Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: yoga student

How Injury Transformed My Yoga Practice

If you’ve ever been put out of action by an injury, you’ll know how infuriating, debilitating and strangely isolating it can be. I’m sharing my experience below in the hope that it brings some comfort and reassurance that the situation (or at least your response to it!) can and will improve.

The Injury

Three months ago, I taught what was from my perspective, my worst ever yoga class. It wasn’t that anything went wrong with the class itself (though it wasn’t without challenges – a last minute room change and a power cut to be specific). No, the issue was that when demonstrated cat-cow, something in the right side of my lower back “went” sending searing pain through my back.

I’ve had lower back issues before, so I knew this wasn’t good, but I carried on teaching, hoping that moving would help. It didn’t. By the end of the 90 minute class, I was in barely disguised agony.

Me teaching a yoga class in the Om Dome at Suryalila Retreat Centre in Spain.
Teaching whilst injury-free!

I remained in acute, debilitating pain for the next three weeks. The only position that was comfortable was lying down. Sitting, walking and standing all sent my muscles into excruciating spasms. Safe to say, it was the end of my yoga teaching, and indeed my yoga practice for quite some time.

As I said, I’ve hurt my back before, and quite badly, but this was worse.

What made it emotionally harder was knowing that I’d hurt it doing yoga. Whereas previous injuries (through doing the Insanity workout programme, lifting kettlebells and most embarrassingly, tripping over the wire while straightening my hair) I could attribute to a specific, avoidable incident, what triggered this seemed so innocuous. It wasn’t even as if I was attempting a challenging posture.

The Bumpy Road to Recovery

I had some good advice and some terrible advice. Friends plied me with hot water bottles, ibuprofen and gin (which somewhat worryingly helped more than painkillers!).

I scoured the internet obsessively in the hope of a cure, and in my desperation forked out for not one but three eBooks on healing back pain, which I read from cover to cover. The worst of these convinced me that the pain was wholly psychological in nature and that once I knew that, all I needed to do was return to my normal activities.

Full of hope, I walked the 5km to the local town, determined to “act normal”. By the time I got there, I was in so much pain that I passed out on the street, and came round surrounded by a group of lovely, and deeply concerned Spanish locals. Not cool.

Beautiful massage space outside at Suryalila Retreat Centre in Spain.
The advantage of getting injured at a retreat centre is the availability of amazing massage…

So for the next six weeks, life revolved around things that didn’t aggravate my back.

I wanted to keep up some kind of self-practice, but how I felt about yoga had changed. Rather than being my therapy, my healing and my safe refuge, yoga felt risky. I considered meditation but this was hard as I couldn’t sit still for more than 20 seconds, and meditation lying down for me is just falling asleep.

Instead I started to read books on Buddhist philosophy and practice, which helped a lot more than the back pain books did. They encouraged me to develop a less combative relationship with the pain. I also began very gentle and cautious mobilisation and breathing exercises.

Trekking to Annapurna Base Camp

Sun rising over the Annapurna mountain range

Slowly, slowly I started to build up the distance I could walk. This was going well, but I feared not well enough, as I had booked to do the Annapurna Base Camp trek at the start of December – 9 days of arduous trekking in the Himalayas.

I was nervous to say the least. But the flights were already booked, and ABC had been a personal dream for the last 11 years, so there was no way I was going to not try.

I won’t bore you with every detail of the trek – my poor friends and family have had to put up with that a lot lately! But I’m very happy to say that it was every bit as incredible as I’d hoped. It wasn’t a painless experience, far from it, but the more I walked the more my pain eased. I was filled with immense gratitude for what my body could do.

Not only that but the walking itself was an incredible exercise in mindfulness. Because you have to place your feet carefully for each step (to avoid falling off the mountain) it was impossible to think about anything else. That coupled with the digital detox – we spent the whole trek without connecting to WiFi – meant I finished the trek feeling calmer, happier and more present than I have in a long time.

Sign and prayer flags at Annapurna Base  Camp.

But still no yoga. I played with a few postures after walking some days, but they didn’t feel great in my body, and I didn’t want to risk it.

New Year, New Focus

Then came new year. We attended a yoga and meditation retreat in Cambodia. My first yoga class there was a nerve wracking experience. Although the practice was gentle, I felt flashes of huge anxiety, and sometimes intense anger when a posture affected my back. I didn’t love the yoga classes, but in hindsight they did help me to overcome the mental barrier I had to practising postures.

Signs pointing to yoga hall and other facilities at Hariharalaya Retreat Centre.
The very lovely Hariharalaya Retreat Centre

But the meditation made a more tangible difference. By then I was able to sit on a meditation bench for around 30 minutes without pain. This time daily to connect in with myself and my breath let me put into practice all the learning from the Buddhist books I’d been reading.

