Please meet Julie Hoffman. She is Mind Body Flow Yoga’s featured student for this month’s newsletter. She has a beautiful yoga practice and was generous in sharing it with us, as she demonstrates Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana).
This is a pose, which lengthens the front of the torso. Watch Julie enter into this asana from Mountain Pose (Tadasana). She will exit the pose and land back in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) as well.
Mind Body Flow Yoga’s Very Own Julie and Her Life-Changing Experience with Yoga
I have had a long history of “mysterious” back pain. Years ago, it was normal for me to get up in the morning and be slightly bent over, unable to stand up straight until about fifteen to twenty minutes after my feet hit the ground. I was seeing a chiropractor for it, but he eventually said to me, “I can adjust you as much as you want, but nothing’s going to change until you do either Pilates or yoga.”
“…nothing’s going to change until you do either Pilates or yoga.”
I had never considered yoga before. I was a runner and a field hockey player, and I had bought into all the stereotypes about it, thinking it wouldn’t match the kind of athlete I was, that I wouldn’t fit in with the kind of people who did yoga, that there wasn’t a chance I’d get my leg behind my head, and how would that help my back anyway? I opted for the Pilates. That lasted two classes; the exercises aggravated my pain rather than helping to alleviate it.
…there wasn’t a chance I’d get my leg behind my head, and how would that help my back anyway?
I took my first yoga class in 2009 at the gym at the University of Colorado, where I was teaching. I have read that it is common for students, especially in beginning classes, to cry. I was that student. My first class, in corpse pose at the end, I heard my body for the first time, understood what it meant to “breathe into” a part of my body and have that body part respond. I felt what it was like to breathe in and capture light, then exhale out toxins and ugliness and stressors and “inner sludge.” In all of my other workouts all my life, there was nothing that made me as aware of myself and my body as yoga did. I found muscles I didn’t know I had and found strength I’d never felt before. It was surprising to me, and it was transformative. My life as a yogi (as bumpy as it’s been), began that day.
I have read that it is common for students, especially in beginning classes, to cry. I was that student. Click to tweet
After about two years of regular beginning practice, my yoga instructor, who was a graduate student, graduated from the university. There was no one to take her place, and the yoga classes were cancelled. I tried other yoga studios in the area, but not consistently, and gradually my back pain returned and became much worse very quickly.
Finally, in 2012, my doctor discovered the likely source of my pain: a web of fibroid tumors that had grown together over years to the size of a grapefruit. They were laced together on the back of my uterus, and according to my doctor, they were pushing against my spine.
It was another year before my doctor decided that a hysterectomy would be the best option. During that year, the pain had increased, as did other difficulties; I had stopped most physical activity, gained a good deal of weight, and was suffering from depression. As counter-intuitive as it was, I had stopped yoga all together.
… and was suffering from depression. As counter-intuitive as it was, I had stopped yoga all together. Click to tweet
In 2013, I had my surgery. I thought it was going to be my “magic pill,” that I was going to pop right up after six weeks of recovery time and return to the activities (and the body) I had let go, but the road has proven to be much longer and more difficult than I imagined.
I made the decision last year to move back to the Western New York area where I was born and raised, not only to be nearer to family, but also because I knew I needed more help in my healing than I could get alone in Colorado. I moved without a place to live and without a job, and I knew the stress of that would already be great. But, I was still overweight and was unable to face myself in a mirror. I was still not moving well, and I still felt depressed and defeated. Although my family would be a great support for me, I knew I needed to return to yoga if I had any hope of truly healing. So, I Googled, and I found Mind Body Flow Yoga.
I knew I needed to return to yoga if I had any hope of truly healing. Click to tweet
It was a year ago this month, that I entered the doors of MBFY wearing old, department store sweats and a beat up tank top, carrying the worn, yoga mat I’d bought in 2009. I think I was the second or third one to arrive, and I was nervous and embarrassed—about my clothes, my equipment, my body—and I was fighting with all my might the urge to run out the door and drive back to my mother’s house.
I was convinced I had no business being there and that I would just humiliate myself with my ridiculous practice as it was. I was the woman who was so broken down I couldn’t bend over the sink to wash my face. What was I doing here? How was I going to get up off the floor after I had gotten down on it? But, Marina was teaching that day, and she welcomed me with grace and generosity. I told her about my surgery, glossing over the rest of what I was going through by saying I was in “kinda bad shape.” Marina assured me that all would be well…and it was.
I was the woman who was so broken down I couldn’t bend over the sink to wash my face. Click to tweet
I can’t say my practice was “good” that day. In fact, I struggled, and I know the tears leaked out more than once in those seventy-five minutes. But, after class when I returned to my car, I felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t felt in a long while. It took some sputtering starts and stops, but I have discovered that Mind Body Flow Yoga has become one of the most important places in my life.
But, after class when I returned to my car, I felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t felt in a long while. Click to tweet
In a passage shared at the end of class one day, Marina read, “You are not your body.” In that moment, I realized how much of my life had been spent measuring my worth by measuring my body. I have felt big and broken for much too long, and through my practice at Mind Body Flow Yoga, I am changing the narrative of myself, and that is how my practice now differs most from my practice a few years ago.
I realized how much of my life had been spent measuring my worth by measuring my body. Click to tweet
A few years ago, I would have said that my biggest success as a result of practicing yoga is that I can now painlessly bend over the sink and wash my face.
Today, though, I would say my biggest success as a result of practicing at MBFY is that I can look at my face after I’ve washed it and love what I see.
Today…my biggest success…is that I can look at my face after I’ve washed it and love what I see. Click to tweet
Leave a comment below. What stood out to you in the testimonial? What significant experience have you had in your yoga journey?
Here are a few things to keep in mind, if you decide to try this pose, or if you have already started to experiment with it.
Tips for Uttanasana
- Stand in Tadasana, hands on hips. Exhale and bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist. As you descend draw the front torso out of the groins and open the space between the pubis and top sternum. As in all the forward bends, the emphasis is on lengthening the front torso as you move more fully into the position.
- If possible, with your knees straight, bring your palms or finger tips to the floor slightly in front of or beside your feet, or bring your palms to the backs of your ankles. If this isn’t possible, cross your forearms and hold your elbows. Press the heels firmly into the floor and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. Turn the top thighs slightly inward.
- With each inhalation in the pose, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. In this way the torso oscillates almost imperceptibly with the breath. Let your head hang from the root of the neck, which is deep in the upper back, between the shoulder blades.
- Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. It can also be practiced as a pose in itself.
- To release and come out of the pose, reaffirm the length of the front torso, by pressing your tailbone down and into the pelvis and come up on an inhalation with a long front torso.
- Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
- Stimulates the liver and kidneys
- Stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips
- Strengthens the thighs and knees
- Improves digestion
- Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
- Reduces fatigue and anxiety
- Relieves headache and insomnia
- Therapeutic for asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, osteoporosis, and sinusitis
- If you do not have the flexibility to do the pose in proper alignment, practice with a block or with your knees bent until you can straighten your legs without over-rounding your back.
- Those with back injuries should practice this pose with bent knees. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities.
- If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
How has your yoga practice changed your life? What initially held you back?