When I was born, my head couldn’t turn. When I was young, this had been one of the most interesting life stories about myself. It’s so weird yet didn't cause too much trouble. When I am getting older, it’s not an interesting story at all. This is a physical condition I have to care about in life.
I had no memory about pain and physiotherapy treatment as an infant. My mum and dad told me I was screaming and crying in every physiotherapy treatment. I could imagine. The physiotherapist forcibly turned my head while my neck was completely stiff. Apparently 97% of babies turned automatically into a head-down position to get ready for birth, but I was one of the 3 % that I made a U turn just before birth. It’s been unknown why babies got torticollis (twisted neck). Doctors believed it could be related to abnormal positioning (being in the breech position, where the baby's buttocks face the birth canal). That’s what I did. Luckily my dad discovered my head couldn’t turn after a few months and it's almost healable.
It was just a story in my childhood and teenage hood. It didn’t bother my lifestyle at all. However, the issue exists. My neck has a range of motions but right side of the neck’s muscle is very tight. This muscle is called sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM). This large, rope-like muscle runs on both sides of the neck from the back of the ears to the collarbone.
In my late 20s, I started realizing there were some issues. My neck, shoulder and back of my right side was stiff, sore and tiring very easily. It also went down to my right elbow. I lost so much flexibility and I couldn’t tilt my head back. I was worried my neck couldn’t move one day. I also discovered my right shoulder is higher than my left. My right arm is longer than my left. My right side of my back is tighter than the left. It’s totally imbalance. I know it can cause big problems in the long run.
I am lucky to meet Maria Kirsten in my yoga teacher training in Byron Yoga Centre. Her yoga session is anatomically and functionally based, and she advised that as my right arm/shoulder is longer/higher, I had to focus on the left side when I practice yoga to bring back the balance. When I do plank pose, my right arm is working harder than the left. I had to put some more body weight to my left side consciously. So, my left side of the body is working. This helps loosen tense neck muscles and tighten the loose ones.
I notice that it’s so important to listen to my body, understand my limits and accept whatever it is but still work on it to get better. There are hundreds of yoga poses. The government of India formed a team to collect yoga poses from 35 ancient texts, and identified 900 yoga poses. There are also many inventions of yoga poses/ variations as it evolves. I like the idea that yoga is the journey of the self. We do what we feel good. For me, yoga practice is a self-healing process, both body and mind. I stretch every part of the body yet focus on my neck, shoulder and back.
There are many types of yoga that suit different people needs. I must admit it takes a while to find what suits you best. I love the idea of yoga that is a journey rather than a destination. When I roll out the yoga mat, it’s a time for me to travel to my heart, understand what I need, what I don’t need and take good care of myself. At the end of the day, I gradually build my inner strength and physical strength to face the practical aspects of life.
If you have any physical conditions, you are not alone. In my group class, everyone has some sort of issues. However, we feel better and we are stronger after yoga practice. If you want a private yoga session to follow your own pace, please contact me.
Thanks for reading.
Rachel is the founder of VAI YOGA and an occupational therapist. Her yoga teaching focuses on blending two powerful healings, yoga and occupational therapy solutions, to help people face practical aspects of life.