Yoga Is More Than Therapy

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.

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#redvelvetcupcake

I’ve been a bit fed up with blogging for a while now because I find it self-indulgent. Who cares about me and my daily life? It’s why I was so reluctant to start blogging in the first place. I didn’t think anyone would care and I thought that it was just self-indulgent.

I thought the same of vlogging until recently. I really love tutorials and makeup vlogs that teach you how to do things or give you new perspective and information on products, but I found daily ‘follow me around’ vlogging rather self indulgent until I stumbled upon the work of Hannah Maggs.

I started watching her makeup tutorials, but now I’ve progressed onto her vlogs and I really love them in a way I have never enjoyed ‘follow me around’ vlogs before. Her life is interesting, she’s a charming woman, and I actually really enjoy getting to know her and her family via her video diary. Her work doesn’t feel self-indulgent to me.

Lovely way to start the day.

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#dyingonthefloorlaughing

I recently discovered a YouTuber called Marcus Butler; I watched his daily vlog about surprising Zoe Sugg on her birthday, and then I toddled over to his main channel and watched a video titled ‘What I Do When Home Alone.’ He asked viewers if they did the same and if what he did was weird. I laughed through the video not only because it was funny, but because we’ve all felt this way about who we are and what we do: are we the only ones? Is what we do weird?

Do other people do these things, feel this way, think these things?

YES.

EVERYTHING we think, feel, do, say, want, need . . . EVERYTHING . . . has been experienced and felt by someone else. EVERYTHING. We are never alone in anything we feel, do, want, need . . . EVER. We are never ‘the only one’ or ‘not like everybody else.’

The feeling that we are weird or somehow doing things that other people aren’t is also universal. We all experience times when we don’t fit in, we don’t belong, and we don’t feel accepted by ourselves or others. I think this is the biggest life lesson I wish I could teach my younger self: I am not an aberration. I am not somehow flawed while everyone else is ‘normal’ or acceptable in a way that I am not. I am quirky, certainly, and sometimes socially clumsy, but everything I have been through – and everything I will go through – has been experienced by someone else, and much of it is universal.

Thank you, Marcus, for inspiring a blog post that made me laugh, made me laugh at myself, and opened an opportunity for me to talk about something I have always had a hard time with. I still struggle with it. I think I will struggle with it all my life – in some way – but it’s good to gain some perspective and to realize that life – and everything we experience – is always a matter of our perspective.

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#funny

This morning, someone whom I respect very much called me inspirational. Instead of ranting about that, I am going to write about something I have been thinking about for a while: people with disabilities and conditions often compensate with humor.

The late Stella Young and the late Robin Williams were outrageously funny. Stella had brittle bone disease and Robin Williams struggled with depression. Laurence Clark, Josh Blue, and Maysoon Zayid are all comedians with cerebral palsy. People with disabilities often overcompensate and can do so by being funny.

One of my best friends has a disability and he’s very funny. He loves making people laugh. Sometimes, he calls me or leaves me voicemails with funny accents or posts funny things on Facebook to make me laugh. It’s one of the things I love the most about him: he likes to make other people happy. I didn’t know he had a disability until someone told me, but I understand now that his humor might be one of the ways that he compensates. Whatever the reason for his humor, it’s still really nice to have a friend who goes out of his way to make me laugh.

I think we all have our own ways of compensating. When I was more talkative and open than I am now, people said I was funny; I loved to make people laugh. The only downside to being known for being funny is that people expect it of you all the time, and you don’t always have the best one-liner or wisecrack ready at just the right moment. It can sometimes feel like you disappoint the people around you when you’re not Funny All The Time if they have come to expect it of you.

I still think humor is one of the best ways to compensate for anything that makes you feel insecure. It’s also one of the best ways to diffuse sadness, tension, anxiety, and frustration when you come up against difficult or painful experiences. If you find what’s funny about them, you can make it through and it doesn’t seem as unbearable.

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#pmsing

Yesterday, I blogged about Melaniie Murphy’s video ‘What Not To Say To People With Acne’ and, though I thought I wouldn’t do a similar post about disability, I’ve decided to write one.

When I first started working with the therapist I see now, she taught me that you can’t control how anyone responds to anything. You have no control over other people’s thoughts or responses. She’s right. With that in mind, I understand that I can’t control people’s questions or comments about my disability, but I can write about things I wish people were more mindful of.

1. Don’t tell me to find a partner who has a disability.

I have been told more than once that I should actively seek out a boyfriend (and eventual husband) who has a disability because we would have a shared perspective. I have written about this before: I don’t believe people can know what I have been through or what I go through even if they have disabilities. Even if my boyfriend did have a disability, I wouldn’t consider that a factor in possible compatibility, especially since he might not want to talk about it. The truth is that I have dated two men who had disabilities, and that didn’t bother me and it didn’t matter in the context of our relationships. I am much more concerned with a potential partner’s personality, values, and intelligence than any disability he might have. If I met the man of my dreams and he happened to have a disability, that wouldn’t matter to me. We’d just do the best we could together.

