To be honest, I never went through a period of mental churn over the question “should I gym or should I yoga?” like most people. Keeping fit and groundedness was a different game to me three years back. Three years back, I was a power runner dreaming to make it big from the daily 5 Km to ultra marathon!
Running is no sport for pretty boys; I would tell myself and ride high and mighty on the machismo till my feet blister and rising nausea in the gut gets devastating. On grinding wheels to snaky mountain dirt tracks, I ran through some of the best years of my life with a strange burning fervor and ran till each fiber in my legs seemed to turn to steel. In the truest of spirits, I knew as long as I was running I could fuel through all life’s terrible obstacles and navigate my way across to sweet success! What came up next was the Grizzly Peak Marathon and I made the mistake of taking one swaggering step after another.
Something made me sign up for the 50 km round in the rocky terrains exceeding the 10 km mark meant for first timers, and I suspect that something to be overconfidence. There was recommended a five pounds weight drop at the ‘training’ and I did not know any better than joining a crash gym where it took me two weeks of following boot camp routine before I finally crashed, coming down with an excruciating back pain issue. Long story short, that’s when I turned to yoga for ease and ease it did and bonus, turned out to be of massive help for my running. The golden benefits yoga holds for runners to be strong and resilient without adding girth, lessening susceptibility to injury and in addition to more resolve to the act started to manifest almost immediately and got me unabashedly hooked.
For the sake of my revolting back, I gave a good six months all to yoga before I took to running again and I was healed in the most amazing way. This was my spinal ease yoga sequence—
Cat-Cow Twofold Benefits
With gentle activation of the back body and opening up of the core up, what a great opening! My yoga instructor broke down the alignment showing me the nuances of the spinal bend and stretch out of the two postures individually.
There was also a fine anatomy of inhale-exhale flow introduced through this beginning pose that I kept up within the practice of the entire sequence. I was guided to inhale inducing a lifting thrust, with lungs expanding and the body finding buoyancy. In the Cow, it gets different. The inhalation is then for lifting the sternum as the heart is thrown outwards and the gaze shifts towards the sky. I loved the language of the postures instantly—to thrust externally with inhalation and sink the heart inwards as the breath goes out—created a rhythm of great mindfulness in me. I could actually feel my dislocated spine readjusting. The opposing forces caused through the two postures helped my axis find a middle ground and it was great! It would take me five to seven rounds of Cat-Cow every day at a slow pace and with a deep breath to have my postural habits corrected that had gone wrong from the crash gym debacle.
Unwinding With Spinal Twists
My instructor introduced me to a number of twisting feats of which the Half Lord of the Fishes and Marichi’s Pose really stuck with me. My lower back had felt like it was splintered after the heavy duty tasks at a gym after which my back kind of turned frigid from total bedridden rest over a few weeks. Also, my instructor pointed out, anxiety could play havoc on back-health and twists a super way to wring out all the frustrations layer by layer like compressing out a dirt-heavy sponge.
To help me deepen my turns, I was mandated the use of yoga props like a block to support my back or lightly touching on a wall for leverage. I also found sitting on a hard block amazingly supportive for that would help my hips to position optimally, bringing a length to the spine and also the natural curvature of the back remains regulated.
Spinal Twists are by are by far, my sweetest discovery in yoga. Soon enough, I started incorporating before-bed de-stress routines with restorative, supine spinal twists and discovered a world of calm.
Downward Dog with Caution
My new life chapter in yoga would remain incomplete without trying out the iconic Downward Dog. The first time I bent over to touch the ground, a sharp pang travelled up my spine. However, I had been warned!
Nevertheless, I went back doing the Dog when my back pain had somewhat thawed after a few days and there was new life to the posture. This time I did things slowly and by my instructor’s advice, changed the bend forward from an abrupt swoop down to something I could form into organically as part of the flow. I started with the Plank Pose and from there, moved into the Downward Dog and it turned out amazing, no twitch in the back felt whatsoever!
The topping of it was, as I bent and felt my backbone growing longer and sturdier, there was clearly an inflow of more oxygen. That’s when I decided I will be sure to walk my Dog everyday!
The Clasped Handed Locust Pose
This is another posture that took me a little more time and strengthening up before I could actually start doing it in my condition. The Locust can be quite a ubiquitous posture, already part of beginners and advanced sequences in some form. My Locust is the one which gets your hands clasped to the back.
I discovered with great relief that no matter how hurt my back was at the moment, my power run strength training had prepared me for an unflinching practice of the Locust whereas the other beginner level yogis were struggling to lift off the floor and stay there with nothing but partial chest support for as long as three breaths. I was quite the substitute for push-up and filled me with great accomplishment to be holding out the number of breaths.
I take great pleasure in saying, as I was proving myself pretty good and resilient in the Locust, my instructor promoted me swiftly to the Bow Pose which is a notch more challenging but flowed naturally out of the Locust I was doing!
Little by little, I am journeying more into the meditative core of yoga. The extended breathing stops, the synchrony in breath and movement that is being cultured, and the deep sense of calm spreading my body and mind is naturally attuning to, are signs of transformation I never experienced with anything else before. Going back to the pursuit of a super marathon is still a far way off but as I take my yoga higher, I feel hopeful about that too!
Author Bio: Manmohan Singh is a passionate Yogi, Yoga Teacher and provides Yoga Teacher Training. He loves writing and reading the books related to yoga, health, nature and the Himalayas.