I took my first yoga class in 1975. Yoga was far from mainstream then. In fact, my Catholic parish priest rather frowned upon it, considering it a religious practice of another faith.
My first yogi was an 80-year old man from India with a multisyllabic name I had difficulty pronouncing. He claimed to have practiced at least an hour of yoga every day of his life from the time he was 3 years old.
As wise as he was limber, he ended every class with his signature words, “You are as young as your back is flexible.” Although I long ago forgot the poses he taught, his words have remained etched in my brain.
When I was 30 years old, his wisdom meant little to me. When my symptoms worsened, my yoga practice became less and less frequent. I convinced myself that if I was hurting, yoga would only make it worse.
After moving across the country, I attended a class here and there — still suspecting my condition to be worsened, rather than helped, by doing yoga.
Fast-forward to last summer, when the pain from a pinched nerve in my back became excruciating and proved resistant to every treatment I tried.
Desperate for relief, I consulted with a very skillful physical therapist who also happened to be a yoga therapist. At each visit, he would prescribe various stretches and yoga poses designed to relax and strengthen my back.
Unlike any other treatment I’ve received for this horrifically painful condition, the yoga poses have resulted in great improvement. No, I’m not completely cured; I still need to monitor my activity closely.
Repetitive motion (like the typing I’m doing right now), poor posture for an extended period, or standing in one place for too long will likely result in irritation of that nerve and an accompanying muscle spasm. However, the episodes have become much less frequent and much more manageable.
If I address my pain at its onset, I can often stave off the acute suffering I’ve lived with for decades.
For nearly a year now, I’ve practiced yoga poses before bedtime. I begin with the ones initially prescribed by my physical/yoga therapist, and have added a few more to address various parts of my body that are commonly stiff or painful. My routine lasts about 30 minutes.
Doing yoga before bed is not something I look forward to. At that time of night, I’m tired and I just want to go to sleep. Then I remember how miserable my life was — and might be again — without the practice. That thought is motivation enough to get down on the floor and begin. Besides, after you’ve done an activity enough times, it becomes a habit.
The bonus is that the stiffness and soreness that were often my first sensations upon waking each morning are nearly gone. My back is definitely becoming more flexible. If my 1975 yogi was correct, I’m getting younger, as well!
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