I started practicing yoga in college. It was short lived. For the first semester I would attend a class each week in the business building, perfectly timed after my classes. As fall and its time change came, the walk alone back to the dorms was a bit too creepy for me so I waited until spring to go again. By that time there was a new instructor who was a bit more into the mantras and spirit of yoga than I could handle. The whole message of loving your body for what it can do today, and not punishing it for not being able to do what it could do yesterday, or what your neighbor can do was just way too annoying. So I quit.
The actual work out was fantastic so I practiced the poses I wanted to on my own, minus the motivational self-speak. When I moved to Albany I signed up for a yoga class that was part of the adult continuing education program in the local high schools. This time, it felt right. The instructor was this wonderful woman from Los Angeles who had the most naturally soothing voice. Her course was eight weeks long and each week built upon the work we had done previously. The class was small so she was able to give each of us personal instruction. Best of all, she went slow enough so that I could do all the poses, but not too slow that it was boring. There was some positive self-speak, but nothing nauseating. I loved it! She introduced us to chanting, which felt weird at first, but once we all started doing it was pretty cool. I even liked doing savasana. Back in college at the end of class laying down felt like such a waste of time and I could never get my mind to relax. I was usually mentally screaming at the instructor as she tried to talk us through a meditation– HOW CAN WE RELAX OUR MINDS IF YOU WON’T STOP TALKING!!!!! This class was different. This class was 100% enjoyable. Was it the teacher? Was it me having matured? I figured it was both.
The instructor ended up moving back to LA after a year of teaching our yoga classes. I was very disappointed to see her go especially since I had a hard time finding a teacher I liked as much as her and her “flow.” Eventually I found someone I liked almost as much, and then she moved too.
A couple years has passed and I have tried to get started with classes again at Wellnest Studios, but as great as the teachers are, it is just not the same for me anymore. When it comes time to set a mantra I do a mental eye roll and just adopt whatever suggestion the instructor mentions that does not seem too cheesy (even though they all are). Sometimes a phrase randomly pops into my head before the instructor makes a suggestion and the rest of the class I am stuck refocusing with a phrase like “Work B***h” ala the Britney Spears song. The worst was a recent class when the instructor led us with “I am a …” I filled in the blank with “scarecrow.” I couldn’t get it out of my head! So the rest of class whenever we were called to think of our mantra to re-center ourselves I kept telling myself “I am a scarecrow.”
In addition to losing the yogi mental state, yoga is just plain harder for me to do now. I don’t remember my teachers being so focused on us doing lunges (not warrior 1- the kind of lunge with a knee on the ground), but I cannot go to a class with out having to manually pull my leg from behind me into a 90 degree angle in front of me. By the time I have gotten set up on one side, the class has already finished their deep lunge, twisting side to side, and has switched to the other leg. I will either quickly try to go through the flow on both sides and catch them in a child’s pose, or down dog pause before they move on to the next thing. Or I just say screw it and get in position on the other side.
As my spasticity has progressed I have moved from being able to do class anywhere in the room, to wanting to be by the wall for balance poses, to everyone knowing that is MY spot by the wall because I lean on it for pretty much any pose we do on our feet. In keeping up with my own yoga practice during the quarantine, I found that our hallway is the best place to be. I have walls on either side of me that I can use to help push me up if I get stuck in a pose. Instead of always leaning against a wall for support, I can challenge myself to balance a little bit more because I know that on either side of my body I have a way to catch myself. Sure it gets a little cramped sometimes, but isn’t one aspect of yoga the ability to mentally overcome life’s obstacles?
Hall yoga. Warrior one in my hallway. I would never do this pose in class without keeping a hand on the wall because when my balance is very short lived and I could fall to either side.
Since before my diagnosis I have done various types of exercise to stay in shape and help my walk. The one constant in my journey has been yoga. Through the down (dogs) and ups in my life I have been practicing yoga. Love it or hate it, as I have had to change and adapt to my disability, I have been able to do the same for my poses.