After 26 years of devoted yoga practice and running regularly…I found myself with chronic back pain.
Was I willing to walk off my mat to heal?
The pain was significant enough when getting out of bed that I had to put my hands on my thighs and push myself up to stand. The first few steps, I was completely stooped over. Every time I got out of a chair, car, couch, I had to support myself and slowly rise.
One day, I woke and thought I should try some Pilates and gentle weights.
After a month of that and seeing no improvements, I decided to check out a functional fitness gym. I was never a fan of weight training (maybe the cause of my issues). The owners were anatomy geniuses, and I surrendered my injured body to them.
The first few months, I asked tons of questions. I love to be coached and love understanding the subtleties.
My approach to yoga was always pretty anatomical. They survived my ongoing questions. What I discovered through their assessments was that I had little posterior strength. My traps and quadriceps were over-developed, lats and rhomboids were weak. Lower back, glutes, hamstrings were all weak.
I came home and was actually excited to hear all of this. My two boys thought I was crazy. They said they would find that conclusion depressing. I was excited because I now had hope that my back could get better.
I am five months in, and I can rise out of a chair, car, and couch with 95 percent of my pain gone.
I have some days, also dependent upon the previous workouts, that I might be sore in my lower back. Overall, my back is 80 percent better than five months ago. Three months in, a two-week break set me back tremendously and caused a back flare-up. Five months in, I had two weeks off, and I was fine.
The big message here is that yoga is fantastic and can make you strong and flexible at the same time. However, even with all my anatomy understanding, doing primarily yoga for the past 25 years did not give me the strength needed to keep my body balanced. I had to be willing to walk off my mat to heal my body.
I know yoga has worked wonders for so many people, but most of these tend to be my students who incorporate all sorts of exercise into their routine.
As yoga teachers, many of us love doing just yoga. It is our escape, meditation, dance, and spiritual practice. I think we need to be willing to step back and be open to trying something new to balance our physical experience.
It was hard for me to walk away from my mat to allow my body to heal with something totally different. I, for the first time, got back on the mat this week, and the next day had no pain—that was a first.
It is time, at the age of 49, to balance my yoga with some strength training—and maybe I am not the only one who needs this wake-up call.