I got married for the second time just after turning 50. My new husband, Bob, wanting to learn more about me, his new wife, innocently asked my mother, Florence, “What was AnnMerle like as a child?”
Florence, at that time 70 years old, sighed deeply, paused, and replied, “Oy vay, she was one big headache.”
From the look on his face, I could see that that was not the answer Bob expected. Surprised and more than a bit confused, he looked at me, hoping, I think, that I wasn’t going to be one big headache for him.
I laughed out loud, a big guffaw, and proceeded to explain to Bob what my mom meant. All throughout my childhood, almost daily, I suffered from tension headaches. Now I’m sure that to some extent I was “one big headache,” like all kids are, but my mother’s first thought, her first memory of me as a child, was with a headache.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I look back and see myself, for whatever reason, as a tremendously stressed out little girl. I held my self very tightly and I breathed poorly, mostly through my neck. My shoulders, always hunched up around my ears, contributed greatly to those constant headaches. My bookworm self was always hunched forward over a book and my near-constant reading habit kept my behind firmly parked in a chair most of the time.
Enter Yoga and the Beginning of My Breathing Journey
I started practicing yoga very late, at age 50, just after marrying Bob. I realized that my career as an English professor with its emphasis on reading and writing had taken a tremendous toll on my body and I now wanted, more than before, to enjoy our life together with a total of four children – his two and my two. And, my super smart Australian Shepard, Mazel. Something had to change.
And it did. My first yoga classes were with Ana Forrest and other Forrest yoga teachers. I then studied the newly-minted Turbodog Yoga with Steve Emmerman and Talya Ring. I remember one moment at a large workshop. Ana Forrest picked me out of the crowd, intuitively noting that I was a chronic worry-meister. Her extraordinary, hour-long guided meditations before her teacher-training master classes helped me begin to unwind a life-long disconnect between my body and my breath.
Almost immediately, those early days of yoga helped to unwind the tightness with which I held my body and the pain that I carried began to dissipate. I almost wept with joy, congratulating myself at how quickly I had solved this problem and how lovely it was to be pain free most of the time. (I did still have episodes of a very painful and chronic neurological condition called Tri-Geminal Neuralgia, which I will write about in another blog.)
At age 50, I was well into my career as an English professor smarty-pants and only a few years later I had become a Yogini smarty-pants. I had began to get comfortable doing inversions and what we called “gravity surfing” – challenging poses that often involved balancing on both arms with the legs in the air. I had been working on handstand at the wall and attempted, at many classes, to forcefully kick my leg up with a great big exhale and plunk myself against the wall. Congratulations, I felt, were definitely in order. I was proud. I told myself, “Here I am, over 50, and I am holding my own with all these 30 somethings.”
I talked to myself as though my body was a bicycle. If I just kept it in good working order, it would follow my instructions and take me wherever I wanted. The ego-driven English professor had transformed herself into an ego-driven yoga student. And the yoga that I was doing seemed to keep my bicycle-body in working order. However, as I explain below, I soon realized that I was more than a finely-tuned bicycle.
But things were still not where I wanted them to be. I had lingering low back pain, and my shoulder that had been frozen and had healed, threatened a repeat of that painful immobility.
Come back next week as I delve into my training and experience with breathing and the Yoga Tune Up Breath® and Bliss Immersion.
I wish I had known to have a yoga practice when I was a stressed out, wound up teenager. I would have laughed in someone’s face if they had tried to teach me a breath practice – I probably wasn’t ready for it then, but if I could have surrendered enough, I am sure that learning to breathe would have done wonders for my anxious tendencies. Sometimes we learn these things a bit later on, but better now than never, right? Excited to read more about your journey of self healing!
oh, this sounds very familiar to me.. I Was a bit younger when I started yoga, but before that I did martial arts. As you described, I used my body instead of listening to it. I am curious about the rest of your story.
What a wonderful journey! I love how learning and awakening happens, and happens, and happens– and calls for us to stay open to it, even, as you so good-humoredly point out, at the moments when we are most satisfied with ourselves. Thank you for the joyous reminder.
I love this! It is all too often that students are so results oriented that they want to skip over the “easy stuff” like breathing. I just love this.
I am so interested to hear what you have to share about experiencing your body in a new way!
Participating in the level 1 certification, combined with Mindfullness classes I followed, are helping me being aware more of my breath. I notice that breathing exercises can help me slow down and how it learns me about my body being connected with my breath and state of mind…
I love where this is going. Jumping to your next article.
I have heard tons of people say, “I got into yoga to release my stress” and I always laughed it out until I stepped into this brand new world two years ago and got more and more into it.
