The asanas of yoga are practiced with the intent of preparing for seated meditation so I shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that a yoga practice would help with working on the wheel.
I haven’t had much time to get my hands muddy since I started the immersion program. As a matter of fact, last Sunday was the first time I really had a chance to sit and work for any length of time. I think I’ve mentioned before that what I found inspiring about yoga was that it got me to that quiet place that I experience when working on the wheel for a while. What I noticed as I sat down and got to work was that I found that quiet space much faster than I ever had before. Just me, the clay and the hum of the wheel. I let the clay do what it wanted for the most part and was pretty satisfied with the outcome.
Now working on the wheel is not conducive to good posture. You can try to keep your back straight but you won’t get far since you need to lean into the clay for leverage and your elbows need to be braced, sometimes on your knees, sometimes on your side so you spend some time hunched over. Getting up can be a painful exercise of unkinking the bowed spine as you rise up and stagger around for a minute clutching your lower back. Or at least that’s how I used to get up after an hour or so on the wheel.
This time was different. I threw three mediums sized pieces. And then got up and took several steps to the drying rack before I stopped and wondered at the lack of pain and stiffness. There was none. Not even a twinge. After years of rising hunched and sore, I just stood up and walked like it was nothing.
I’ve always had back issues, including a herniated disc, and I can say definitively that yoga helps. As a matter of fact it helps a lot. We spend a lot of time in class stretching the spine and twisting and, at first blush, I expected there to be more pain. After years of problems I’m a bit paranoid about anything concerns the spine and maybe even a bit overprotective. But the stretching, the twisting, the opening of the vertebrae has alleviated almost all of my symptoms and, as my core gets stronger, my confidence goes up. I’m not going to push it too far and I still follow all the basic rules (lift with legs, don’t twist and lift, etc.) but still it’s amazing how fast a steady practice has helped a problem that has plagued me for years.
And getting up from the wheel pain-free is my own little personal victory against getting older. I can’t do a headstand yet and I am far from a full lotus but I think I’ll measure success by these small achievements and relish the fact that one of my favorite activities no longer punctuated by pain.