I’ve been teaching Baptiste Yoga for 11 years, but the event that served as the catalyst for me to become a yoga teacher happened over 30 years ago when I was a teenager. I was bucked off a horse and landed on my head. Fortunately I was wearing a helmet, so my head was not injured. What I felt instead was extreme pain in my lower back. I didn’t go to a doctor at first – some rest and Tylenol got me back on my feet, but in a few weeks my back went into spasms that did send me to the doctor. The prescribed combination of muscle relaxants and pain killers alleviated the pain, and within a few days I felt better – until it happened again in a year or so…and again – regularly through my college years and 20’s. I was a familiar face in the University medical center where I attended college and graduate school – and their prescription was always the same as those initial doctors.
Until I learned to stop the cycle.
When I flew out to my first weeklong program with Baron Baptiste in 2006, my back was in the worst flare up I had experienced in years. I could barely walk. Everything I tried to do to treat it at that point – PT, chiropractic, yoga – would make it worse, and I didn’t know why. I went to the program with a lot of concern about how much I could do. In fact, most of the practices in the first few days resulted in me in child’s pose halfway through, unable to continue due to the muscle spasms. However, as I started to learn more about the alignment of the poses, and to explore the resulting space in my own body, something miraculous happened – my low back spasms released on their own. What I realized was happening (because Baron was teaching to it) was that I was shifting from AGGREVATING my low back injury to HEALING it. Within 6 months of regular practice, I was pain free and out of the cycle I had struggled with for so long.
I share this story because it seems like a common experience for many people. Pain can be debilitating and scary, and it is even more amazing how much our Western medical system does not know about reoccurring pain. The days of “go to the doctor and get the answer” really don’t apply to most of the modern ailments related to overuse or old injuries. Traditional Doctors tend to treat the symptoms, and prescription drugs, shots and knives are their tools, which can cause a variety of downstream issues and side effects, without addressing the cause in the first place, so pain often reoccurs. The good news is though, that our bodies are designed to heal themselves – if we can only remove the obstacles to healing.
Baptiste True North Alignment is based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, who was himself cured of a variety of ailments through yoga practice. He taught that Tadasana (Mountain Pose) is the “grand-father of all asana,” in connecting students to their bodies and establishing the necessary combination of stability and lightness (Sthira/Sukha) to unlock healthy mobility and energy. The actions of True North Alignment restore the body to its natural balance, extension and strength, releasing compressive forces that tend to aggravate or cause injuries.
I got so interested in the spine from my experience at that first yoga training that I also became a licensed massage therapist. The more I learned about the anatomy and physiology of the body, the more apparent the wisdom of True North Alignment became. Our bodies are literally designed to hold upright without effort – it is nearly always the compressive impact of muscle tension and/or off-center alignment that either causes or contributes to issues at joints, just like issues that arise on a car when tires are out of alignment. True North Alignment actions help to release this tension and restore healthy vertical alignment, to thus strip away the pressure that is opposing the natural ease of the body.
As a yoga teacher and LMT, it is not my job to diagnose health issues or prescribe treatment. And yet, I know that when students tell me before class that they have lower back pain, shoulder pain or wrist pain (especially), I can give them some simple cues that will help them to shift their movement from being aggravating to being healing, and their bodies’ wisdom will do the rest. For young people without injuries, this means putting less wear and tear on the body to prevent overuse injuries as they get older. Increased range of motion and stability without pain provides access to enjoying all life has to offer. As Mr. Iyengar said, “It is through the alignment of my body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self and intelligence.”
This blog post was written by Suzie Newcome, owner of Namaspa Yoga & Massage in Oregon.