The Blog

Why I Stopped Trying to Use Yoga to Cure Everything

Bodies are complicated systems, and they often break down. While we've all convinced ourselves we can fix our complaints with diet, meditation and f**k loads of yoga, the truth is, sometimes we can't.

It took almost a decade for me to find out why my hips didn't work properly. Looking back that length seems ridiculous. But diagnosis is so much easier with hindsight.

My hip pains started early. Too early really. Healthy women in their 20's aren't supposed to have significant joint problems. So when I complained, no one was on high alert.

I remember the early days. Finishing a jog and feeling a gentle throb grip my left hip. A pain that wouldn't pass for hours.

But I didn't think of it as pain. More a dull ache that reminded me of my poor sitting position at work, or those gorgeous sandals with no arch support. Or missed yoga classes.

It wasn't the kind of pain you'd associate with something serious. Nothing sharp, or stabby. Rather pain that triggers guilt.

A decade later I saw an MRI scan of my hip joint and wished I'd had a less guilt-ridden approach to my health. Yes, much of lower back-related pain might be the fault of modern living. But in my case, I needed a surgeon.

For the past decade, the head of my femur had been rubbing against my hip joint socket, which had been causing daily degradation to my cartilage, triggering pain, permanent damage and fundamentally messing with my biomechanics. This is also known as a hip impingement.

The pain that three British physios tried to solve with a sheet of exercises could not be cured that way. Although ironically, the only cure post-operatively would be a massive amounts of tailored Pilates classes.

A hip impingement is not easily diagnosed if your symptoms do not fit the classic model. I know this because when my right hip decided to have the same problem, I almost laughed.

Stabbing pains in my groin, eh? Yes, that seems bad. I might go check that out.

As for my left side, chronic pain had a way of becoming normal over 10 years. I'd go for a jog every Saturday or Sunday morning (depending which day I needed to blow away the hangover) and spend the rest of the morning, dropping into downward dogs, sitting awkwardly on the sofa and telling my boyfriend what lifestyle changes I needed to implement to make it better.

Ironically, he now feels guilty he didn't notice there was a pattern to our weekends - and force me in the direction of a specialist.

I never considered for a millisecond that my pain was the product of more than a malfunctioning exercise regime. After all, the pain went away for a few days once I'd stretched for hours. Or days. And no medical professional had ever suggested it could be caused by anything a regular exercise regime couldn't fix.

Gradually, the pain stopped going away, and despite spending my working hours sitting on a tennis ball, obsessing over my office's lunchtime Pilates exercise schedule and excusing myself from any kind of long walk, I could barely make it to the shop at the end of the road.

Grudgingly I visited another physiotherapist, who told that it wasn't my fault. I sat with my mouth open as he explained that no woman of my age should have these issues for such a long period of time. He suspected my body had a major malfunction that needed to be fixed.

I was shocked. And relieved. And cross. Both with the world and myself.

After that, my life become a revolving door of MRI scans, doctors appointments and rehabilitation.

Now, it seems strange to me that I ever jogged. Or did yoga that didn't have the word 'restorative' in the class name.

Post two operations, I'm in better shape. Sure I can't sit down and play with my nine-month-old daughter with my legs crossed. I can't wear her in a sling. And I certainly can't go for a jog to blow away the hangover. (Shussh)

What I can do is work with knowledge, and no longer tolerate people who claim wisdom but offer none.

Bodies are complicated systems, and they often break down. While we've all convinced ourselves we can fix our complaints with diet, meditation and f**k loads of yoga, the truth is, sometimes we can't.

I now live in Shanghai, where a health centre has opened unlike any other I've discovered. At The Clinic, every client is evaluated in 360-degree model.

You need Pilates? Meet our instructor Rebecca. You're having difficulty with your diet? Meet our nutritionist.

The Clinic operates in the same way as our bodies. Everything interacts.

My Pilates instructor spends an hour with me twice a week using special equipment to help me rebuild the muscles that have been wasting around my left hip for many years.

She is working on the history given to her by my physiotherapist Alejandro, who had me walking, bending and lifting my daughter, just three months after giving birth.

Between the two, I've managed to be the kind of mother I never expected. Active and able.

Having spent years talking to physiotherapists who offered so many reassurances without results, it's utterly strange to suddenly be in such capable hands.

But none of this would have even been possible without key-hole surgery.

So this is my advice to anyone struggling with chronic pain, no matter how low level. Try and let go of your assumptions of what might be wrong, and make sure you're genuinely working with someone who is helping you.

You might need a surgeon. Or you might need a yoga session. But let pain be your guide, not guilt.