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 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”.