How Yoga Has Helped Improve My Life

There are many things in our everyday lives that we wouldn’t think would affect us in a big way. For me, it was as simple as walking. To put it in broader terms,  I had no idea that my walking habits and the footwear I chose to wear would affect my life so drastically! I’m 5″1, and so I loved wearing high heels when I was a teenager. Typically, I chose 3 to 4 inch heels. That may have been okay if I drove around or sat down a lot, but my lifestyle when I was a teenager involved walking everywhere. I grew up in a small city in Japan where you have walk to buses, train stations, to school, to stores all the time! To top that off, I developed a muscle imbalance because I always kept my hand bag on my right shoulder. I am right handed after all!

Then when I was in middle school, I fell hard on my back in gym class. I was supposed to do a hand stand then land on a bridge. For some reason many of my classmates were able to do that or at least land gently, while I slammed on my back repeatedly! I think I may have done it only once, but I can’t remember for sure. I feel like maybe it has contributed to my condition.

Fast forward to high school, I started having serious pain on my lower back, right around the glute and the whole leg on my right side. It was almost like a sciatica type of pain since I feel the pain running down from my iliac crest (around your bum) down to the outer side of my foot, especially during a terrible flare up. I was in such terrible shape that I couldn’t sleep at night because of the pain. I never really said anything, it’s almost as if the pain was numbing itself. I had so little sleep that I did terribly at school and my attendance also dropped. It’s not an excuse, but the pain was excruciating and unbearable!

This went on until college. But by then, I was a little smarter and wore flats instead of heels most of the time. Although I still used a messenger bag when I probably should have invested in an ergonomic backpack. I did go to the doctor while I was in Japan. They did an MRI of my knee and hip, but found nothing. When I moved to the States, I still had the pain. I went to the doctor again and still nothing 3 painstakingly long MRIs later. I was prescribed an NSAID that I believe has done nothing but made me more susceptible to acid reflux. Then I was prescribed a muscle relaxant which actually stopped the pain! Finally, something that worked! But I did not really want to take meds for the rest of my life. I wanted to know the root of the problem so that I may be able to fix it better. I was a bit naive and did not particularly know how Western medicine works. My husband, who has had a very vast experience with lots of doctors has told me that the usual route is to treat the symptoms with medicine first. And yeah, now that makes sense of course. What else would they recommend? Not yoga for sure.

Well, no one really recommended yoga to me. Of course yoga has been trending for a while now, and I have seen it on the Internet, movies, television and social media. Our local YMCA, which I was a member of, offers free yoga classes. I decided to take one to see what it was like. After the first session I noticed how my back and leg did not hurt at all after svasana!

Now, I am not officially diagnosed by any healthcare professional. I have had physical therapy sessions, and although my PT was fantastic and very thoughtful, the exercises did not work that well. Although we did address some things that my husband has already suspected I had: weak core, weak oblique, tight hip flexors, tight IT band. I believe that I have piriformis syndrome, which according to Spine-Health.com is “a condition in which the piriformis muscle, located in the buttock region, spasms and causes buttock pain. The piriformis muscle can also irritate the nearby sciatic nerve and cause pain, numbness and tingling along the back of the leg and into the foot (similar to sciatic pain).” It really matches all my symptoms AND the symptoms (the PAIN) goes away when I do stretches for the piriformis and the muscles surrounding and connected to it. Suddenly everything makes sense!

The only 2 things that really helps my symptoms are 1) heat and 2) yoga. Of course there are stretches that help alleviate my pain, such as McKenzie exercises. SMR (self myofascial release), sort of a fancy way of saying self-inflicted massage, also helps at times. But I really noticed a big difference after doing yoga consecutively for about a week. Of course, continuing yoga for more than a week is ideal! I found that flow or ashtanga yoga works best to stretch the ligaments around my hip area. I start with suryanamaskar or sun salutation A then once I feel a bit more warmed up I do B next. Once I feel warmed up I usually do some yin yoga poses, which is basically static stretches.

Of course yoga is not a miracle cure. It takes a lot of practice, dedication and patience, especially if you’re just starting out. Your hands may not be able to touch the floor at first, but that’s okay. Those things don’t matter. What matters is listening to your body’s needs at that moment, and not getting stuck on expectations of how things ought to be or ought to look like. As many yoga teachers say, “everything comes with practice”.

Aloha,
Gem

Getting to Know: Tisane

tisaneI was browsing the coffee and tea section of the supermarket when I stumbled upon the word “tisane”. I recall having read it somewhere online, saying that it was good for relaxation. Though not a tea expert, I am an avid tea drinker. Growing up in Japan, tea was an essential part of everyday life. It is served much more often than water in most restaurants. In middle school, we were served hot tea with our lunch regardless of the weather! So, keeping my tea drinking experience in mind, I would say that I’m pretty close to an expert when it comes to tea. But I have never heard of Tisane! That did not prevent me from purchasing the box labeled tisane because it is marketed as “special relaxing herbal tea”, and therefore it has no caffeine. I have been searching for the perfect bedtime tea, and so I decided to give this product a try. But, being the nerdy person that I am, I decided to do some more research on this “tisane” tea.

