April 5, 2017

Yoga for Dads: How to Play on the Floor and Get Up Again.

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Sitting in the shade on a park bench, I watched as my two children ran in and out of the massive wooden castle that towers over our local park.

Believe me when I say this thing is huge. It boasts four stories equipped with slides, ramps, secret stairways, and climbing nets. No less than 50 kids of varying ages and sizes were running in, out, and through this marvel of playground engineering.

I asked my son, who is the oldest, to stay with his little sister the entire time since there were so many kids running around in there. After a solid hour of playing, my son came out with his little sister in tow, explaining that he was tired of the castle and wanted to go on the swings for a while.

This would have been a reasonable request except for the fact that my daughter was nowhere near done playing in the castle, and she made it very clear that this was all she wanted to do. “C’mon Dad! You can take me in the castle!” she declared as she repeatedly pulled me by the hand toward my doom.

As I’m not one to disappoint my little girl if I can help it, I begrudgingly agreed and followed her toward the castle after instructing my son to stay at the swing set until we returned.

Normally, I’d have never hesitated when asked by either one of my children to play. However, the passages through this castle were not made to accommodate any adult—let alone one my size. I had to traverse every single ramp, net, stairwell, and hall on all fours. There was only the occasional oasis where I could stand upright and stretch out my lower back. My daughter is particularly small, so she was able to run through every area of the castle unhindered, which left me trying desperately to keep up.

After about 20 minutes of this, I was sweaty, out of breath, my lower back screaming. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I called out to my daughter and told her that Daddy needed a break. I crawled out of the castle, barely able to stand.

I did everything I could to make sure my back didn’t spasm as it had a couple times in the past, but it took close to three weeks before my back felt normal again.

After the castle experience, I spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that I wasn’t able to play with my kids the way I should be able to. The castle opened my eyes to the problem, and it made me realize that I was missing out on a lot.

I never sat on the floor with them to play with toys or games because I was afraid of what it would do to my back.

I never rolled around or climbed things with them because I was just too afraid of how I would end up injured and hurting for weeks afterward.

My dad had never played with me or my siblings, but that was simply because he wasn’t interested. I had promised myself long ago that I would be better than that when I had kids—yet here I was, disappointing them just as he had disappointed me so many years ago.

I had to fix this.

I couldn’t let another day go by without doing something to make this right. It was then that I realized that the only thing that was going to help was to get in better shape. The frustrating thing was that I wasn’t out of shape. I frequented the gym at least three times a week. I mixed weightlifting with running and time on the elliptical, but obviously this wasn’t what I needed in order to be able to live like I wanted to.

Around this time, my girlfriend and I were having a conversation about different forms of exercise, hoping to find something we could enjoy doing together. Neither of us really cared for the gym atmosphere, so after kicking a few ideas back and forth, we settled on trying a yoga class together.

We had both dabbled in yoga a few years back and remembered enjoying it—at the very least, more than the gym. We looked online and found a yin class that was scheduled for later that day at a studio close by. We agreed to give it a try.

Shyly, we walked in and found a place on the floor of the studio, unsure of what to expect.

I don’t know if it was fate or just good luck, but that class set the tone for me with yoga for almost the next year. The instructor was knowledgeable, fun, and taught her class with an easy grace that one could only admire. She began the class with a brief meditation about the story of Shiva and gradually moved us into various yin poses.

The class lasted only an hour, but the energy from that class has stayed with me since.

After that first class, we looked into a studio that was a bit closer to our house and began taking vinyasa classes fairly regularly. About two weeks into my foray into yoga, I found a great website featuring numerous yoga class videos of varying intensity and length, which allowed me to begin my home practice that I’ve maintained since.

Within the first few weeks, I started to notice slight changes in my body. My back and neck hurt less frequently than they used to. My balance improved on an almost daily basis.

Within a month, I was amazed to find that I could put my socks on while standing on one foot—and I’ve done it that way every day since I found out I could.

I also became more flexible than I had ever been. After only about six weeks into the regular yoga routine, I was able to bend at the waist and put my hands on the floor. That may not seem like a huge deal to some people, but for a 38-year-old man who has experienced frequent lower back pain for years, it was an absolute triumph.

Here I am, almost a year later, changed in many amazing ways by yoga. My moods started to become more stable, and I became noticeably less irritable. I completely stopped biting my nails, which I had been doing for over 30 years. I lost a surprising amount of weight and my digestive system has never been better. I began writing again—as you see here.

Most importantly, I found that I am now able to plop right down on the floor with my kids, play crazy games, crawl around with them, ride doubles on a scooter, build a monstrous snow fort, and enjoy pile up hugs without giving a second thought to my back. I feel like I’m about 10 years younger and would be hard pressed to think of an aspect of my life that yoga had not improved.

Here is a short list of the poses that have specifically helped me get to the point of being able to sit on the floor comfortably with my kids:

1. Forward Fold: This pose helps loosen the lower back and hamstrings.

I practice this a few times a day, and it works wonders for my tight lower back.

2. Easy PoseThis pose will gently open the hips and get the lower back used to sitting on the floor.

Some of us may even find that we prefer sitting on the floor after practicing Easy Pose. Just remember to keep the back straight and don’t curve the spine.

I use a few pose variations while I am seated to help keep comfortable and still get in on all the fun. Trust me, the kids don’t mind if I twist or fold every now and then. They’re just glad to have me there with them.

3. Seated Twist: This pose will loosen and improve mobility in the lower back and improve posture.

I do this whenever my lower back starts to clench up after sitting for a while.

4. Seated Forward BendThis pose will both loosen a tight lower back as well as stretch the hamstrings, both of which allow me to sit more comfortably and longer with the kids.

5. Supine Twist: This pose will stretch the back muscles and the spine.

Though I can’t guarantee the kids don’t immediately jump on me while doing this twist, I always throw this in if I need a little extra stretch.

Finding yoga has brought me so much that I never would have expected. I’ve heard it said that when we practice yoga, we practice becoming better versions of ourselves. Nothing could be more true and accurate than I have found this to be.

Yoga continues to teach me new things about myself, the world I live in, and the people I share it with. I feel as though I finally have a good grasp on my life, my future, and my relationships. I hope that my story inspires as much as yoga has inspired me.




Author: Michael Such

Image: Pixabay

Editor: Callie Rushton

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