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A pain in the neck – Issue 79

There’s more to yoga than asana. For Victoria Jackson, that means trips to the physio and problems with her left levator scapulae, for starters

‘Levator scapulae’ might sound like a Harry Potter spell, but actually it was just the physio talking me through the muscles in my shoulders as he encountered a particularly troublesome area. He’s been helping me sort out various imbalances and weaknesses, and loosening up some tight spots. It turns out that the left levator scapulae is one of the tight culprits and – I found out the hard way – this tightness makes it extremely sensitive to touch!

Happily, I don’t have an injury as such, but during yoga practice I’d been increasingly noticing various niggles and not-quite-right sensations. Some actions just felt a bit sticky, no matter what modifications I made or how warmed up I was. I began to realise that there’s only so much deep breathing and patient stretching you can do – sometimes you need an expert helping hand with a different perspective to your yoga teacher.

And even a trip to the physio can be a learning experience. As a distraction from the painful manipulation, I asked him to tell me what he observed as he poked around in my neck and shoulders. It was interesting and agonising in pretty much equal measure. The nerdy side of me found it fascinating to get a bit of an anatomy lesson on the side. And I’ll admit it: when I got home, I got out my anatomy books and took a look at levator scapulae and various other structures and muscles so I could make better sense of what I felt both on the physio’s table and on the yoga mat. I find it hard to combine formal anatomical study with the experience of asana practice, so maybe with the physio’s help I can increase my understanding one (painful) muscle at a time!

Through my yoga practice – and the therapeutic physio exercises I now have – I realise that all this obsessing about my new friend levator scapulae paradoxically makes me appreciate just how many other muscles there are in my body which are working just fine and doing a great job of extension, rotation, stabilisation or whatever. Who knew that on the physio’s table there’d be a lesson in Santosha (contentment or acceptance) alongside the physical therapy and the mini anatomy lesson? In yoga I can easily get frustrated by what my body can’t do; now levator scapulae is great at reminding me of all the things my body can do. I’m grateful for that.

Plus, I now have a great excuse to beg massages at home. I’m grateful for that too! My husband and levator scapulae are also becoming quite familiar with one another.

Victoria Jackson lives and practices in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance as a vinyasa yoga teacher

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