Yin Yoga for Chronic Pelvic Pain and Inflammation

There is a saying in yoga circles that new teachers appear in your life when you are ready for the lessons they have to give. This was definitely the case for Yin yoga and I.

Yoga has been one of the most constant parts of my life since I started in 2003. It has seen me through university, my PhD, moving countries, emotional upheaval and, of course, becoming a yoga teacher! However, until recently, it was only the strong dynamic forms of yoga that I was drawn to. I found peace in yoga when I was pushing the edge of my limits. The strong practice felt the ideal complement to my other activities or running, cycling and aerial circus. Rushing from activity made me feel alive and strong.

My body had other ideas though…. Eventually, worn out from all my frantic activity, it made me stop dead. In late 2014 I was hospitalised with a kidney infection which lead me into a dark tunnel of chronic pain.

The infection appeared to clear quickly, but unfortunately I was left with constant pain in my bladder and an unshakeable exhaustion that made a short walk feel like a marathon. Months of tests and antibiotics followed but no underlying cause could be found and the specialists were left shrugging their shoulders. It was incredibly frustrating and without the support of my wonderful partner I would have gone mad.

Thankfully I was still able to teach yoga even though I could no longer practice in the same way. In the middle of it all the studio owner suggested I go and do a Yin yoga teacher training as she was looking to expand it at the studio and though it might be a good fit for my mellow teaching style. I was happy to give it a try and pottered off to London a month later to take a course with Norman Blair. Although I was looking forward to learning how to teach Yin yoga, I was in no way prepared for the powerful effect it would have on my life.

The best thing about the course was that it was taught in an experiential way. Yin poses are held for a long time which meant Norman was able to teach the theory while we were practicing the yoga. Using, what at the time seemed like, a bewildering array of props he’d set us up in a pose and then start talking. Norman has a vast amount of knowledge and would interleave the material with stories and anecdotes pausing briefly to allow us to switch sides or poses.  The common thread was the art of finding an appropriate edge that could be held safely for the duration of the pose. Cultivating a mindful state, which allows you to listen to the sensory feedback from your body, and a softening breath are the key parts of this process. Additionally, Norman also emphasised the careful use of the afore mentioned props to support the body at the right point, making it feel safe enough to relax fully into the pose.

By the end of the first day, I was amazed to notice that the pain in my bladder had lessened. Tracking back I realised this was the first time I had softened the muscles in my stomach and pelvis for as long as I could remember. The pain came back overnight but I was very intrigued to see what would happen over the rest of the course. Sure enough the pain eased again and I began to feel on the verge of a breakthrough.

I spent the rest of the course trying to figure out what was going on. The poses I found most helpful were wide leg forward folds because they stretched my inner thigh and pelvic muscles and taught me how to soften them. I learnt how to use my breath to expand around the sensation and dilute it, rather than tightening and trying to pull away from the pain.

On returning to Oxford I continued to practice Yin daily, combined with seated meditation. I found the mediation helped to draw my attention away from the pain and keep the softness in my muscles once the Yin poses had loosened them. Gradually, over a period of about eight months the pain kept decreasing and then melted away. My energy levels slowly increased and I was able to start picking up some of the threads that I had had to let go of. Not everything however. These days I’m much more careful about resting when I need to and I’m more selective about what I spend my energy on.

Mainly though I’m just so grateful that Yin came into my life when it did and for its profound healing effect. I feel lucky to now be able to teach Yin yoga to others as well. And most of all I’m thankful for the amazing people who helped my get to this point today.


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