Lifestyle Health

Thursday 26 April 2018

Fit to be tried: Yoga Therapy

Amanda Phelan

IT'S my first yoga therapy session and I've come up short, literally. After a guided walk around the room (the pace is gentle, but my steps make an awful thump) and a look at my lie-down pose, the mentor's diagnosis is swift: "One of your legs is shorter than the other."

Catriona McCormack understands the problem because she shares it and a small insert for her shoes, along with her own regular yoga routines, has her sorted.

After she leads me through the one-on-one yoga therapy sessions, the end result is that from three one-hour classes I get a take-home programme I can do for 15-30 minutes a day for the rest of my life.

This is a big shift. Although I love yoga and it resonates on many levels, it's hard to get to classes that are either in the city or held at night -- not easy if you've got work commitments and young kids.

Yoga therapy is a good solution.

Catriona (35), who has been practising for more than 15 years and runs popular classes around Dublin city centre and her home town of Celbridge in Co Kildare, is accommodatingly flexible with times and venues for private sessions.

"Yoga therapy can help people get over limitations they might find in a general class," says the elfin teacher, who specialises in tackling back pain, and has a great hands-on, easygoing technique.

After we discover I'm symmetrically challenged, this might explain my tendency to thump along heel first and recurring hip and right shoulder pains.

The first surprise of the class is just how simple it is, with no Madonna leaps or human pretzel twists.

We do deep diaphragmatic breathing (any further down than my chest is an improvement) and some kneeling exercises (use a phone book to sit on), including shrugging the shoulders as high up as they go and releasing with a loud 'haaaaaah' sound.

Then Catriona instructs me to sit cross-legged, and wrap one arm under the other. This is a good one for releasing tight shoulders.

The one-hour session passes quickly. At the end, Catriona gives me an illustration of eight simple asanas, or hatha yoga exercises. She gently tweaks my stance in common poses, so suddenly they feel a whole lot more beneficial. At the end, there's a blissful few moments of relaxation.

"The aim of this is to give you a simple tailor-made routine you can do at home," she says. And it works.

Despite my appalling previous record (all I can remember from yoga classes is a bad imitation of something called sun salute), I do the programme five days out of seven, and my young fella joins in, yelling an enthusiastic "ommmmmmm" where appropriate.

Catriona normally recommends three therapy sessions, and they don't cost the earth.

It's a good alternative to complicated books or going to unsatisfactory yoga classes at the gym, often taught by people with no real knowledge of the subject.

I find an unexpected benefit of regular yoga is better sleep and an improved ability to focus mentally.

A study of this 5,000-year-old practice shows it decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and many of Catriona's clients are happy with the results.

Gayle Reynold, an occupational therapist, says she was slow to start with, but taking yoga therapy classes brought her a range of improvements, including a reduction in her asthma and better sleep.

"After a yoga class I sleep like a baby. The other six nights of the week are a different story."

For teacher Sean Nevins, the therapy helped his recovery from a painful injury.

"I slipped a disc in my lower back in 2006. I could hardly walk and doctors here and in the US said I'd need surgery," he says. "Instead I went to yoga therapy and was nurtured back into a healthy pain-free condition by Catriona. I'm feeling fantastic ever since."

As for me, I now walk without thumping along. And that's a big step forward.

The Verdict

Did it work: Yes – its a good way to introduce yourself to a small but simple practice

Pluses: You end up with a good take-home programme

Minuses: Roaring haaaaah at six in the morning

Cost: Classes €120 for eight weeks. Yoga therapy €70 per session

Contact: Catriona McCormack, www.yogaireland.ie Tel: 01 6102604 & 087 6811240

Irish Independent

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