My physical therapist recommended yoga to me many years ago, but it took me a while to finally try it out. Eventually I found a cute little yoga studio near my house and went to their level zero class (yes, I said level zero and I’m not ashamed). I have been practicing at least once a week for over three years and have seen great results. I was never a very flexible person and when I first started I couldn’t even touch my toes. My balance was so bad that I had to lean on a wall to steady myself just to put a sock on, and we won’t even go into how weak my muscles were. Today I can reach beyond my toes to plant my palms firmly on the floor, I can hold tree pose with the best of them, and my friends like to joke about being jealous of my ‘yoga arms’.* Even more amazing, my sciatica pain that used to flare often is now nonexistent.
Yoga is a great way to reduce stress and relax tense muscles. My favorite part of class is shivasana, also called corpse pose, where we end the class laying on our mats using breathing and guided imagery to relax completely. Focused relaxation has been an important part of my healing and pain management, but I have found that I can relax my muscles so much further after yoga. A 45 minute yoga practice followed by 10 minutes of focused relaxation gives my body new life. I feel so refreshed after a session, whether at home or in an instructor led class. Yoga also gives you great ways to address symptoms when they flare. I have incorporated many poses into my nightly stretching routine and some key poses for when I have painful flare ups (I’ll be sharing some of my favorites in future posts).
For those of you who are trying out yoga for the first time, I would like to provide some words of caution. First, take it slow, especially at the beginning. Yoga is not a competition and it is not something that you should be pushing yourself to reach specific milestones. Almost every pose has a modified version that is best for beginners or those with injuries. Don’t worry about how much better your neighbor is doing or try force yourself to keep up with the instructor. If you ever need a break, or if a particular pose is too difficult or just doesn’t feel right for your body, stop and take child’s pose.
It is also extremely important to listen to your body. Back off or stop if anything hurts or if you think it will flare your symptoms. There are certain poses that I completely avoid and many more that I do modified versions of which are at a much easier level. Pay attention to what does flare you. If you try a new pose in class and have pain the following day then you know not to do that pose again or to try a modified version of it instead. Personally I have found that many of the poses that focus specifically on building core muscles can flare my symptoms, but that doesn’t mean the same will be true for you.
Talk to your yoga instructor about any of your concerns, before class if you can. You don’t have to go into all of the details, but let him or her know that you need to be careful and ask if they can provide modified versions of poses that are easier on your body. If they are not willing to help, then definitely find a new yoga instructor, someone who will encourage you to listen to your body and not push you to do too much. Of course you can also try instructional videos, but it means you especially need to pay attention to your body. And remember that you will not be able to mimic the person in the video exactly as their body has been conditioned through years of yoga practice. Personally, I have really enjoyed going to a yoga studio and I have learned enough that I can always do a session at home on my own. Different instructors have different styles, but I enjoy learning new poses which I can then incorporate into my own personal practice.
Whichever path you choose, I encourage you to go with the yoga flow. Even if you do not have symptoms of hypertonic pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, you can gain significant benefits from incorporating yoga into your healing journey. Namaste!
*I am not trying to brag as I still have a very long way to go. I still attend the level zero class and stick with the modified versions of poses. There are many others who have progressed much further than me in a shorter amount of time. However, the difference I have seen in my own personal practice is significant to me.