More often than not, when I meet someone new and mention that I teach yoga, people say ‘Oh, I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible’. I generally say, ‘Well, you’re talking to someone who couldn’t reach past her knees since the age of 12. If I can do it, anyone can’. That’s the short version, the long version is this:
For most of my life I’ve had back pain and, once I started training more seriously and got into the fitness industry, I had a terrible record of injury. A few years ago, having been laid off running yet again with bad knees, I decided to take a hatha yoga class as my physio had advised stretching and rest. For someone used to high intensity training, running, spin and lots and lots of movement, the long, steady holds were a challenge, both physically and mentally.
Physically, I struggled with the most basic poses, Tadasana, mountain pose, with its long line of alignment from feet to crown, neutral pelvis, with the spine long but not losing its natural curvature, joints unlocked, muscles strong but not tense—even that seemingly most basic of things: to be standing correctly, was a challenge. My tight hip flexors tilted my pelvis forward, throwing my back into a deepened lordosis; my tendency to rest on the outer edges of my feet pulled at my knees; and the imbalance between my muscles front and back in my torso, pulled my shoulders forward, lightly hollowing my chest and pulling my shoulder blades apart. My very patient teacher had a lot of correction to do. And the forward bends, the deep lunges, the back bends— forget about it..I sweated through them all, struggling initially in even the gentlest options offered.
Mentally it was a challenge, too. I wanted things to move. Now. Faster. Come on.. I could run 10k at a drop of a hat and did spin every week (well, when my knees weren’t playing up, anyway), why was this person asking us to be still? I could chest press and press up and do weighted back rows with the best of them (when my shoulders weren’t playing up, that is), why were we only using slow movement against gravity for resistance? And I was a busy, busy, busy person, (who isn’t these days? ), why oh why did we need to take time at the end of the class to rest on our mats, relax and focus on our breath?
But my physio said to rest and stretch so I stuck to yoga and it wasn’t long before I found myself in class most days of the week, slowly but surely discovering correct alignment, the joy of stillness, recovering my range of movement, as well as a new kind of ability to focus on my body and my movement, and to become aware of my breath as a counter to external distractions.
I fell in love with yoga and the amazing balance, literally and figuratively, it brings into my life—it provides a respite from the high intensity, rapid movement of the training that I most enjoy. Yoga both helps and challenges me to find peace in demanding poses and to learn how to transfer that calm relaxation into demanding situations in life. It helps me reset, calm down, focus, whenever the too-muchness gets too much. It gives me energy when I’m feeling tired or needing a wee boost— there’s nothing quite like a few rounds of sun salutation after a 6 o’clock a.m. personal training client (or class or shift or restless, teething puppy) to pep you up and get you through the day, especially if your working day is not ending till 10pm.
And you know what—I finally could reach past my knees and actually touch my toes, I’d never thought I’d feel as good as I did about that! Yoga gives me much more than just flexibility, though, my back pain is gone and my injury rate is incredibly low, my running, my strength training and cycling have all improved, and so has my rate of recovery. It gives me a physical challenge with its demanding poses as well as in the simpler ones: Tadasana, mountain pose is my favourite and still the most challenging—I continue to rebel against stillness and have to fight all my natural inclination to ‘get on with it’—yoga has taught me that this, everything, is it. To be here and now.
Yoga has incredibly heightened my body awareness and has taught me to feel into my body as it works rather than just ignore its messages. I use this developed knowledge and skill for me and when working with clients. It has definitely made me a better personal trainer and instructor, even when the high intensity of the training bears little resemblance to anything yogic—I can keep pushing my clients, safely, and know how to help with their own injury or potential problems areas.
Working with disabled clients, too, yoga has been a massive help, especially for people with limited mobility.
And, here I am now a trained yoga teacher, a bendy person, and more importantly, a pain-free one. So, next time you think you’re not flexible enough to try yoga, just do it, give it a whirl. It may only help you reach your toes; it may change your life. It did both for me.
Author: Shams Abu-Tayeh
Biography: After over ten years of working in further and higher education training and policy, I left the world of sitting at a computer to pursue my passion in fitness. Since 2006, I have qualified and worked as a fitness instructor and personal trainer, working with clients one-to-one, challenging, supporting and guiding each one to their individual fitness goals. I teach various group exercises classes and yoga classes, both in Central Scotland and in Glasgow. I enjoy the opportunity to work with a range of groups, from disabled clients to children to community groups. As well as being a qualified yoga teacher,I’m a personal trainer, an indoor cycling instructor, a running coach and a massage therapist. I’m constantly updating and adding to her professional qualifications. The basis of my always-evolving view of life and fitness is to ‘Respect the body; explore its limits’