The following is a testimonial for my yoga studio, YYoga Queen Street West. It is neither sponsored nor paid.
Yoga Is More Than Therapy
‘Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.’ – William James
I have cerebral palsy as a result of brain trauma I suffered as a baby. The form I have is called spastic diplegia; it affects my legs and feet. I struggle with balance, coordination, and agility. I grew up believing that I would never get better. Seven years ago, I reconnected with a doctor called Karen Pape – whom I had seen when I was little – and she told me I could get better.
She explained that intensive physical training and athletic therapy would rewire and re-programme my brain, teaching my body to move in a different way and helping me overcome my impairment. I took on the challenge and committed to personal training and rehabilitative work. I had physiotherapy treatment, chiropractic treatment, gym-based training, and massage. I swam, practiced pilates, and – after initial reluctance – received acupuncture.
I spent the first several years of my therapy fighting with everything I had to banish every trace of my disability from my body. I wanted to be completely able-bodied and for the visibility of my disability to disappear. I worked very hard with the best intention to cure myself of my disability. I did better myself; my posture improved, my limp drastically decreased, my pelvis untwisted, and I was physically stronger than I had ever been before. I worked very hard to ‘get better’ but I never considered doing physical work to simply ‘feel better.’ There was, I discovered, a massive difference.
I had done yoga on and off – both hot and cold – but did not commit to a daily practice until I saw Britney Spears’s documentary film ‘I Am Britney Jean’, which showed her preparing for her Las Vegas residency. After a grueling rehearsal schedule, which demanded so much of her physically and spiritually, she had a yoga treatment. It inspired me to find a nearby hot yoga studio and build a practice.
I lived in London at the time – Putney, specifically – and found a studio ten minutes’ walk from my flat that offered yin and vinyasa yoga, two forms which I’d never tried. I took to vinyasa better than any other form of exercise I had ever tried, and I realised what had been missing from my rehabilitative therapy from the very beginning: using exercise for peace of mind, stress management, self-confidence, and holistic happiness. I committed to yoga every day and felt better about my physical therapy –and myself as a person – than I ever had before.
My British visa expired in February of 2014 and I moved back to Canada. I found YYoga two weeks after moving back and committed to a practice. I completed more than one hundred and fifty classes in my first year with the studio. Yoga is the most wonderful thing I have in my life. It makes me happy and helps me to manage stress. I no longer feel as though I fight through my rehabilitative process. Yoga has allowed me to relax into the work.
Just before I left London, a friend who had known me for about a year said he’d seen me improve physically since he met me. I appreciated his support, but I realised that I no longer needed that validation from the people around me. For the first few years of my therapy, I needed a lot of external support and validation to keep going. I needed people to tell me my body was better – because I couldn’t feel it or see it myself – and I needed to know that the therapy was working.
After two solid months of consistent yoga, I’d also built enough quiet self-confidence to continue the work without relying on anyone’s support or validation, especially since my therapy was entirely self-motivated. Yoga had helped me reach a point where the work was challenging but enjoyable, and the process was entirely mine and not anyone else’s.
I have practiced at YYoga for more than a year. I have laughed and cried and fallen over and done everything all over again. I have made some of my closest friends through yoga and I have shown myself some strength I have that I’d never known to exist before. Yoga has given me faith that I can not only get better, but feel better, too.
Norah is an editorial assistant with a publisher of fiction and nonfiction. She studied and worked in London for nearly two years before returning to Canada. Tweet at @bookish_norah.