Resettling in the west, I find that I hold on to many aspects from my lives in the east. Morning rituals around meditation, evening tea lights that flicker as the daylight fades and provide a sense of solace, and the comfort of prayer flags fluttering as they unfurl blessings into the atmosphere. These are all little rituals that I find bring calm and peace of mind. And in the past few days, I have added another short practice. My own version of yoga. Proper post cancer, inflexible old lady, gentle gecko yoga.
While I was going through chemotherapy, I spent some time with a yoga instructor who put together a very gentle routine which was one of the practices which I found helped me through the gruelling treatment path both physically and mentally. That, alongside regular swimming and my obsessive healthy eating plan, played an important part in my overall wellbeing throughout the year of my treatment.
Approaching ten years since my diagnosis, and collecting additional medical and health glithches along the way – some long lasting side effects of treatment, some more recent after and side effects – such as peripheral neuropathy (which has rendered numb toes and very tippy tips of my fingers), good old Twang Arm, painful joints from Femara. Add that to an old compression fracture in my lower spine and general ageing stuff, you could not really label me a yoga model. Not a positive one, anyway.
So I have designed my own routine. And for those experiencing unwelcome long lasting effects you may be able to identify with my personalised poses. So I have decided to share this, my own Gecko Yoga…
Stretch the Truth
My first move is a gentle stretch. At five foot and half an inch tall, when I stretch, I feel that there can be no harm in a little stretch beyond by true height. Two arms outstretched in front of me, I lean towards the wall, then gradually move my legs one at a time away from the wall so that I am at an angle and then breathe in slowly, hold, breathe out, repeat… repeat …Once I have completed this pose, I move gracefully to my next pose. Perhaps not terribly gracefully but it is fine to imagine it is.
I breathe in, move both legs together behind me and lift my head up gently. This is the Wall Salutation. It is much easier on a tired, asymmetrical soul with creaky joints that refuse to work than a sun salutation. Plus we don’t see that much sun really. Just clouds and walls. Again, breathe in slowly, hold, breathe out, repeat… repeat …
Broken back Mountain
Once I have completed enough of this pose, I am ready to move on to one of my favourites. The Mountain is a foundation kind of pose, and I find it really grounding. But nothing is so easy with a compression fracture, so my version is quite gentle. More in breaths, more holding, more out breaths. Nearly finished now. On to my final pose before warm down.
This is reminiscent of the Tree, but the numb toes version. Both arms stretch up above my head, and are brought together slowly in a prayer like pose. Breathe in slowly, grit teeth and slowly lift right leg. Place it gently against the lower calf, if I can reach that high. A nano centimetre above the ankle will do. Hold, breathe slowly out. And fall over. I also call it the Falling Tree. Breathe in again, wiggle those toes as they resist stability and slowly lift left leg … big toe can rest on the floor in semblance of proper Tree and will keep the secret. And fall over again. Repeat until falling over happens before the leg is raised. It’s not going to get any better.
And move into a chosen rest pose to warm down, Broken Back Mountain works well here, before drawing hands together to close the routine with a respectful “Namaste”.
Whereupon it is time to put the kettle on and face the day. And the day definitely feels more approachable with this little routine completed. Except those days when I practise the Amnesiac. Those are the days when I am on my way to work and it dawns on me that I have completely forgotten to do my gecko yoga. Just as well tomorrow is a new day…