yoga for healthy spine

Living the Life I Still Had Inside of Me All Along!

Sam was born with Congenital Spinal Stenosis - a narrow spinal canal sometimes resulting in unusual pressure on spinal nerve roots usually resulting in painful symptoms. Over the years calcium has built up around his spine (arthritis) and made the narrowing even worse. In October of 2010 he began practicing at Bikram Yoga Paradise Valley, a few months before having his first spinal surgery to open the L4/5 pathway to ease its restriction of the spinal cord. He continued to do Bikram Yoga (BY) during rehab and another surgery was scheduled for June to open his L3/4 pathway further down the spine.

“The doctor actually turned me away on the day of the second surgery and told me, ‘whatever you have been doing keep it up, it's working to change your spine, at this point there is no need of further operations’.” Within just eight months of practicing Bikram Yoga, Sam’s second spine surgery was called off!

Along with radically improving his spine, Sam has lost over 50 pounds and eight inches on his waist, stopped all medications, and his cholesterol is now under 170 (it was over 240). Before practicing BY Sam says he sat around, watched tv, and ate. He hadn’t made time to do anything for his physical health for years. Now Sam says, “I feel as if I am in the best overall shape of my life. I can walk. I just started to run again. And I hike the mountain preserves as long as I want to! I feel taller somehow. I have more self-confidence in all I do. And it all seems to keep on getting better.”

On the topic of getting better, Sam is working hard on his Standing Bow Pose. “I have used it to compete with myself. Hold it now, no matter what, work on my form, look at myself in the mirror. Looking in the mirror for 90 minutes during class helps me to remember I am NOT 25 anymore. I see my Dad at almost 60. But in my mind I am still 25. The more classes I do, the harder I work at it, the better I feel and look. I eat better throughout the day knowing I have to come in and look at myself. I now understand I can always improve on everything.”

His wife, Shirley, and daughter, Megan, all go to Bikram Yoga now. “We love coming here and practicing together three plus times a week. Thanks for showing me another life I still had inside of me all along.”

Camel: The Emotional Explosion

By P.J. StuartBikram Yoga Paradise Valley Camel Pose It’s way more powerful than a maximum compression of the spine.  And that’s saying a lot.

The deepest backbend of the Bikram series, Ustrasana is also a shattering release of the deepest parts of our psyche.  It exposes us once again to our long-forgotten fears.  It taps lightly on the front door of our repressed anger chamber.  It relinquishes our unexpressed, perhaps self-denied joy and gratitude.  It ushers in a powerful cocktail of grief, hope, delight, frustration.  (And okay – sometimes, it just reminds us to lay off the nachos and beer.)

Knees and feet are six inches apart.  Hands on the back of your hips, fingers pointing down, thumbs to the outside … you take a deep breath …  Suddenly, your midsection is presented to the gods in its most vulnerable fashion, unleashed in full glory by the power of a 360-degree backbend, fueled by gravitation.  In nature, you will rarely see an animal expose its most susceptible region like this.  And yet here we are.  Bam!  Let it out, baby.

In my two years of practicing Bikram, I’ve been through the entire spectrum of emotions after Camel Pose.  I’ve wanted to run out of the room and vomit (and once, I did).  I’ve mourned a lost love.  I’ve plotted an angsty e-mail to a boss, expressing my dissatisfaction over their management style.  I’ve relived aspects my childhood, both positive and negative, gaining insight into my own complicated family dynamics.  I’ve wrestled with acceptance over my current life circumstances.

The power of this release is nothing short of awesome.  Each time, returning to my breath once again through all the inner turbulence, I emerge a lighter, cleaner, less encumbered version of myself.  Perhaps the singularly most intense posture of the entire Bikram series, something magical and crazy happens to each of us during Ustrasana.  It’s strangely healing, beyond the physical benefits to our spine and abdominal organs. BYPV teachers often say, “it’s normal to feel dizzy or nauseous.”  But what causes this “emotional explosion” that comes with it?

Turns out, in psychosomatic science -- which studies the link between the body and the mind -- there is a known connection between the abdominal and pelvic regions to our deepest emotions.  No wonder then, a sudden and dramatic activation of this area would cause such a fierce reaction.

According to reports from American Psychiatric Publishing, there are two reasons this connection exists.  First, the organs in our abdominal and pelvic region are connected to some of the most emotionally engaging activities of our human nature:  nutrition, excretion, sexuality and reproduction. These functions carry profound impact over our entire life experience.  Much of our emotional well-being is related to these activities, and in turn, attached to the cellular memory of these organs.

Second, the organs in this region are powered by the autonomic nervous system.  When we activate our spine in Camel, through maximum compression, we send huge amounts of nervous energy out into those organs.  In other words:  helllllo organs, hellllo emotions … let’s crank up the volume for a hot second, shall we?

So what kinds of experiences can you look forward to next time you’re in Camel?  BYPV teacher Jacquie Malvin said she recently experienced a fit of uncontrollable laughter post-Camel, one she couldn’t explain (I’m still waiting for that to happen to me).  No matter how uncomfortable, physically or emotionally, I can’t wait for my next dose of Ustrasana.  Bring it on.