“This is your personal challenge!” That remark, made by Dave Porter during a Power Yoga class at Cape Town’s YogaLife in early May, came to take on a very compelling and personal meaning for me.
I’m a 39 year old Irish guy, living in Cape Town, married to an amazing South African lady and proud dad to two young boys. I’ve been healthy and active my whole life, running marathons, trail running on the mountain, spending plenty time at gym doing weights, and generally staying fit and active. We all have our aches and pains, but mine were predominantly in my lower back and have continued to intensify over the last four years. I had two spinal operations in 2009 for a ruptured disc in my lumbar spine. It was then that I first tried yoga as part of my rehab from the ops, and with great success. I have come to love yoga since then, doing two to three classes a week, and have been generally pain free because of it. My wife is a yoga teacher and had been trying to get me to try it for many years. Sadly I waited until the damage was done to listen to her advise and give it a go. I expect I could have avoided the two operations in 2009 had I listened to her sooner (don’t worry, she reminds of this on a very regular basis!).
Unfortunately, in mid-April of this year, after six weeks of grueling overseas travel, the back pains returned – big time…. The sensation I had was one of compression in my lower back, often referring down into my legs and causing severe discomfort and pain. I decided to invest in expertise, and went to four of South Africa’s most respected and recognized spinal surgeons to understand what my diagnosis was, what my options were, and what my next steps should be. The diagnosis was that the disk between L4 and L5 is bulging and collapsing, and is compressing the nerve roots in my lower back. Each surgeon offered an independent assessment, but were consistent in saying that sooner or later, I will need to have a spinal fusion done (where two or more of my lumbar vertebrae would be fused using screws, bolts and cages, enough hardware to hang a kitchen cabinet….). When I would need to have this specifically would be up to me, and dependent on my pain threshold of managing the pain without surgery. I was unhappy to hear that the recovery is very intensive, you need to be able to put your life on hold for six months and the procedure has a 70% success rate worldwide. Having already had two ops in the same place, the thought of another invasive procedure scared me.
So my personal challenge became to take on the May Month Challenge at YogaLife. The challenge is to do 30 (or more) yoga classes in 30 days. Everyone of the 120+ participants undoubtedly had their own reasons and motivations for taking it on. Mine was to see if yoga can truly heal, can really help and ultimately can become my way of managing a major spinal issue and staying pain and surgery free. I decided if I really wanted to understand how powerful yoga could be in helping me manage this injury, what better way to know then to throw myself into this challenge for a month.
I’m sharing this personal story because it worked. It totally worked. I completed the challenge and remained pain free for over 90% of the month of May. This was a dramatic improvement for me and every day seemed to prove as further endorsement that yoga needs to become part of my life, not just to manage the back issue but also because I walked out of every class feeling great, both physically and mentally. I respect the spiritual side of yoga but do not engage in it nearly as much as many do. For me it is mostly about the physical effort and physical benefit. I have a new found respect for how powerful yoga can be, and hope my yoga journey will keep me on a road that is pain and surgery free. So if you are like me, where your body is not what it was in your twenties and you need to try something that is both physically demanding but also gently healing in nature, it’s time you tried a few Power Yoga classes! I hope you find it to be as powerful as I do!
My body isnt perfect and neither am I. When I started at YogaLife a year ago, I wanted to strengthen my body, discover my limits and slowly learn to overcome them. I loved the studio from the very first day. Its a clean, peaceful space where I can practice with like-minded people. The teachers are all professionals in their own right and very different from each other which makes each class a unique experience. I think what I like most about YogaLife is that there isnt pressure to compete. The challenge is to engage with yourself. We all have hectic schedules, demanding lifestyles and loads of distractions. My yoga prace is my opportunity to disconnect from it all and just focus. I cant imagine life without yoga. Its better than therapy, and you get a great workout.
I discovered the wonders of yoga about a year ago and since then have been practising almost every day and have experienced a multitude of benefits! I have lost 20 kilograms, eat more healthily, sleep less (but better!) and have stopped taking the antidepressants which I was on for nearly a decade. I now also don’t dislike my body for what it is not (six foot tall and naturally slim) but love it for what it is (strong! flexible!) and for what it can do (The splits! The crow! A headstand!) It is also wonderful to apply the lessons learnt during yoga to my everyday life – strength, control, focus, simply taking deep breaths through difficult situations and living in the moment. Thank you YogaLife for helping me to rediscover my inner peace and happiness – and my skinny jeans!