Well, I’ve only gone and done it. Signed up for a new adventure. Voluntarily agreed to put myself through the sort of physical and mental challenge the average sixty-something might think twice about. No, let me qualify that, the average sixty-something who only six years before got diagnosed with a couple of bulging discs and ‘spinal degeneration’ on top of the scoliosis (they really know how to cheer you up, those radiologists). The average sixty-something who only stepped onto a yoga mat for the first time seven years ago.
And last weekend, it started, this thing I’ve gone and done. Yoga teacher training!
I’ve written about yoga before, owning up to my ‘bad yogi’ tendencies and debating the wisdom of ploughing through 108 Sun Salutations on the trot (you can read my conclusion on that here), but back then I had no plans to train further.
I’m as intrigued as anyone to see where this takes me, so pull up a bolster because this surely will prove blog-worthy?
It wasn’t an easy decision, taking the plunge. Nothing to do with the ageing spine and wannabe bunions. Or all those times on the mat when my wobbling Weeble impression would, quite frankly, win prizes (sorry, 1970s reference). Nothing to do with my total inability to knit myself v-e-r-y slowly into a perfectly-balanced pretzl, talking you through it as I go. Whilst smiling.
Not even the sixteen-month time commitment to study and practice required by the course I’ve chosen, alongside still earning a crust at the day job. Or the seemingly daily emptying of my bank account into a bottomless, yogic void.
None of that.
No. It was that inner voice (sounding suspiciously like my mother’s) asking me what in God’s name I thought I was doing?
I was early thirty-something when she learned I’d taken up ballet and tap classes. And, my mother being the ultimate authority on such matters having been a dancer herself, treading the boards as one half of a music hall duo, she quickly reminded me that I wasn’t as young as I used to be, I was never that interested in dancing as a child so ‘Why now?’, and that ballet required a level of strength, flexibility and commitment that (by definition of my advanced years) would be beyond me.
And, to be honest, the ballet and tap thing didn’t last long in the grand scheme of things, so maybe she had a point. But, oh Mum. If you could see me now.
Ten years before that, I’d bought my first yoga book (no idea why). Monochrome, hard-core, hard-backed and utterly terrifying. Colour-free, lycra-free and entirely joy-free, it was quickly consigned to the books-I-will-never-read shelf.
It was about the same time my back first ‘went’, playing squash (a game I was totally unprepared or suited for but everyone was suddenly playing it so I did too). Two weeks of ‘bed rest’ and painkillers (1970s reference again). No explanation. No self-help homework. No ‘this is what you can do to help it’. Nothing.
It got better. Of course. Or should I say ‘it stopped hurting’, because all the reasons it happened in the first place were still there, biding their time, silently plotting what would be a series of comeback tours. And there it was in my head, the ‘bad back’ label. Yoga, I thought, could never be for me. Too bendy. Too many opportunities to hurt myself. Too old!
But thirty years on, yoga raised its voice again, gently but persistently, with a yoga holiday in the sun.
‘Maybe I can do this?’ I thought. Then promptly forgot again, back at home.
But a working life spent twisted and hunched over a drawing board then later, staring at a screen – woven through with a catalogue of sometimes quite dramatic ski tumbles – has taken its toll. The occasional niggling, right-sided ache in my lumbar spine, just above my sacroiliac, settled in for the duration, despite many, many months working with a physiotherapist renowned for getting professional athletes back to sport.
So I went for a scan. But the trouble with MRI scans (and radiologists) is, they’re brutally honest.
Face it, they may as well have said, it’s over. Time to throw in the towel. Too late. Admit defeat. But the older, wiser me had had enough. No more labels. I might be a lot of things but I’m not done yet.
And so began my own regime of rehabilitation: daily ‘homework’ exercises (courtesy of Duncan, my physio), mixed with a home yoga practice, a couple of yoga classes and a Pilates class each week and I started to see results. It works.
I don’t kid myself the clock has turned back. I still have scoliosis. I’m still possessed of an ageing body. But yoga has helped me understand how that body works, and how my emotional and mental wellbeing affects my physical being. It’s strengthened my bones and realigned muscles, improved my balance (and my skiing), and inspired me to play with asanas my younger self never thought possible. Don’t get me wrong, it’s challenged me too.
Until setting out on teacher training, I was doing far more yoga at home than in classes. The place is littered with mats, bolsters, straps and blocks – and an ever-expanding library of books (all wonderfully colourful).
That right-sided ache has, largely, gone. If and when it comes back – and it does from time to time – I can usually identify why (old habits, muscle memory), and I’m on the mat working out what to do, sometimes with a little extra help from the physio or massage therapist.
So now, the work begins. A serious quota of classes to both attend and observe, weekend modules, meditation and asana practice at home, discussion groups, contact groups, quizzes and feedback forms to fill, and a LOT of reading. Before too long, there’ll be teaching practice and assessments. Daunting stuff.
But if the first weekend is anything to go by, it’s an adventure I’m now much more at ease with embarking on. And maybe, just maybe, my mum is up there somewhere, smiling down at me because she always knew I had it in me. I just had to see it for myself and trust it.
It was good to meet my fellow students – equally as nervous, equally as doubting of their own ability to do this, equally as excited to see where it takes them – friendships already forged as we make our way along this path together.
So wish me luck. How I wish I could tell my younger self to open that dour old yoga book and start practising! Now! Get there sooner! But life brings us things when we’re ready to find them, presents us with teachers when we’re ready to learn. I’m just glad yoga persisted in calling my name. And that, finally, I listened.