There was also a strong emphasis on the importance of self-practice throughout the retreat, which I took to heart.

Since coming back from the retreat, I’ve developed a more consistent self practice of yoga, pranayama and meditation than I’ve had for years. I practice daily, around 30 minutes of postures, followed by pranayama and meditation later in the day. My practice doesn’t look the way it used to – currently my most “advanced” posture is tree pose (which I love!) – but it feels better. More honest, more connected and more grounding.

Me practising dragonfly (or grasshopper) pose in Morocco.
It may be a while before my yoga practice looks like this again!

Finding Yoga Again

Watch this space for a blog to follow about everything I’ve learnt about using yoga to heal injuries…

But suffice to say for now, coming back to yoga has been a process of gradually getting reacquainted with my body again – feeling into where the edges are now, and where I can use my breath to open up spaces. I’m experiencing again the joy of when I first discovered yoga, each posture as an invitation to step into myself as if for the first time. I’m building up confidence and trust in my body once more, and I know that’s going to take time. For once, I’m actually very happy to give it that time.

Me practising simple yoga on the beach.
Morning yoga on the beach in Koh Chang



How to fall in love with Savasana

Savasana“Savasana is the most important posture.”

When I began yoga, I didn’t believe this. I’ve seen the T-Shirts saying “I’m just here for Savasana,” which I find funny, because for me, Savasana, or corpse pose (i.e. lying flat on your back and relaxing completely) was definitely not what I was there for….

Toned, lean yoga body? Yes please.

Ridiculous flexibility? Absolutely.

Inner peace and harmony? Well if that’s an optional extra, sure.

But I have to lie still and do nothing to achieve that? No, I don’t think so.

But over time, I’ve started to make friends with Savasana, and I think you can too. Here’s why it’s worth a try, and how to go about it…

Four big benefits of Savasana

  1. It allows you to notice and absorb the benefits of the practice. A lot can happen physically, mentally and emotionally during yoga. Yoga meets you where you are, but it does not leave you where it found you. You need time to let yourself catch up with that and to enjoy the differences.
  2. It rests the body after physical practice. Throughout your yoga practice, you are seeking balance between effort and ease, between strength and surrender. By its very nature, physical practice requires strength and effort. Savasana gives you chance to balance that by seeking complete relaxation, allowing the body to recover and rest.
  3. You learn the skill of relaxation. And it is a skill. When you scan through the body in savasana, you have a final opportunity to find any remaining tension, physical or mental and let it go. You learn how to consciously relax.
  4. It marks the end of your practice, creating space before you re-enter the rest of the world. If you rush out straight after the last posture, it’s too easy to immediately lose all the mindful connection with yourself you cultivated through your yoga. Savasana gives you chance to take stock, which helps you to sustain that connection afterwards.

Getting the most out of Savasana

Know that there is no “wrong way” to do Savasana. Whether you are able to relax or your mind races, allow that to be. Trust that the experience you have is enough, and is what you need right at that moment.

The biggest barrier to relaxing in Savasana is likely to be your mind. Recognise any thoughts that are holding you back. Acknowledge them, and gently answer them with something kinder. For instance:

Negative thought Positive and kind alternative

It’s pointless just lying here.

Lying here allows me to absorb all the benefits of my practice.
I should be doing something more productive. I deserve this time to relax and let go after my practice.
I’m too busy for this. Savasana helps me balance the busy-ness of the rest of my life.

If you examine them, so many negative thoughts come from an underlying belief that you are not good enough as you are. Let that go. It won’t be serving you in your yoga, and it certainly won’t be serving you in your life.

See whether you can allow yourself to dare to believe that what you are already enough. Whatever you think to Savasana…

Happy relaxing lovely people!

Jade xxx

Around the world in 80 yoga classes

I’ve done it! This week I’ve hit 80 classes of yoga since starting this blog and my yoga travels. This doesn’t include classes I’ve taught myself – just those I’ve attended. I’ve done 17 different types of yoga:

Types of yoga

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve had the privilege of being taught by 30 different teachers, whose experience ranged from 40 years to just 2 weeks. I’m grateful to them all:

Mike, Sarah, Adam, Vidya, Raphaelle, Gabriela, Roberto, Lidiya, Jess, Carl, Marcus, Lamonte, Charlie, Chetana, Jasmin, Nina, Josh, Dylan, Alex, Marina, Tara, Bob, Sammi, Richard, Drew, Tamzin, Jenne, Amanda, Cyrus, Alicia

What have I learned from my 80 classes?

There is no right or wrong.