2. Don’t tell me that my disability makes me interesting.

I have only heard this one once, but it really hurt me and struck me as odd. I understand that the person was trying to be compassionate and understanding, but this was right after she’d told me her husband said he didn’t want to have a disabled child. My disability doesn’t make me interesting or add ‘something special’ to who I am.

3. Don’t try to relate to me by telling me about your own disability or the disability of your friend, classmate, brother, or ex roommate.

I don’t care.

4. Don’t congratulate me for what I have accomplished.

It makes me feel like you don’t believe it’s possible that people with disabilities can be educated, employed, independent and fully functioning people. We can be.

5. Don’t tell me not to work on overcoming my impairment.

It’s like if I had cancer and you said, ‘Don’t get chemotherapy because your cancer is part of who you are.’

6. Don’t tell me I am pretty or smart ‘even though I have a disability’ as though people with disabilities can’t be beautiful or intelligent.

I have a hard enough time accepting compliments about my physical self. I don’t want disability and beauty to be considered mutually exclusive.

7. Don’t congratulate me for getting out of bed in the morning.

8. Do not point out my disability to me – stiffness in my legs or my limp – as though I don’t even know I have it.

The most hurtful things anyone can say are, ‘What’s wrong with you,’ ‘What happened to you,’ ‘Do you have a problem with your body/leg/foot’ and ‘You’re limping,’ as though I don’t know. I hate when people ask me what’s wrong with me because there isn’t anything wrong with me. Having a disability doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me.

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#wcw

I follow a lovely lady on YouTube called Melaniie Murphy. I love her makeup videos and I find her very relatable, personable, and friendly. Watching her videos is like spending time with a good friend.

Melaniie has struggled with acne for years; she makes a lot of videos about her experiences and works to support others who also suffer from acne. She recently made a video called ‘what not to say to people with acne,’ which includes: complaining about your own pimples, telling the person to use certain products or change his or her diet, or telling the person who has had acne for years – and will have it into adulthood – that it’s simply a phase.

I could write a blog post called ‘what not to say to people who have visible physical difficulties’ but what really struck me about Melaniie’s video is that if people didn’t bring up my disability with me, they would notice other things about me that they could bring up. If it wasn’t my impairment, people could comment on my frizzy hair, my hormonal breakouts, my surgical scar, my teeth, or any other number of things. Everyone has things about them that other people will comment on or criticize. No one is exempt.

Melaniie is beautiful, intelligent, funny, and kind. She is gracious and thoughtful, using her experience to empower and help others who have been through similar struggles. She was brave enough to share her eating disorder story and the steps she took to a healthy recovery, and that in itself is very considerate and shows tremendous strength.

When I watch Melaniie’s videos or I think of her, I don’t think of her acne or her eating disorder recovery. I think of her effervescent personality, her loveable makeup tutorials, and her endearing Irish accent. It’s very funny and adorable to hear her say ‘balm’ and ‘fuck.’

The adversities that Melaniie chose to share are just facets of who she is and not all of who she is. That’s something people who have persistent struggles with things like disability and acne face: you can let it become all of you or eat up everything about you if you let it. From the looks of it, Melaniie doesn’t let these things define her, and she has found a positive way to use them to help herself and other people.

She’s my Woman Crush Wednesday.

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#cutiepie

I started this blog just over two years ago. A few weeks after I began blogging, a woman called Nicola found me. She has cerebral palsy and blogs about her experience (at viewfromawalkingframe). I love her writing and the videos she now posts to the blog and YouTube. She’s a good writer and a kind and thoughtful person.

I don’t follow Nic because she has a disability or because she’s inspirational. I would read her blog regardless of its theme, content, or purpose. I follow her just because she’s sweet. While I understand the intention of following similar people or reading blogs because you want to find information that relates to your own experience, that’s not why I follow Nic. I follow her because she found me and, in doing so, allowed me to discover what a wonderful lady she is.

This is another reason why I hate the idea of ‘disability inspiration.’ Nic is certainly inspiring, but I don’t consider her disability a factor in it at all. I think she’s inspiring just because she’s a good person. The world is a better place for having her in it, and that’s more than enough of a reason to be inspiring or for people to read her blog and watch her videos. Even if she didn’t have a disability-centered online presence, she’d still have something to write about and something to say.

I have had more traffic on this blog on my ‘informative’ posts than any other posts. The most popular post is actually my pilates teacher Annabel’s guest post about how pilates can help cerebral palsy. Other people have found my blog when they want to know about how chiropractic medicine, yoga, and massage can also help cerebral palsy. That’s why I started this blog and that was my original intention for the book I’ve been working on: to illustrate that specific therapies and athletic training can better the physicality and functionality of a person with cerebral palsy. I expanded the blog a little bit more once I felt the need to discuss things that were ‘all of me’ rather than just the therapy I have been lucky enough to use. I don’t know if the same is true of Nic, though her blog tends to be more what mine eventually became: a well-rounded picture of life experience through the disability lens.

Don’t follow someone because she’s inspirational. Follow someone – like Nic – just because she’s a wonderful person.

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