What is tisane?
Apparently, tisane is a French word for “herbal infusion” (1). If you want to impress your friends and family on your knowledge of French, well there you go. Basically, tisane is tea without the caffeine, therefore it is great for bed time and great for those who need an alternative for their habitual night cap.

What does tisane taste like?
It tastes like any other herbal tea, really. The tisane I bought has chamomile, peppermint leaf and catnip leaf as the main ingredients. It mostly tastes like chamomile and mint, which is great! Because it also contains licorice root, but I am not a fan of licorice tea!

How to select a Tisane
When selecting a tea blend (bagged), it is best to check the ingredients list. The major ingredients will be listed first, with the least used in descending order. For relaxation, I find chamomile to be the best. However, from experience, lemon grass tea has also helped improve my sleeping habits.

Benefits of Tisane

  • Relaxation
  • Caffeine-free
  • Digestion (2) (some tea blends, containing chamomile)

References:
(1) http://www.adagio.com/info/tisanes.html
(2) http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/german-chamomile
Read more on the benefits of herbal tea:
FALL HOLISTIC HEALTH: A FLU SHOT OR HERBAL TEAS? by the American College of Health Care Sciences.

The Yamas and the Niyamas: Ahimsa Week 3 and Week 4

For this post, I will be combining entries for week 3 and week 4 of observing Ahimsa. The fall semester has started and my schedule is packed with work, school and studying among other things! I still hope to observe the next Niyama in the book next week.

Week 3:
Watch where you are running interference on other’s lives. Are you a worrier? A fixer? Discern the difference between help and support. Notice what you might be avoiding in your own life because you are so interested in others’ lives.

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The Yamas and Niyamas: Ahimsa, Week 2

What is Ahimsa (non-violence)?

Week two:

This week, guard your balance as you would your most precious resource. Don’t find your balance from a place in your head of what it should look like. Instead find guidance from the messages of your body… Act on the messages of your body and explore what balance looks like for your this week…

 

The previous week has been pretty hectic. My husband and I went on a short trip up North for a family visit. We also had a chance to explore parts of New York City during our stay, but since we were only there for a few days, we had pretty much crammed everything we needed to do in a day and a half. Even though we were on vacation, I tried my best to observe the week’s question for exploration: find balance in my life.

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The Yamas and Niyamas: Ahimsa, Week 1

I read a book about yoga called “The Yamas and the Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice” by Deborah Adele. It’s a very inspiring book about Yamas, meaning “restraints” and Niyamas which is translated as “observances”. They both talk about 5 jewels, which can be considered as ethical guidelines for yogis. I may be finished with the book, but I hope to journal my experiences as I observe the Yamas and Niyamas. I will start with the first Yama in the book: Ahimsa.

Ahimsa can be translated as non-violence. In a nutshell, it guides us to be kind towards others and ourselves without sacrificing our own needs or inflating our ego. On page 40 of the book is a segment titled “Questions for Exploration”, which list some thoughts and ideas for journaling. I hope to keep track of my weekly progress in observing each jewel of yoga in this blog.

Week one (summary):

    This week practice courage by doing one thing daily that you wouldn’t normally do… See if you can discern between fear and the unfamiliar. Watch what happens to your sense of self and how your relationships with others might be different because you are courageously stepping into unknown territory.

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Seven Things Yoga has Taught Me

“True happiness is to learn how to live beyond the imperfections.” — Rita Maatta.

I’ve been practicing yoga for 3 months now. I have to be honest though, I didn’t faithfully attend class every week. There were times when I only did yoga once or twice a week. I realize that when it comes to exercise, consistency is key. So recently, I’m trying my best to do yoga as often as possible.

I know this will sound very much like an excuse. Well, maybe it is. Most of the classes at the YMCA start early in the morning. Okay, most classes start at around 10-11 AM. I’m not exactly an early bird. There are also afternoon classes, but my husband and I aren’t particularly keen on going to the gym twice!

The reason why I am doing yoga more often now is because my mother-in-law does it, too. I’ve taken classes by myself, and I didn’t mind it at all. I guess I just lacked willpower, and I felt more motivated when I’m not doing it alone.

Being the slacker that I was, I kind of think that I’m not in the position to talk about yoga. Still, I want to share how it has influenced my life outside of the mat. Practicing yoga has enriched my life in so many ways and I hope that it can do the same for you.

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