by all the things that were out of place. Eventually, with physical therapy, massage and the purchase of a pregnancy pillow (which I lovingly refer to as Boppyasaurus) my spine and pelvis returned to their proper positions. The sciatic pain, however, did not go away.
Fast forward to right around Zoey’s first birthday: I still had sciatic pain most of the time. I had tried out a mom and baby drop-in yoga class when Zoey was about 4 months old and found that I actually really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I only got to go two or three times because you can’t bring your baby anymore once it is actively crawling (something that happens ridiculously early with my children).
So anyway, the month before Zoey turned one, I signed up for an eight-week Healthy Backs yoga series at a local yoga studio. I loved it. By the third week, for the first time in over a year, I was pain free. Let me reiterate that: PAIN. FREE. I stopped living on ibuprofen. I stopped taking heartburn medication. I could lie flat on my back on the floor without twitching and squirming in pain as spasms shot down my back. Pain free.
After that I started trying to make home yoga practice a more frequent habit. Life and motherhood being what they are, though, it often got pushed to “later” until it just stopped happening. When I became pregnant with Eleanor I tried to go to a few prenatal yoga classes but, once again, frequent contractions kicked in and I stopped.
So here I am, a year later, and my back is killing me. It’s not the sciatica so much this time, although that is still there. No, this time around it’s the muscles in my mid-back spasming and threatening to give out completely. That happened to me once before, as the result of an injury at work, and it took weeks of physical therapy to fix. So I’m trying to make yoga a priority again, although that is hard with two children, one of whom doesn’t like to sleep in the evenings.
There is something new about the yoga now though. An added benefit. Before, whether at the studio or at home, I never really “got” yoga. That is to say, I fully enjoyed the physical benefits but that was all it was for me. Physical. I’d read about or hear dedicated yogis talking about the “mind-body connection” and the spirituality of yoga and mumbo-jumbo hippie granola blabbity blah just take away my pain already.
It’s different now. For the first time, it’s more than just physical. It’s mental too. Maybe it’s the fact that the fifteen minutes I steal here and there for yoga is time that I get to spend completely focused on me. Maybe it’s the relaxing music I listen to while doing it. Maybe it’s the way the different poses relieve my aches and pains and tensions. Maybe it’s the relaxation of repetitive, deep, cleansing breaths. Most likely, it’s some combination of all these things.
For the first time now, when I do yoga, I truly understand what it means to feel centered. I feel my whole body without focusing on any one part and can tell what is out of balance. I find I intuitively know how to adjust to put myself back into balance.
Yoga isn’t for everyone. I totally get the people who roll their eyes at those who swear yoga has “changed my life! OMG!” The thing is, it has. And I am so very thankful for those fifteen blissful minutes whenever I can get them.