exercise

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Find Your Own Mould With Yoga

My knees felt super sore in Yin Yoga today. I looked around me and everyone else seemed fine, all folded over in Pigeon Pose as if their legs had no bones whatsoever. And I wanted to be like them. I thought, I should be able to do this, no problem, shouldn’t I? After all, I teach Yoga so how embarrassing would it be not to be able to perform a beautiful Eka Pada Rajakapotasana? What would that say about me? Am I a fake? An imposter at Yoga. I carried on moving through the sequence with my fellow yogis, while my knees told me something was wrong.

My Dad has recently had a knee replacement and is about to have op number two, and my uncle has alignment problems with his knees – once being told he could end up in a wheelchair. They have both learned the hard way how important it is to look after your knees. It seems I’m definitely a Daddy’s girl when it comes to knees – thanks Dad. Tight tendons with a tendency to lock painfully, and inconveniently, in cinemas, on car journeys and long-haul flights.

I think about this, and my frustration with my rebel knees melts into the mat. I feel a sense of softening and care fill its place. I lift up on to my forearms, to my palms, and ease the pressure with a sigh that could have been released directly from my grateful knees to my windpipe.

Nobody pays me any attention. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the woman next to me lift onto her hands too. It feels good to find my own mould within this asana, away from those feelings of should and must, and the pull to look the same as everybody else.

It’s only as we unfurl into savasana that my mind settles upon the realisation that Pigeon Pose, plus my knees, taught me a valuable lesson today about how to live my life.

Are your knees trying to tell you something? Here is a modification for Pigeon to allow you to find your mould, your way.

Upside Down Pigeon

  • Begin lying on your back with one knee bent
  • Gently bring the other knee towards your chest and carefully place the ankle of the lifted leg over your knee
  • Reach your hands either side of the grounded leg and clasp the back of the thigh or front of the shin (you could use a small towel or strap to help with this)
  • Keep your head and shoulders on the ground
  • Slowly draw your grounded leg in towards your body until you feel a deep stretch in your floating hip and buttock.
  • Breathe deeply and focus on relaxing into the stretch
  • To get a deeper stretch, try to open your floating knee away from your body as you draw the other leg closer.

What I’ve Learned From Practising Yoga Imperfectly

I’m a born worrier, perfectionist and control freak. This is not something you’d expect to – or want to – hear from from a Yoga instructor, I’m sure. They say awareness is key, don’t they?..

Some of these characteristics can actually have a use. They make sure I never miss a flight – although my husband might argue about the necessity of turning up two hours ahead of check in. And they’re partly responsible for my avid, verging on nerdy, attention to perfecting postures during training for my Pilates and Yoga qualifications back in the day. These coping mechanisms have have kept me feeling safe when life has felt scary or out of control, but they have a pesky way of zipping in your deeper fears, while you’re focused on keeping the day to day gremlins out.

I came back to Yoga, experiencing burnout, as a way to quiet my anxious mind, boost my low mood and relax tense muscles. It did that, and so much more. Yoga taught me to let in some acceptance for myself, physically and emotionally. To smile when my tree pose is shaky and to notice, with kindness, if my chest is carrying a tell-tale ball of stress.

I recently took part in a beautiful Yoga class, led by Emma Peel at Yoga Rise in Peckham. Emma was guiding us through a wonderfully meditative Yin Yoga class and I found myself preoccupied with achieving the perfect Bridge pose. Were my hips completely symmetrical? Were my heels close enough to my sitting bones? I was completely missing this perfectly imperfect moment. Lost in my need to get it ‘right’, her words cut through, as if she could read the chatter of my monkey mind: “There is no perfect asana.” And she’s right. There is no perfect asana. There is only the shape that feels right for you in that moment. The asana that allows you to be really awake in your present experience.* The asana that is good enough – just as we are always good enough.

Ironically, just as the paradoxical theory of change would have it, this freedom to do things imperfectly on the Yoga mat, to let go of my worries about getting everything ‘right’, enabled me to develop my practice further than I could ever have imagined at the time. And it’s a lesson that has travelled with me off the mat and into other areas of my life. It helped me to grow past the causes of my burnout and recreate life, with a more adventurous spirit. A tight-fitting safety-jacket of perfectionism can be tough to unzip, but I can definitely tell you that wriggling out of it gives you so much more freedom of movement.

*as long as its safe (I’m still teacher after all!)

Calm an anxious mind and alleviate stress with Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge pose)

  • Lying on your back, bend both knees and place the feet flat on the floor hip width apart. Slide the arms alongside the body with the palms facing down.

  • Press the feet into the floor, inhale and lift the hips up, rolling the spine off the floor. Lightly squeeze the knees together to keep the knees hip width apart.

  • Press down into the arms and shoulders to lift the chest up. Engage the legs, buttocks and mula bandha to lift the hips higher.

  • Breathe and hold for 4-8 breaths.

  • To release: exhale and slowly roll the spine back to the floor.

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