Monday, November 28, 2011

My Story Part III: Teacher Training and More

I signed up for teacher training in 2007 through Yoga North, the studio where I was starting to learn about the inner core, good alignment, and not pushing too far. I wanted to learn to use yoga to help my pain and to strengthen my body the way I needed. The 200 hour teacher training met one weekend per month for 6 months. The weekends were quite rigorous. The hours were something like this: 1pm-9pm on Friday, 7am-9pm on Saturday and 7am-6pm on Sunday. In addition to the weekend trainings, we had homework: studying philosophy, writing papers, doing a 40-day practice and journaling our experience, completing take-home tests, and teaching practice classes to a willing participant or two (read: family, friends or co-workers) so we could hone our new skills.

When I went through teacher training, Yoga North was in process of becoming more therapeutically focused, expanding on the Inner Core and Anatomy and Movement Principles from Susi Hately Aldous: move in a pure range of motion; move with the spine in mind; move from the larger joints first; when you are on your mat don't move into pain and if you are already in pain don't move into more pain; less is more. These were exactly the things I needed to learn in my body and in my practice.

Some of the inner core exercises we did seemed so simple I didn't believe they could help. We did things like laying on the floor with bent knees and squeezing a block between the thighs, tightening a belt/strap around the thighs and pressing out into it, and practicing pelvic floor lifts. We did awareness practices too like closing our eyes and barely moving into a pose using all of our awareness to focus inside. This is how I found out that Triangle was hurting me. I felt the tiniest of twinges at my right SI joint and realized, "Oh my gosh, that twinge was in the exact spot where I get the stabbing pain when I walk! I think Triangle is hurting me!"

This is about as far as I can safely go
in Triangle. Yeah, it's tiny but
I'm not in pain later.
This was revolutionary. Now that I knew what was hurting me I could avoid it. I was regaining control over my pain. OK sure, doing Triangle in such a tiny fashion that I barely moved was a bit of an ego-buster but I would do about anything to avoid the a-knife-is-stabbing-me-in-the-butt-pain I had been experiencing for at least 5 years during every walk I went on.

Of course the down side to this awareness is that now that I knew what tiny twinge to look for (future pain indicator) I found it in places I didn't want it to be: pigeon, extended side-angle, revolved head to knee pose, revolved seated wide angle, any and every forward fold, any and every back bend. Yeah, that's right, everything hurt.

So basically I had to go backward to go forward in my practice. I had to relearn the basics: core strength (block and belt work, pelvic floor work, transverse abdominus work), alignment principles (move in a pure range of motion; move with the spine in mind; move from the largest joints first), and less is more (when you are on your mat don't move into pain and if you are already in pain don't move into more pain).

Working with these tiny movements and this deep awareness made me feel like I was in "pre-yoga" class. For a long time I felt like I wasn't doing enough, I couldn't feel enough in my postures, I wasn't getting a good enough stretch. But these devious ideas lead us to do more than we should, push too hard, deplete ourselves with no cause, and quite possibly, cause ourselves pain.

Previously: My Story Part II: Yoga's Dirty Little Secret
Next up: Restoring my inner core and building stability.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Story Part II: Yoga's Dirty Little Secret

When I found yoga I started to feel much better. My back and neck did not hurt so much, my mind felt brighter and I felt more in control of my emotions. I didn't have near as many monthly ups and downs.

But what was this new pain? What was this horrible, stabbing pain at the base of my spine that plagued me when I walked? Why did it hurt so much after shoveling snow or vacuuming the house? I was just done with a 4 year stint of working in Antarctica and traveling the world (where I shoveled and walked plenty). How could shoveling, vacuuming or walking be hurting me now? I didn't have this particular problem before. (Just all the other ones - ha ha.)

I continued practicing yoga. I even found a real, live class - not just yoga to a TV show. I got a lot of compliments on how flexible I was. My ego liked this so I pushed harder, stretched further, went deeper. And, no surprise, continued to have pain. I could not figure it out. I did not hurt while doing yoga; only while walking. I was pretty sure I was going to end up hunched before my time.

Fortunately, we moved and I had to switch studios. My new teacher, Ann Maxwell at Yoga North, was into teaching about the inner core, moving in a pain free range of motion, building awareness, and retraining forgotten muscle groups. She had been studying with Julie Gudmestad and Susi Hately Aldous and she shared what she learned with her students.

I learned that I did not have sciatica, I had SI joint dysfunction. I started to notice that the asymmetrical, hip-opening poses that I loved - triangle,  pigeon, easy seated forward fold - were not the best poses for my body. I was instinctively stretching the part that hurt (my hips and SI joints) but by stretching, I was pulling myself more and more out of whack.

