Sarah Fretwell

Yoga, Movement, Mobility, Wellness

My Yoga Journey: Then and Now

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It all began years ago when, recovering from adrenal fatigue after a very nasty bout of food poisoning while in Thailand, I googled "practise yoga online" and found Yogaglo. Ahh what a life saver this was to be. I was on my year abroad in France, struggling to get out of bed in the morning, constantly tired even after 12 hours sleep, and no French doctor understood that the cause of all this had been Campylobacter - one of the nastiest types of food poisoning you can get. 

I started practising online gentle yoga flows in my teeny tiny bedroom, on my cheap Adidas mat. I really had no idea what I was doing or whether the poses were right or not, and was really inflexible, only just about able to touch my toes and with really tight hamstrings, hip flexors, shoulders and back. I soon found a love for Vinyasa yoga through the brilliant Tiffany Cruikshank with her anatomy-based sequencing, and Kathryn Budig whose sequencing is always fun and playful. I loved Elena Brower's Anusara classes on days where I felt quite low and tired and occasionally Yin yoga. 

So I was trying different teachers, different styles and exploring what I loved the most - which is the most important step when you are just starting to practise yoga!

Skip forward three years to 2013 and many sporadic, inconsistent yoga practises and very few actual classes, and imagine me sitting in the most boring, unfulfilling job ever, feeling completely dissatisfied. I knew that I had a budding passion for yoga and desperately wanted to explore it more deeply, so I enrolled after much indecisiveness in the appleyoga teacher training. There was no turning back! This was to be one of the greatest decisions I have made to date. 

The training was second to none, and I realised how much of a beginner I really was. I was still pretty inflexible, and found any variety of forward fold really, really challenging, to the point that I just avoided them completely. My pincha mayurasana was a complete banana shape as I lacked the shoulder and core strength, and my splits were more like a very high lunge! I remember my hips ached for days after spending the weekends sitting cross legged on the floor during my training...

After the 9 months of training, I'd finally found my yoga mojo and started teaching straight away at a local gym and church hall. But my self-practise still hadn't materialised. I'd got a mat, yes, but I didn't step on to it consistently, and yoga still felt like more of a chore than something that I loved. I think this is what you call "burying your head under the sand." I realised how much work I needed to do towards my flexibility and strength and just felt completely overwhelmed, so resorted to putting off my self-practise. Such a rebel. 

So, what changed?

I credit the biggest change to be moving to London in the summer of 2015 and finding amazing classes and teachers who inspired me to want to practise. Where I'd lived before, I'd not really found a teacher I loved - there were a few classes in the area but not really creative vinyasa classes like in London. As soon as I moved to the city, I began teaching in a small studio in South London, dipping my toes into the enticing waters of dynamic vinyasa classes and even rocket yoga, and absolutely loved it. I also kicked myself for having missed out on all this for two years! 

When I started going to more classes, I felt more inspired to practise at home. This was really key for me, I just needed that kick up the backside, a teacher to inspire me so much that I actually wanted to improve and continue to practise. So my self-practise went from a sporadic, maybe once a week for 60 minutes if I was lucky, to little and often, most days. Sometimes 15 minutes, sometimes 60. THIS was when I started seeing improvements. 

In the past year, I've noticed a huge improvement in my hamstring, hip, back and shoulder flexibility, which I can confidently put down to the following...

  1. A more consistent self-practise - little and often everyday
  2. Practising the basics and getting the alignment right - the warriors, half moon, headstand, downward dog etc. 
  3. Longer holds in each pose and actively engaging each muscle e.g. in downward dog, really pushing the hands into the floor and pressing down through the four corners of the hands. 
  4. Re-visiting poses that were once inaccessible but not getting caught up in practising them every day. 
  5. Longer holds in shoulder-opening yin poses. 
  6. Lots of pigeon pose, lizard pose, low lunge and half splits for the hip flexors. 
  7. Strengthening work for my hamstrings (just google "hamstring strengthening exercises", there are tons!)
  8. Strengthening work for my hips (again, google "strengthening exercises for hips" and you'll find plenty of moves to add into your yoga practise). 
  9. One class a week minimum to keep the inspiration flowing and to challenge myself
  10. A combination of mainly dynamic vinyasa that really helps to increase mobility, but with some yin poses added in so that I get some longer holds where I need it most e.g. with the hips and hamstrings. 

I hope this has been useful, let me know in the comments below! If you're interested in seeing what a week in yoga looks like for me, check out these posts