Every teacher and every class is unique. Sometimes I’ve been taught ways of assuming postures in one class which directly contradict those taught in another. Sometimes classes are so different that it’s hard to believe they’re all called “yoga” My take on it is that it doesn’t matter too much. As long as the teacher is sharing their practice, with enough instruction, guidance and support to keep their students safe, the differences only add to the experience, and help me to stay more present.

Every teacher teaches you something worth learning.

As a recently qualified yoga teacher, I’m trying to soak up everything I can to make myself the best yoga teacher I can be. Often the flow of a class will exactly fit with the way I like to teach, or I’ll be in awe of the teacher’s creative sequences or their inspiring words. These are the classes I rush out of to find my notebook and scribble everything down before I forget it. In other classes the learning might be more subtle, and less easy to articulate. But maybe I’ll notice later in the day a shift in the way I feel. Or a week or even a month later, something that teacher said to me will come back to me, and I’ll be grateful for their insight.

Yoga will meet you where you are, but it never leaves you where it found you.

There have been yoga classes where I’ve been aching so much from some ridiculous workout the day before that I’ve told myself I could leave after the warm-up if it was too painful. There have been classes at 6am that I’ve had to almost literally throw myself out of bed to force myself to get to. There have been classes that I simply couldn’t be bothered with. But every single time, once I get on the mat, something changes. Somehow the yoga meets me in whatever state I’m in, acknowledges that and then gently moves me through it. There hasn’t been a single one of these 80 classes that I’ve regretted making the time for. So when my motivation to go is low, I do just have to remind myself that the hardest bit is turning up. Once I’m there, things are already starting to get better.

What’s next now I’ve done 80 yoga classes?

When I started my yoga travels, I told myself I’d maybe do this until September, but that was unrealistic. 80 classes is not even close to being enough. I still have so much I want to learn. Maybe I’ll aim next to be taught by 80 yoga teachers, or to try 80 styles of yoga. Or maybe I’ll let go of the numbers altogether. Whatever, I’ll never consider myself a “finished product” as a yoga teacher. I’m going to keep practising, keep learning, and keep writing. I am eternally a student.

What I learned doing yoga in Thailand

Chiang MaiI started out my solo travels in the north of Thailand with the best of intentions – every morning I would wake up at sunrise, do my self-practice of yoga, then meditate for 20 minutes before going for a healthy breakfast and beginning my day of travelling and exploring. It would be perfect. It was my opportunity to be completely on my own agenda with no distractions. This is what I learned:

  1. It is possible to take budgeting too far. I was so excited when I found a place to stay for just 100 Baht (around £2) per night. I was less excited when I discovered that my “bed”, essentially a mattress pad, was exactly 13cm away from my neighbours on each side. Never mind finding space to lay my yoga mat on the floor, finding space to roll over without becoming rather too acquainted with the snoring stranger next to me proved impossible. Needless to say, after a sleepless night or two, my yoga practice was the furthest thing from my mind…
  2. 39 degree heat is not conducive to an effective Ashtanga yoga practice, at least not for me. It is one thing to do hot yoga deliberately in a specially designed pod. Doing it accidentally in a sweat box of a room is an altogether different experience, and not a pleasant one. It made me question how and why Ashtanga yoga could possibly have originated in India. Given any kind of hot climate I think I would have developed a regime with a whole lot more lying flat on my back, and a whole lot less actual movement.
  3. There is something to be said for being physically comfortable. I came to Thailand with all these ideas about how I did not need anything – how I could live in the most basic of conditions, and I could do without any home comforts. And I can. But I realised that to be completely honest, I’d rather not. I actually quite like sleeping in a room which is free from cockroaches and mosquitos. I appreciate clean sheets, and air conditioning, and showers that run for long enough for me to rinse the conditioner from my hair. Who knew.
  4. Too much Chang (Thai beer) and yoga do not mix. That stuff is lethal. Nuff said.
  5. Yoga classes are invaluable. After 10 days of struggling to find the physical or mental space to do my self-practice, I needed some external motivation. I found it, in the form of Tara, a fantastic yoga teacher at NAMO Yoga in Chiang Mai. Her class reminded me why I love yoga, and what I’d been missing. Best of all, I drew energy and discipline from the other students in the class, and no longer felt that this was my solo battle.

On my last day, having treated myself to a better room, I finally managed what I had been aiming for all along. I woke up (hangover-free), rolled out my mat and practised underneath my fan with the sunlight streaming through the window. I then took a hot shower and walked to pick up a fresh coconut, kombucha tea and vegan muesli for breakfast. Okay, so it took me two weeks, but I got there in the end. And in that moment of smug satisfaction, it was all worth it.

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