Pride in the name of Yoga By Vicken Couligian
The first thing that I wanted to say was that I was completely ‘gobsmacked’ when Matt asked me to write something for his blog. I have only been practicing yoga regularly for about 18 months or so and consider myself to be only just beyond the beginners stage and so wasn’t sure what I could write that anyone else would find remotely interesting.
I have been a fairly regular gym goer on and off for about 20 years now. By no stretch of anyone’s imagination however, would I consider myself to be a shining example of fitness, but my theory is that it keeps me relatively healthy and allows me those naughty treats. About 10 years ago, I started doing a ‘fitness through martial arts’ class, the first half of which involved a lot of stretching and balancing. After a few months, I realised my flexibility was improving and I was much less stiff after doing my other classes.. However sadly, after a couple of years, the instructor left and the class was taken off the timetable.
I went back to doing the usual jumping-up-and-down CV-type classes in an attempt to keep in trim and to keep up the fight against the middle-aged spread. However, none of those classes included much stretching and after some time I began to feel that I was ‘seizing up’. Also, I was approaching my (very) late 40s and began acquiring different injuries and general aches and pains with worrying regularity. I sought out some physiotherapy from the friendly and talented Nick Syrett for these niggling problems and discussed with him that I felt that I needed to be doing something ‘more stretchy’ and holistic.
On top of all of that, in 2010 I was elected as Chair of Manchester Pride. This is an annually re-elected (voluntary) role and I am currently in my 6th year. It has been an incredible honour to serve this Charity and to help guide it through some of the biggest upheavals in its history. When I was elected Chair, I did not know much about what it took to be a trustee of a charity, let alone Chair, so it was a steep and time-consuming learning curve. Whilst I love this role with a passion, when coupled with my full-time day job of being a solicitor (and the stresses and strains that this can bring), life can be pretty hectic and challenging!
Fortuitously, Nick the physio, told me about Yoga Express and I was lucky enough to be at the very first class which was so busy that they had to spread out over 3 studios! Whilst it was all very new to me, I found the approachability of the instructors and the friendliness and lack of snobbery of other participants, no matter their level of experience, to be totally refreshing. Also, it was great to see such a range of experience and ages in the practices.
Over time, I started to become familiar with the sequence of postures, the breathing and began to feel the benefit.
In late November 2014, I was invited to have a general MOT check-up at the doctors (yes, it was an age thing!). It comprised all of the usual tests and lastly, the nurse asked to measure my height. She stood me against the height measurer on the wall and set the guide to the height that was in my records. As I stood against the wall and straightened up, the top of my head pushed the gauge up a bit. The nurse came over, looked at the gauge, looked back at the computer records and told me that I had apparently grown by ½”! I have no explanation for this other than it must be due to my improved posture from the yoga that I was doing!!
Over the following months, I began to realise that yoga is so much more than just an exercise class. It’s about focusing on your breathing, holding the poses and the way in which they are all linked together. To try to do all this takes a lot of concentration and this means that you can’t help but switch off from daily thoughts and concerns.
The practices quickly became oases of calm in my hectic schedule. Don’t get me wrong, you work hard and I usually sweat (quite a lot!) but I find them intensely rewarding and the sense of calm and positivity that the practices give me has begun to spill over into the other parts of my life. I am slowly toning up, getting stronger and feel so much better in myself. Also, most of those aches and pains that I mentioned before, have either disappeared or have become much more manageable.
Someone told me early on, that yoga is about millimetres of progress, not centimetres. This is so true and whilst it does not seem like much, the sense of achievement that I get from being able to get just that little bit deeper into a pose gives me a real sense of accomplishment as well as a natural high. I have many examples that I could tell you about, where I have gone to a yoga practice after a particularly stressful day where things seem insurmountable, only to come out wondering what I was so worried about and feeling that nothing is impossible.
I also used to beat myself up that I wasn’t as flexible or as strong as other people in the class, but realised that I was missing the point. It’s not a competition, everyone is on their own journey and our bodies all work in different ways. When I look back and see how much I have learned, how far I have come and the sense of well-being that yoga gives me, I almost have to pinch myself.
I now try to get to practice two or three times a week if I can and it’s the only form of exercise that I have ever done, where I can’t wait to do it again!