Like many, in my younger days I took my health for granted. And my health in my younger days was pretty good. Fresh out of university, I started my career as a Field Archaeologist, excavating archaeological sites. Exciting times, I will never forget the thrill of excavating my first Roman burial and artefacts which had not seen the light of day for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Archaeology captivated me, but the physical side of the job had implications; several years of heavy wheel barrowing, mattocking and shovelling took its toll.
My back toiled on, not complaining, until one day, I bent over to pick up a carrier bag with nothing in it. And then suddenly..… my back when into sharp, painful spasm. I had experienced nothing like it before; sudden, overwhelming pain, and the complete inability to move. And this happened the day before I was due begin a new job as a Community Archaeologist. Determined not to call in sick on my first day, I somehow hobbled into my new job and somehow got through it – in a great deal of pain!
That day marked the beginning of my episodes of chronic low back pain, something over 80% of adults in the UK are familiar with. Most back pain is attributed to lifestyle, and whilst no doubt my career in archaeology added to my pain, I have no doubt that other factors contributed as well. Over the years I continued on and off to work in archaeology – moving out of the field and into the office. Sitting too many hours at a desk, glued to a computer screen and not moving for long periods. And experiencing the stresses and strains that life brings.
It was in 1996 I ventured into my first yoga class. At the time I was teaching in a secondary school and working long hours. I’d heard yoga was good for stress and as a newly qualified teacher I was very keen to find something which would help me create space in my life. I loved that class; a quite sanctuary. I quit teaching – taking up yoga helped me to realise the toll the profession was taking on my health. I returned to archaeology and moved around the country. Different jobs and different places – yoga being the one constant. I moved to Nottingham in 2005, still my home.
My back pain continued, on and off. And then in 2010 it became acute. I’d just started my Yoga Teacher Training Course and wondered if I’d manage it. In addition I was practicing yoga, so why was I experiencing pain? It felt very frustrating.
Fortunately for me I had chosen to train with Dru; Dru Yoga is a very therapeutic style of yoga and is designed to be accessible everyone; age and flexibility are not a barrier. Dru is very adaptable and can be used to help with a variety of conditions. During the course of 2 years teacher training I learned to take care of my back; my injury was a great teacher. Whilst I couldn’t always do exactly the same as the other students, I began to learn how to modify and adapt my practice to best suit my needs. You will never see me in a forward bend with completely straight legs, or practicing Upward Facing Dog, because I know these postures can exacerbate my low back. If I practice rotated triangle I make sure I am fully warmed up (and during my teaching training I practiced a modification of this posture – to attempt the full posture was to invite pain).
Slowly, over time, my back has healed to the extent that I have been mostly pain free for the last four years. Every so often my body sends out warning signals that I need to pay attention to my back; a sciatic tingling in my lower leg indicates I need to do a certain stretch to ensure I stay pain free. Once the back is injured, it will need regular care and maintenance to prevent a recurrence of the pain. Over the years I have discovered movements which can help my back, and practiced regularly, these stretches and moves will help prevent the pain from returning.
So how did back pain take me to Yoga Teacher? In 2011 I was made redundant from my job in Heritage. I decided to take the plunge and become a Dru Yoga Teacher. My own back injury proved to be a great teacher to me; not only did I find stillness in my mind through my yoga, I also learned how powerful simple, gentle movement can be in helping to keep our bodies happy and healthy. It continues to be my great privilege to be able to make yoga accessible to a wide variety of people of all ages. As the saying goes … ‘if you can breathe, you can do yoga’!
Susan Hardwick specialises in Dru Yoga, gentle yoga and yoga for back care. She is starting a new Introductory Back Care Course at Akasha Yoga Centre in Beeston, Nottingham, on 9th January 2017. Contact Susan on 07425 161346 to find out more and have a free consultation at Akasha Yoga Centre.
Photo: With thanks to Chris Down