I was starting to take pre-walk ibuprofen to mitigate the feeling of stabbing pain in my behind. Nothing ruins a walk more than feeling like you have a knife in your back. Finally, I saw a chiropractor. Even though yoga had been helping with my back and neck pain, I still had tons of misaligned bones. My neck curved the wrong way, my occiput was jammed, and my hips were uneven. I had good results with Chiropractic. I had fewer headaches and less pain walking. But my bones slid back out of alignment so quickly it was like they were greased.

I knew yoga was both helping and hurting me but I loved yoga. I didn't want to give it up. As a matter of fact, I wanted to learn more. I signed up for teacher training and started to learn how to strengthen my inner core from the arches up.

Previously: My Story Part I: 10 Years of Pain
Next up: Teacher Training, the Inner Core, Therapeutic Yoga and the concept of Less is More

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Story Part I: 10 Years of Pain

Some of you may know that I had multiple car accidents as a teenager, including a roll-over. I totaled 3 cars in 3 years and had a number of other fender bender type accidents as well. I don't know why. I don't feel like I was overly reckless (although I may have been), but certainly I was an inexperienced and unlucky driver.

After my 3rd car total (the roll-over), the insurance company put its foot down and said, "We will no longer insure you." This turned out to be ok. I grew up in the country but had just started college and wanted to live in town anyway. So, a friend of my mom's helped us find a rental room in another friend's house which was close to school and I moved right away.

Now in those days, I had never heard of yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture or really any kind of preventative medicine. So after each of my accidents (whiplash and all) I did nothing. I saw no doctor and did not receive any kind of treatment.

By the time I was 20 I was in chronic pain. I cracked my back and neck constantly which only brought momentary relief. I got massages but the muscle knots would return within a day. I didn't know what to do. I just figured that I would be in pain for the rest of my life. In addition to back and neck pain, my feet, knees and hips ached constantly. Often I had to take ibuprofen just to fall asleep at night.

In 1999 I found Yoga. By this time I had been in pain for 10 years. I was amazingly weak to start. I couldn't do down dog or plank. I could hardly hold my arms out for Warrior II for more than a few breaths. But I continued. I practiced yoga every morning with Yoga Zone.

This 1/2 hour show was a life saver for me. The stretches and the strengthening were amazing. But the real lifesaver was the subtle stuff: breath work, mindfulness practice, building awareness, learning the philosophy that nothing is permanent, learning to notice what I am clinging to.

Yoga did not "cure" my aches and pains, but it was a first step of taking control of my pain, my body, my mind, my thoughts, and my breath. But it also caused a few problems which I'll share in my next post.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Champion Clothing Review

I received a request from Champion to review a few items in their new clothing line, Shape Activewear. Here's what Champion says about their new product line:
Champion recently launched a new athletic wear line called Shape which is perfect for the woman who wants to both look good and be comfortable while practicing yoga. The new Shape wear is designed to gently smooth and shape your body giving you a flattering silhouette yet never restricting your freedom of movement.

I tried two of their tops: the Champion SHAPE™ Women's Smoothing Long Top with Inner Sports Bra  and the Champion Double Dry® Ultra-Fem Long Top with Inner Sports Bra. The Shape top (L) definitely had a nice fit - snug without binding, doesn't gap in the front when you do a forward fold or plank pose, and allows plenty of arm movement. The Ultra Fem Long Top (R) is super cute with a funky back (click on the link to see a picture of the back) but doesn't fit me quite right. It's a bit too loose in the bust.

Champion SHAPE™ Women's Smoothing Long Top with Inner Sports BraChampion Double Dry® Ultra-Fem Long Top with Inner Sports Bra

I also tried both regular length and capri length Shape pants: the Champion SHAPE™ Women's Smoothing Pants  and the Champion SHAPE™ FITTED Women's Smoothing Knee Pants. The regular length Shape pants (L) were about 4 inches too long even though they were a size small - the story of my life. Aside from the length, I liked the way they fit. The waistband did not bind or roll over and the pant's construction material was thick (read: not see-through when you do Plow pose). If I were taller I would wear these pants.

The Shape Knee-pants (R) were of a similar construction to the long pants but were high calf length and fitted all the way down. I didn't think I would like these (too self conscious to wear something so fitted) but I found them comfortable and not too revealing. Again, the belly and waist comfort was good - no binding, rolling or "plumber's butt."

Champion SHAPE™ Women's Smoothing Pants Champion SHAPE™ Women's Smoothing Knee Pants

My favorite product however, is the workout skirt/shorts (which I suppose is a skort): Champion Double Dry® Training Workout Skort . Again Champion got it right in the waist band - very comfortable and never binds. The skirt hit me mid thigh and included little under shorts with a tennis ball pocket which I used to carry my phone around. I found myself throwing this on on warm days just to hang out. I loved it.

Champion Double Dry® Training Workout Skort