Written by Stephanie Dudley, YD 200HR Student
After practicing yoga for almost 20 years, I felt like I was stuck in a box of repetitive patterns and movements. My body complained about the intensity and repetition of my yoga practice with injury after injury, until I was in enough constant pain that I was forced to give up my (beloved, deeply ingrained) yoga practice. That is, until I reached out to Cecily in hopes of discovering how I might once again enjoy movement without the pain to which I'd become accustomed.
Now, as part of the YD Teacher Training program, I am learning best practices in modern movement theory for long term physical / emotional / spiritual health. One of the biggest mental shifts for me has been reconfiguring my goals for a physical and spiritual practice, and finding that the most important thing to me is developing a holistic health practice that is sustainable over time. I don't want to be doing something every day now (in my mid 40s) that will lead to having a hip replacement at age 70, or to find out in 15 years that my ongoing lower back pain has evolved into irreparable damage. That's not what a yoga practice should be about.
Through working with Cecily, I started to question my beliefs and finally realized that repetitive extreme movements and consistently pushing my body to open and be more flexible was actually doing more harm than good. A healthier approach, which YD covers in its program, involves learning to maintain a range of motion that is controlled and strong, maintaining integrity and strength so as not to compromise joints and soft tissue. My goals shifted from having more and more flexibility (doing things like putting my legs behind my head) to finding more and more strength and moving within a healthy range of mobility for my body. And in a finer point, I finally learned that some of the "rules" floating around the yoga world are wrong: we should all be using our glutes to maintain healthy backs and hips! What a revelation.
Another big shift came in realizing that a practice can be healthy, grounded in kinesiology and scientific research, and still have the inward focus and important elements of a spiritual practice. There is no magic in practicing poses in a repetitive, prescribed way. Every body is unique, but I believe most of us benefit from a strength-focused practice, and from opening up to a variety of movements (like weight training, pilates, and cardio activities such as running or speed-walking) that are rooted in medical and therapeutic study. We can still focus on the breath while doing a split squat (and engaging the glutes); the development of proprioception—the awareness of one's body in space—doesn't only occur while standing or sitting on the rectangular world of a yoga mat!
Having taken up running before the YD program began, I was particularly excited for our session with Steve Donald, a Buteyko breathing instructor, whose take on breath science in relation to exercise intrigued me. Steve was very knowledgeable about the science behind best breathing practices, highlighting how the breath influences the mind and body via the nervous system. We learned to think about breath in a new way: as opposed to taking deep breaths, less is actually more. He urged us to try breathing less (in other words, only taking in the air that our bodies need) as well as to breathe exclusively through the nose - never through the mouth.
I decided to try this out with my running. I had been following a run/walk program, as recommended to many beginner runners, and it was going well. I was at a point where I was running for 30 minutes straight, without taking walking breaks. I decided to try this while only breathing through my nose, thinking that I would not be able to make it very far. I am now running for 22 minutes while breathing only through my nose, and it feels amazing. I have more energy during and after my run, and I’m learning to establish my pace based on how easily I can breathe in that moment. If I feel like I need to start gasping for air through my mouth, then I slow down, stop, or walk. It's so refreshing and energizing to run this way, gauging my pace on my ease of breath rather than the time or distance.
The Buteyko method has been just one of the many new "Detours" I've become exposed to through this Teacher Training. In addition to now focusing on breathing through my nose at all times and thinking about breath in a whole new way:
- I've become more active during the day, taking breaks to move vs having one intense repetitive yoga 2 hr session and then sitting in a chair all day. The peaks and valleys of such a practice amidst a lot of inactivity seem so unhealthy to me now.
- I've established a daily meditation practice.
Overall I’ve learned to establish a varied movement practice that is based on longevity as opposed to constant injury and destabilization. Thinking more about the 'whys' of meditation, movement and health practices has been life changing. I’ve taken several mental leaps, integrating information that initially baffled me and absorbing it into daily practice. What was first mind blowing has transformed into a diverse toolkit of knowledge that feels like common sense.
Thank you to the entire Yoga Detour team for your knowledge, research and support. You've established a teaching methodology that is the perfect mix of intuition, compassion and all the emotional stuff of being human, balanced with some intense knowledge-based, cutting edge holistic health, trauma, and movement therapy research. To anyone out there interested in this program: prepare to read a lot of interesting books, listen to fascinating podcasts, meet lots of smart people and teachers and – above all – get out and MOVE! You won't regret one minute of it.