What I learned from a locked-down yoga challenge
During this time in quarantine, I have been missing my physiotherapist. As an aging long-distance runner, let’s just say that in some weeks I see my physio more than my friends. I had come to the point that I looked forward to IMS treatments (a super painful acupuncture needling technique that releases tight muscles) as much as I looked forward to a good latte. But I had to suddenly give up my love affair with physio when, like other elective health services, my access to treatment vanished overnight.
Being a pragmatic sort, I decided to take on a yoga program in an effort to replace the treatments that had previously been keeping me moving. Although I have done a lot of yoga over the past 20 years, I had virtually given it up after developing a chronic hip injury almost two years ago.
When you’re an endurance athlete, you tend to approach any form of exercise as a long-term commitment. So, of course, I took on the 30-day yoga challenge. A month of yoga has always felt to me the way that I would imagine other people see running a marathon; doing 30 days of yoga in a row seemed almost insurmountable, especially alone. So, with no one else to join me, I decided to set out on my own.
Okay, the truth. I’m only on day 25 today, but I figure as my Irish friend used to say, “I’ve got the guts of it done.” Don’t worry, I will keep going for another five days (and another five days after that). It’s been such a positive experience, and I’ve learned so much about my mental and physical health along the journey.
I’ll start with the physical benefits. Full disclosure, as an Exercise Physiologist, I know how important it is to maintain mobility in aging. But I am terrible about stretching. I have never prioritized post-exercise stretching because there is relatively underwhelming evidence of its role in injury prevention.
When I started my daily yoga practice, I had very little flexibility, especially in my hamstrings and hips. I had begun to develop that creaky body movement in the morning and was unable to sit for extended periods of time (of course, anything that gets you up from sitting is a win).
Sticking with the small amounts of yoga each day (16-30 minutes) has allowed me to slowly become more and more flexible and I am getting better at moving through a full range of motion. And the best part? For the first time in almost two years, I am getting some long-lasting relief from my hip pain. Yes, correlation is not always causation (in other words, my hip could have coincidentally gotten better, and the yoga may not have played a role), but I will keep doing my practice nonetheless.
My yoga experience also reminded me about how desperately we need to embrace stillness during this time. Feeling trapped inside and restless may make you feel like the last thing in the world that you need is more stillness, but trust me on this one - being still allows us space to more fully process how we are feeling. Before taking on the challenge, I had been using distraction as a coping mechanism; the daily mindfulness has allowed me a much better way to reflect.
Keep in mind that along with the stillness comes resistance. I have always loved the idea that those who struggle with mindfulness or relaxation practice are the ones that need it the most. On many days I found myself resisting the practice, or trying to hurry through the poses. Each time, I slowed down and reminded myself to lean in; this was a time that I got to be alone and entirely in the moment, and was I there solely to take care of myself.
The final lesson seemed like a metaphor for life during the times of COVID. Every day that I came to the mat, I brought a slightly different body. Some days I felt refreshed, able to balance, and was able to execute the poses. Other days I was tired, stiff, or unbalanced in my positions. The bottom line was that either and any state was okay; yoga allowed me to notice and accept how I was feeling rather than to ignore and deny.
Will I continue my practice after my 30 days are over? Yes, and I’ll also really look forward to a day when I can go back to joining my fellow Age Sisters for a live class.
Until then, Namaste. 🧘
Your sister in health,