How Yoga Helped Me View Pain As a Gift

Name: Natalie Edwards
Location: London, United Kingdom
Occupation: Life Coach and Certified Forrest Yoga Teacher

Natalie Edwards namasteOur pain is a great teacher. It tests our resilience and endurance, something that anyone with an injury, physical limitation or condition has to have in abundance on their journey through life. And that’s really how I’ve learnt to view my scoliosis through yoga. It’s a journey on which I have had to learn to navigate and love my curves, even when they are giving me the most excruciating pain, and learn to listen to the many messages my pain has brought me over the years.

My first memory of back pain was around the time that my parents’ divorce became particularly turbulent. I remember thinking that I was partly responsible for their break-up and the chaos that followed. At the time, I made no connection between shouldering that responsibility and my pain as I was just 12 years old. But over the past few years, every time I’ve been to see a specialist in search of more help with my pain and alignment, the first question they’ve all asked me has been, “Was there something else going on in your life at the time you were diagnosed?”

Once told by osteopaths that my scoliosis was idiopathic and directly related to a growth spurt, I’ve since found out that my condition was congenital, meaning I was born with it. After studying baby pictures with my Rolfer at the time, Jennie Crewdson, and uncovering more trauma after discussing the difficult events of my birth (my mother nearly died in childbirth, I was in an awkward position in the womb for most of her pregnancy, and I was born breech and yanked out into the world with forceps when I should have been born by caesarean), there was no doubt that the scoliosis had been there all along and had gone unnoticed. I experienced a huge amount of sadness, anger, and frustration at this news because I’d only just found out at the age of 30 that I’d had this condition in my body since birth. So why had no one noticed it when I was little? But something I had to begin to do was start to learn to love my spine rather than continue to get frustrated by it, whatever new information I found out. To appreciate it and accept it for the way it was meant using it as a guide and a gift rather than fighting with it or continually looking for someone to ‘make me straight,’ and although it’s still a work in progress, my yoga practice has helped me achieve this.

I let my scoliosis define who I was for a long time. It was almost as if it was the main facet of my personality. For years, I was living in that same constrained, frustrated, and hyper-vigilant state that I entered the world in as a baby. I was often scared to participate in things or worried that certain movements would aggravate my back, and I was even told to avoid yoga when I was younger, becoming more and more frustrated and locked in my body and for many years using drugs and alcohol to numb that frustration out even more. But slowly, I began to become aware that my violent internal negativity towards my spine then in turn made the physical pain worse, and from no one did I learn this more truthfully than from my teacher Ana Forrest.

Natalie Edwards arm balanceBefore my teacher training, I hadn’t realised how much I had been ignoring myself and treating myself in such a disrespectful way. I had become an expert in not only suppressing my daily physical pain and a huge emotional backlog of crap and trauma that I had exhaustively tried to submerge with drugs, partying, a job I hated, and pretending to be someone I wasn’t, but also in the self-deprecating way I had been talking to myself for years. I was the queen of apologising for not being good enough, not being strong enough, and not being worthy enough.

I discovered Forrest Yoga via one of my first teachers, Charlotte Speller. She made me realise that my scoliosis was a gift rather than a curse and suggested that I use it to help other sufferers. Even at that stage I was still making assumptions that having scoliosis meant that I couldn’t take on big physical challenges. During my training, something that came up for me that I wasn’t expecting was anger. I’d had no idea how angry I’d been at being in pain all those years and part of me was angry that I hadn’t been able to articulate that pain when I was younger or express how it had left me feeling on an emotional level. I was also angry with myself for abusing my body the way I had up until I’d discovered yoga and how to feel again. Ana Forrest’s teachings helped me begin to explore that anger and made me realise that if you’re fully committed to healing yourself and coming face to face with your dark side, anything is possible.

Her focus on relaxing the neck instead of holding it up was like a coming home for me. Until my first Forrest class I’d had no idea how much habitual tension I’d been holding in my neck, the point in my body where the second curve is most visible. One day Ana whispered, whilst tractioning my neck, “she needs to relax; she doesn’t have to carry everyone else’s problems anymore.” Studying Forrest Yoga also helped me to realise that scoliosis is not just about the spine. When we’re having a bad pain day, we tend to pour all of our frustrated and hateful energy into that one area, but our body is a whole and we need to work with it that way. And so I was completely unaware of the tension I had been carrying in my hips and jaw until beginning a yoga practice. Now, keeping my hips open and supple is essential to managing my back pain, as well as doing regular backbends, which is something I didn’t think my body could ever do or was even ‘allowed’ to do after being told to avoid them. Ana’s intelligent sequencing showed me how to move into them safely and now they are one of the most therapeutic, rejuvenating, and loving things I can do for my spine.

