I got into yoga a few years ago after a doctor told me I had fractures in my spine. You see, I’ve missed a few steps out there, but that’s fundamentally it. I’d experienced back pain throughout my entire life, but it was only when I reached my late thirties that I actually had scans to find out the cause – and fractures in the spine was the answer.
Like a lot of people, I immediately had two almost simultaneous thoughts; that this could be cured by either an operation or pills, or I was going to be immediately crippled for the rest of my life – forgetting, of course, that I’d had this condition for the previous three decades and that I wasn’t dead yet.
Of course, it wasn’t as simple as having an operation either. I don’t fully understand the medical jargon, but suffice to say that it wasn’t that safe to be operated on, so my GP suggested that I go see a physiotherapist, to try and minimise the damage that was being done to my back. He passed me onto a pilates class, which I tried for a couple of months, but then found myself wanting to try something different.
I then realised that a yoga studio was literally a thirty second walk from my front door. It’s funny how you can walk past a building so many times before your brain catches up with yourself. Bearing in mind that I’ve lived in a small collection of towns all of my life, I probably should have noticed it before now … but my lack of observational skills is a discussion for another day.
So, I talked a friend into going with me, and off we went, not really sure what to expect. It was a real unknown quantity; I had only heard of yoga in a general context before, as something other people did when they were incredibly flexible and could contort their bodies into twenty thousand different shapes without breaking into a sweat. Goes to show how little I know about the majority of people who actually take part.
I’m distinctly less than average when it comes to my flexibility levels; I can’t touch my toes from bending just at the waist, my hamstrings don’t allow my legs to full straighten, and I probably look completely bizarre when trying to balance – not that I actually give a damn what I look like, of course. If I did, I’d have given up a long time ago.
But what was refreshing, when I was in that very first yoga class, was that everyone was exactly like me. They all knew some names of moves, of course, and some were more flexible than me, but still … none of us were particularly specialist or high-level experts in yoga, except for our teacher.
Alan and Glenys are our teachers at Yoga-Is; they’re also married, in case you were wondering. Well, they’d be married irrespective of your level of curiosity, to be frank, but that’s not the point of this blog. I would never have imagined, ten years ago, that I would have one day been interested in yoga and actually looked forward to it every week. It’s an addictive activity that really stretches your muscles and makes you work; having recently had a few weeks off due to holidays and ill health, I found myself itching to go back, and found myself thoroughly enjoying my first class back.
Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices which originated in ancient India around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. Indian gurus later introduced yoga to the west, but really became popular as a form of physical exercise in the 1980s. As I’m learning, however, traditional yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core.
Yoga came to the attention of an educated western public in the mid-19th century along with other topics of Indian philosophy.
The first Hindu teacher to actively advocate and disseminate aspects of yoga to a western audience, Swami Vivekananda, toured Europe and the United States in the 1890s. Australia’s Bette Calman is the oldest female yoga teacher at 83 years old.
The modern scientific study of yoga began with the works of N. C. Paul and Major D. Basu in the late 19th century, and then continued in the 20th century with Sri Yogendra (1897–1989) and Swami Kuvalayananda. Western medical researchers came to Swami Kuvalayananda’s Kaivalyadhama Health and Yoga Research Center, starting in 1928, to study Yoga as a science.
During the 1910s and 1920s in the USA, yoga suffered a period of bad publicity due largely to the backlash against immigration, a rise in puritanical values, and a number of scandals. In the 1930s and 1940s, yoga began to gain more public acceptance as a result of celebrity endorsement. In the 1950s, the United States saw another period of paranoia against yoga, but by the 1960s, western interest in Hindu spirituality reached its peak, giving rise to a great number of Neo-Hindu schools specifically advocated to a western public.
Yoga is increasingly recommended to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and some medical conditions such as premenstrual syndrome. It’s a low-impact activity that can provide the same benefits as any well-designed exercise programme, increasing general health and stamina, reducing stress, and improving those conditions brought about by sedentary lifestyles.
While much of the medical community regards the results of yoga research as significant, others point to many flaws which undermine results. Much of the research on yoga has taken the form of preliminary studies or clinical trials of low methodological quality, including small sample sizes, inadequate blinding, lack of randomization, and high risk of bias. For chronic low back pain, specialist Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs has been found 30% more beneficial than usual care alone in a UK clinical trial. Other smaller studies support this finding. A research group from Boston University School of Medicine also tested yoga’s effects on lower-back pain. Over twelve weeks, one group of volunteers practiced yoga while the control group continued with standard treatment for back pain. The reported pain for yoga participants decreased by one third, while the standard treatment group had only a five percent drop. Yoga participants also had a drop of 80% in the use of pain medication
The United Nations have declared 21 June as the ‘International Day of Yoga’. The first Day was observed in 21 June 2015. About 35000 people, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a large number of dignitaries, performed 21 Yoga asanas (yoga postures) for 35 minutes at Rajpath in New Delhi; this established two Guinness records – largest Yoga class. and the record for the most nationalities participating in it: eighty four.
Yoga is a great form of meditation, exercise, and control. I never imagined being someone who was interested in this form of movement, but I am; it makes you feel energetic, engaged, and in the moment. It also helps me with my back; by strengthening the muscles around my fractures, it reduces the pain. It really is that simple.