Is yoga more about what you can’t do then what you can do?

7th September 2018 by Vicken Couligian

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My first taste of yoga was at the very first Yoga Express in Manchester, with our very own Matt.  I started practising very occasionally after that and once the addiction took hold (!), have been practicing regularly for about four years.

A few months into my practice, Matt said to me after one class that it was important to recognise your body’s limitations.  This comment threw me a bit if I’m honest, as I took it to mean that he was saying to me, that I will never get very far with this and I should just accept that.  It was a little disheartening.  I mentioned this to another yoga instructor a few months later and their response was that yoga should also be about challenging yourself and trying to push your own boundaries.  However, in the past couple of months, I think I have finally realised what Matt actually meant.

I call myself a bit of a yoga groupie – I’ll practice yoga anywhere, with anyone (!!!) just for the experience and to get my yoga fix!  I’ve tried loads of different classes with different instructors, all over the place and usually come away with something new.  I have been to classes where most of the other participants were miles better than I am and have come away a little disheartened and feeling inadequate.  I try to tell myself that yoga isn’t a competition and that I shouldn’t compare myself – but then I am only human.

I used to get that yoga buzz when I felt that I had made a few millimeters of progress or that I had managed to hold a posture for a bit longer or a bit deeper than before; but at the same time, I would beat myself up because I wasn’t in progressing as quickly as I wanted to, or I wasn’t able to manage postures that other people did.

I turned 53 a few weeks ago and I am now picking up some of those aches and pains that are (apparently) to be expected at my age!  I am very thankful however, that I am not on any medication and consider myself pretty active.  I’ve had some issues, something known as yoga-bum (!?) which meant that for a while, my practice was a bit restricted – but with a bit of physio and exercises at home, I was able to overcome this!  Yaaay!

I’ve also had a troublesome left knee for a few years now but I have been managing it with strengthening exercises and of course yoga.  It meant that I could never get my left foot high enough for the standing half-lotus but my right foot was starting to get there.  Also, I could just about manage to get my right foot under the ‘vegetables’ in Ardha Badha Padma Paschimottasana and was also getting to the point that I could almost do the roll-over and jump back in the vinyasas.  However, in recent months, my right knee has begun to trouble me and now it is more restricted than my left.  It means that I cannot crouch down completely and even find child’s pose quite painful.  Rolling over my knees and jumping back with my legs crossed is now pretty much impossible.  It might improve with time but it might not.

For a while, I found this pretty heart-breaking but persevered in the hope that it might get better, even though these postures caused me actual pain.  I don’t consider myself very flexible as it is and I just feel that this has set me further back and limited me even more!

When I mentioned this to Marie a couple of months ago, she told me just to modify my practice to suit what I can do.  But I must confess that for a while, I did find myself thinking ‘what is the point, I am never going to get anywhere with this and might as well give up’.

However, I have rediscovered my yoga-mojo following a holiday and have realised that persisting with moves that cause me pain is stupid and just emphasises what I can’t do.  I have since given up trying to do the roll-overs and jump backs and instead swivel myself around (breakdancing stylee!) so that I can get back into chaturanga without any pain and not too gracelessly!  It also means that I end up doing lots of Janu Sirsasana A’s rather than the B’s and C’s!

The big revelation has been that by physically avoiding postures that cause pain or restriction, has meant that my practice has become something positive again both physically and mentally.  By acknowledging that I cannot do certain things and may never be able to do them, has actually lead to a feeling of liberation.  Since I have picked up my practice again (although I never completely stopped!) I am finding it so much more rewarding.  Maybe after all, this is what yoga is about and what Matt meant all that time ago!

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By Vicken Couligian, Guest blogger

My name is Vicken Couligian, I am 50 years old and have been a qualified solicitor for 21 years. I am the current Chair of Manchester Pride, as well as being a trustee of the Armenian Church in Manchester; a trustee of the All-Armenian Fund as well as a volunteer mentor for the Albert Kennedy Trust. I live with my partner of 17+ years and in what little spare time I have, like to indulge my passion for music, mainly disco, soul and dance/pop music (my great loves being Donna Summer and Diana Ross - what a cliche!).


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