Through Forrest Yoga I’ve learnt to heal parts of myself that I didn’t know were broken, emotionally and physically. But most importantly of all, Ana taught me how to reconnect with and heal my broken heart. My lack of love for myself ran deeper than just my disgust with my spineit was in my very core, and I had forgotten how to be kind to myself and be grateful for my body. I now have a toolbox that has helped me to re-frame and manage pain and I’ll be forever thankful to Ana for that.

Whilst away on my training, Ana held a signing for her book, Fierce Medicine. Inside my copy she wrote, “Dear Natalie, navigate the curves with awe and fascination.” I invite anyone with scoliosis, or anyone who is experiencing and being limited by any kind of pain, to do the same.

Natalie Edwards bioNatalie Edwards is a transformational coach and Forrest Yoga teacher. She specialises in working with women with the same negative body image issues and feelings of low self-worth which held her back in her life and career for many years. Fascinated by the body-mind connection, through powerful mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and health coaching, she helps people reconnect to their bodies, uncover the hidden parts of themselves, and come back to a more inspired and truthful way of living. You can find out more about Natalie at www.natedwards.co.uk.

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The Downside of Being One Tough Mother

Name: Michelle Marchildon
Location: Denver, Colorado, United States
Occupation: Author, Columnist, Yoga Teacher & General Rabble Rouser

“I’m tough, ambitious, and I know exactly what I want.
If that makes me a bitch, okay.”
Madonna

I’m with Madonna. I can be kind of a bitch. And I’m mostly okay with that.

I can be the most loyal, loving and best friend you could ever hope to have. But do not get me wrong; I am one powerful, strong, fierce, and fearless woman and if that makes me a bitch, well I’ll take it.

It’s taken me years to get to this place where I could say I was powerful. Years, and a steady practice of yoga. As a woman, it is not a popular path to be strong. It will cost you a prom date. It will cost you friends. It will make you the target of many people who are uncomfortable with female power, some of which are females.

Michelle Marchildon yoga poseIt even cost me my first marriage. But that relationship, which I call my starter marriage, was probably worth giving up. That’s because I was in it with my starter self, the one that was afraid of her power.

I remember the day my ex-husband announced he was leaving me. We went to a family counselor, who looked at us over his wire-rimmed glasses and said, “Why are you leaving this marriage? Are you not worried about your wife?”

“I’m not worried about Michelle,” my ex said. “She is very competent. (pause) V-e-r-y  Com-pe-tent.” He was practically spitting the words.

So there it was. My dirty little secret was now out in the open. I am competent. In fact, I might be one of the most capable people on the planet. However, this marriage disaster was not entirely my ex’s fault as I don’t believe he was truly married to me. He was married to my starter self.

I spent years being a little weak so the boys would feel in control and the girls would be my friend. I smiled, a lot. I hid that I was often the top student in class and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Now I’m an Ivy League grad, and believe me, that does not get you friends in the yoga world. What gets you friends is Handstand, and I kind of suck at Handstand.

And although I was good at playing the game of being a little less, it wasn’t ‘me.’ It took me years to shed my fears about being powerful. And it took a steady practice of yoga which helped me uncover my inner badass.

Eventually, I got divorced. I changed careers. I made a ton of money in sales. And I met a man who said to me, “Go get ‘em and I will carry your bag.” So I married him.

What are we afraid of?

Women who are powerful are not liked. We get hate mail from anonymous internet writers who say we are bitches. We are told we are not yogic because we speak up and out against injustice.

If the “yogic” path is to sit in silence, let everything go and be a little less, then perhaps I am on a different path. Because my practice helped me find my voice, and I’m not about to get quiet and play nice now.

I come to the mat to rediscover the woman I know lives inside me, fabulous, intelligent and beautiful. And if that is what society calls a bitch, then so be it.

I would rather spend the end of my days being exactly who I am, than trying to be someone else. You cannot hide forever. And when you come out of your own closet, you can be brilliant. This is living stronger and with your true purpose in life. It is so much better to be authentic, than to try to be popular, and I’m mostly okay with that.

Michelle Marchildon bio photoMichelle Berman Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist, author, and yoga teacher. This blog is based on an excerpt from her book, Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga. Her second book, Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga, is for yoga teachers who want to inspire their students. Michelle is a columnist for Elephant Journal and Origin Magazine and a contributor to Teachasana, My Yoga Online and other yoga media. She is an E-RYT 500 Hatha teacher with Yoga Alliance and teaches in Denver, Co. You can find her blog and website at www.YogiMuse.com. And you can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com.

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