As I see it, Yoga (or rather, Asanas) is all about straight, strong lines. Tweaking the body into a pose to create one long line from pinkie toe to pinkie finger or from tail bone to the crown of your head, to create space in the body for the organs, breath and Prana – or life force.
The reason I first got into yoga was my interest in getting a good posture, which I found through practising the Alexander Technique whilst still living in Amsterdam. This method is based on getting rid of wrong habits such as slouching and muscle tension, and I learned to create a good posture by keeping my spine as it is naturally: straight, without the effort of creating “rock-hard abs”! If a baby who just learned to stand up can do it, why can't we?Dependence on muscle strength is seen as unsustainable, but having a balanced posture by aligning all the joints in the body and keeping the spine straight can keep your posture beautiful and long throughout your lifetime. However, to study the Alexander Technique is a costly practice as it is a privatised part of the health sector and one must have a full wallet to pay for the recommended two years of four-weekly sessions.
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So I just left it to the four sessions I could afford at that time and read up on the AT, trying to get rid of bad habits, both in posture and other sections of life, by sheer willpower. Coincidentally, this was around the same time that I travelled to southern Kenya to study the Maasai people for my MSc thesis about rural livelihoods, and unofficially, how to get a strong, long posture.
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Kathleen Porter: Bone deep strength
Getting into a supine pose twice a day, including in the middle of the day during lunch break, helped in releasing tension in between the shoulders, on the lower back and releasing the pressure on the whole spine, letting gravity pull it straight and creating space in between the vertebrae. If you think about it, it is very logical; gravity pulls everything down to the floor –including our breast, butt and corners of our mouth- enabling us to balance; our feet are grounded through this, but our vertebrae are also compressed. That is why it feels so nice to just let your spine relax down on the floor after a long day of walking and standing up. It’s not without reason BKS Iyengar wrote about Savasana (Corps pose), the final pose in every asana practice: “The calming, centring and soothing effects of your yoga practice can only arise when proper rest is taken afterwards [in Savasana]”.
Next to that, if your head is not centred on your neck as it supposed to be, the weight of the 10 pound body-part increases by 2 times with every inch you hold it forward, creating even more pressure on the spine and neck muscles to hold it up.
I think I was the only MSc student in my class – or any class for that matter, which isn’t about ballet or Ladies’ etiquette- with a perfect posture. All my pains and sciatic nerve aches disappeared as I became aware of the muscle tensions I held onto. Just try it: lie down on your back and scan your body for any tension you feel in your body. You’ll be amazed to find even your jaw and tongue muscles are tensed!
When I started incorporating more yoga asanas into my daily habits, I found that the leftover muscle tensions disappeared and it felt way easier to keep my spine supple yet erect. My shoulder cuffs got back into their natural position – instead of hunching over, the chest opened up – creating more space for breathing and naturally, my breathing got deeper and equalised. My lower back wasn’t curved to the extreme anymore, and my head was balanced atop of my neck, creating a strong, long gaze towards the horizon. I stopped wearing heels, because keeping a good balance whilst walking on flat shoes was difficult enough, without also having to keep balance on 5-inch heels: Have you ever seen a girl walking on those –what much have been designed by a masochist- shoes, whilst clinging to the arm of her (boy) friend and looking to the ground with every step she takes? Nerve-wracking and nerve-wrecking! I finally found an easy way to feel longer, stronger and more badass, just by incorporating bone deep strength.
But then last year, I started doing more cycling and yoga as that had become my main source of income: being a yoga teacher and pet carer who transports herself on a bicycle. Nowadays I often cycle about 20-30 miles a day, rushing from client to yoga class and I do it on a normal Dutch city bike. No lightweight racing bike for me!
I started waking up with sore knees in the morning and increasingly wrote more long lasting injuries on my list. I first accounted it to my wrongfully judged (read: excruciating) clamber up and down (read: half falling down) a very lovely (which you wouldn’t think judging my face on the photos) volcano on the island of Java. But after a few months and a check up of my awesome human and non-human physiotherapist Hilde, it seemed the problem was one I could easily fix or at least alleviate by getting me some insoles. I resisted at first, because I’m already bound to my spectacles for a clear sight and earplugs for sleeping, I didn’t want to add any extra things to my minimalistic lifestyle (and be a total dork).
Plus, wasn’t this part of getting older?! After some pressure from my parents (“Take care of your body, you only have one and you’re only 30”), after the so manieth time of waking up feeling like an old lady (and not like this one on the right!) and re-reading this very interesting article from New York Magazine about how we are wrecking our feet, I finally decided to get myself a soul – erm – insoles.
Because going to a podiatrist is a very expensive activity, I thought it would be a little bit less invasive to my wallet to first try the insoles from a customised sports- footwear oriented shop, named Profeet. And as I’m cycling so many miles a day, teaching hours of yoga, I am almost feeling comfortable calling myself an athlete. Profeet performs the same kind of foot analysis a podiatrist does and the people working there all have an (academic) background in sports- and movement science. I found on their website they also made special insoles for professional cyclists, a sport I never thought you’d need insoles for. Apparently, the way your feet are grounded also have an impact on the way you cycle. Lightbulb moment…
So, I had one of the specialists there measure my feet, feel the flexibility in the joints and muscles and analyse the gait whilst walking and running. It turned out my toes were too flexible (hence the popping sound in my big toes with every step I take), the rest of my feet too stiff and my knees and hips were dropping in when walking. Furthermore, I hardly used my glutes, something I was already aware of since my Yoga Teacher Training. I had to stand bare-feet in a tub filled with what felt like chewing gum and half an hour later, my ¾ insoles were ready to go.
Now, one week after starting wearing the insoles, the pain has subsided. In my knees.
The muscles in my feet are finally being used in a proper way resulting in muscle ache, but I do feel they are getting stronger through this. It’s just a matter of training. And my booty… well, it’s finally getting the exercise it need, by walking and cycling under straight (albeit supported) legs. And it feels goooood.
I can certainly recommend the gait analysis to everyone who has any aches in the lower parts of their body, feels like they have to replace the heels of their shoes every other month or does a lot of exercises like running and cycling. You could say I'm preaching the Gospel of the Sole and Profeet is it's .
My final message is directed towards Gravity: I defy thee!
You cannot curve my spine as I have ‘bone deep strength’.
You may one day make my boobies droopy and I may have to get dentures as you work your way onto my teeth. But by that time, I will be a droopy chested, dentured, old (geeky) lady, with a nice straight spine and a glorious muscled ass!
Hallelujah - Amen!