At the very beginning, I was a college student in architecture who graduated with an outstanding back pain and noticeable sleeping issue. I first tried yoga after one day in the gym too tired to lift or anything else. I walked out of the gym with a really refreshed mind and at the time I wasn’t really able to tell why. Coincidentally, I took another yoga class a few days later and felt really good again mentally afterward, but this time, physically as well, by mean that i mean, I slept well that night with a milder back pain.
I would say, I cannot tell you, there was an “aha” moment that I thought “oh, yoga saved my life” but I just got more into it bit by bit and sort of seeing myself finding more peace inside of myself all the way through (growing older probably helped as well though, I need to admit it, lol).
Thaks for the story sharing, even if we dont have exactly the same stories but i see myself in it as well, thanks.
I was dragged into a yoga class by my teenage daughter. I hated the first class while I was doing it but when the class was over and I was on my way home I looked at my daughter and told her I felt better then I had in years. I was hooked and I have never looked back.
Thanks for sharing your story! I came to yoga through a slightly similar light. Stressed out – but working a job a hated. My athletic and competitive nature got me hooked as an “ego driven yogi”, but it was the mental clarity, and soul fulfilling meditations that kept me! This practice is amazing at healing pain – whether physically, mentally, or emotionally!
As a child, I used to be this very shy little ball of anxiety. The feeling of weight I carried in my chest area was unbearable most of the time. I started yoga a few years ago and was flabbergasted at how it helped me soften more! Still, I do have episodes where I just want to crawl into a corner of the house and cry (yes that happens), but falling in love with taking care of myself makes it much easier to get out of. Thank you for sharing your story!
Pain will become revealed and healed on your journey. Carry on and keep us in the loop.
This rings true with me as well! I too suffer from way too many headaches and migraines and yoga has helped me tremendously, changing my postural habits and down regulating through breath awareness and meditation. Thanks!
wow, first yoga classes were with Ana Forrest! My 200hr YTT program introduced us the Forrest yoga in our last day of training. Just about to purchase Ana Forest’s book and came cross to this blog. Thanks for sharing your story. I am not sure if I am ready to share mine yet, but I sure enjoy other’s stories very much.
Thanks for your candor & authenticity. I guess we take our samskaras with us wherever we go!
I can completely relate to the keeping up with the 30 somethings, and overcoming lifelong physical pain. It wasn’t until I started to purely understand that the amazing connection of the mind, breath and body of yoga is what clearly makes the desired changes. Im looking forward to read the rest of your journey.
I did my first drop-back backbend on my own (with my teacher nearby) when I turned 50. It was one of the best birthday presents I had ever given myself. This year, many many years later, on my birthday, I started a new yoga training (to add to all the others I’ve done over the years) in a method I had only heard of from friends (YTU). The path we are on has many unknowns behind it. I have learned so much from trusting in myself and in wherever and whatever the path takes me to. Not that it is (ever) easy, but hopefully there is plenty of joy and laughter and playfulness along the way. Thanks for sharing your story and look forward to the rest of it.
Thank you for sharing your story. Although I have not dealt with chronic pain, my stress levels have surely risen the last ten years. For quite sometime I have been breathing incorrectly and rapidly in the chest. Since participating in the Level 1 certification, I have learned the importance of slowing down and the proper functioning of the respiratory muscles. Understanding that every full and controlled breath we take and how it controls the pace of our existence.
Thank you for sharing your story. It provides inspiration and motivation to carve out more time spent in the parasympathetic zone and hope for my tense upper body.
I am intrigued by your story and would like to learn more about your journey to manage the pain from trigeminal neuralgia. I too have struggled with the pain caused by this affliction. My trigeminal nerve was injured from a dental procedure and I am curious to know what lead to your injury. Yoga and the Tune Up balls as well as myofasial release treatments and acupuncture has helped immensely.
I’m in my early 30s and am lucky enough to have not dealt with chronic pain (yet), but I’ve found that yoga and breath work has helped me immensely in managing my stress levels. I too was tightly wound as a youngster, most likely as a result of growing up in a chaotic home tainted by addiction. Connecting with yoga has helped me release excess tension and re-channel it in useful ways. I’m so thankful for my practice, and am happy to see it helping so many others as well.
You left me hanging. I want to hear the end of the story. Your journey and mine are quite similar…. Lol
Thanks for sharing, Andrea
Living with chronic pain is not easy. I appreciate your insight. I too focus on movement linked with breath. It definitely has helped me in my journey of recovery.
Thank you for sharing your journey of pain management through purposeful movement linked with breath. In my own experience, when I pause to breathe fully, I am able to create a space of awareness that removes the story behind any discomfort I may be feeling. During the YTU teacher training, I learned of various ways of breathing, the 3 abodes of breath, use of tubular core, and pranayama. I found that working with a sankalpa and mindful breathing exercises provided a grounding mechanism.