For years, I have been plagued with spinal alignment issues. This was first brought to my attention when I sought medical treatment after a car accident 10 years ago, but I wonder if I didn’t have something pre-existing before then. Certain things that seem easy for everyone else’s back/neck/shoulders — falling asleep on a couch, driving long distances, staying in hotels — have always caused me a certain level of discomfort. On the (rare) occasions that I get a massage, the therapist almost always comments on the tightness in my shoulders (troublingly, this seems to run in the family). Since the accident (which, for the record, was not that major yet involved a severe case of whiplash for me, who was in the front passenger seat), I have off-and-on seen a doctor who specializes in Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (he is the same guy I have in the past referred to as a wizard). I had a recent stretch where I didn’t see him for over 2 years (because I didn’t need to, yay!), but then this fall began regular visits again when my stupid unrelenting shoulder discomfort went back to being stupid and unrelenting.
And it’s clearly related to my alignment. Look at the results of a foot scan that I had done recently at a shoe store. You stand on a mat and it reads the areas of greatest pressure (red) in your feet:
All the more reason to focus on my running form. Running… doesn’t help with the shoulder pain. Running on the treadmill really seems to exacerbate it. Yoga helps tremendously, which is why I’ve been trying to do more of it. Sitting at a desk obviously doesn’t help, and neither does driving in winter weather (talk about tense shoulders!). I recently decided to email my doctor for some recommendations — I was thinking maybe massage therapy or PT might be in order, and his answered surprised me:
…consider stepping up your Yoga program; for example if you are doing Yoga 3 days a week consider 5…
So, doctor’s orders! I currently attend 2 yoga classes a week at this time and requested about 8 DVDs from the library to see which ones I might add to my home collection. I strongly prefer a class, but there are only so many hours in a day and only so many offerings at my gym. I’m looking at “new member” specials at a few studios, but am not ready to commit to that expense (plus, the class schedules are often limited and not much better than what I currently have access to). So I’ll see what I can manage in my own basement.
I know there are countless types of yoga, but in my life there are two: the kind that feel like a strength workout (perhaps Vinyasa? I don’t really know), and the kind that are strictly therapeutic. Yes, all yoga is therapeutic, but if you have ever practiced yoga, you know what I mean. The classes I attend feel like strength workouts – in a positive and energizing way, for sure, but they require a change of clothes. The latter kind is the more gentle (and often shorter) sequence that I can do when I’ve just woken up in the morning, or when I’m winding down for sleep at the end of the day. I’m seeking more of those to add to my personal collection and I think they will be a great supplement to the more strength-focused workouts I get 2 days a week.
I am still awaiting several more DVDs from the library, but between the ones I’ve already picked up and those I already own, I’ve amassed quite a variety to choose from:
Some of these are pretty old – one of my very favorites, “Power Yoga for Strength and Flexibility” is copyrighted 1999! In college, one of my roommates became injured during the cross-country season and her coach prescribed yoga for her recovery. I remember doing a video (because I am pretty sure back then it was probably VHS… damn we’re old!) with her and thinking it was so hard but felt so nice. When I first started experiencing back problems a few years after that, I bought several DVDs, and much of my Rodney Yee collection is from that era. However, the beauty of yoga is that as an ancient practice, it typically doesn’t have en expiration date.
So it’s been a long time since I first learned that yoga can be a positive thing for runners, and while I’ve done it off-and-on through my running years, it’s only been in the last 6 months or so that I’ve made it a steadfast part of my routine. I believe strongly that yoga can enhance anyone’s life – for both physical and mental well-being. And there is so much great research about yoga for runners specifically! This article from Yoga Journal could have been written about me:
The pain most runners feel is not from the running in and of itself, but from imbalances that running causes and exacerbates. If you bring your body into balance through the practice of yoga, you can run long and hard for years to come. Although yoga and running lie on opposite ends of the exercise spectrum, the two need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, running and yoga make a good marriage of strength and flexibility.
And then there’s this, which makes me feel like the author was actually talking about my body specifically:
If you’re off balance, every step you take forces the muscles to work harder in compensation. Tight muscles get tighter and weak muscles get weaker. A tight muscle is brittle, hard, and inflexible.
Plus, the mental benefits, which also tie in nicely with the Chi Running philosophy:
In addition to physically counteracting the strains of running, yoga teaches the cultivation of body wisdom and confidence. As you develop a greater understanding of the body and how it works, you become able to listen and respond to messages the body sends you.
(all quotations from Yoga Journal)
I’ve basically been trying one new DVD each day, and I have two current front-runners: the updated (because yes, I also have the 1998 version) of Rodney Yee’s AM & PM Yoga, and Yoga: Relief from Neck & Shoulder Pain. The first one has an especially lovely and relaxing PM sequence, and although the second one feels more like a physical therapy session that a yoga sequence (it’s a little disjointed), it really gets at some tight muscles for me. That being said, I have several more to try. But since the day of my doctor’s email I’ve been managing a minimum of 25 minutes of yoga per day! (except for in New Orleans, when the wireless in our hotel was too slow for streaming video so I just made up my own stuff and ran out of ideas after about 15 minutes… which is why I really need to rely on the DVDs and classes at this point).
My recommendation, readers – get thee to a library! (or, if you are independently wealthy, amazon.com!) Not only is yoga good for you, but it’s turning into kind of a fun project. :)