Who’s Got Your Back? (A Yogi’s Story)


In my favourite posture at Pir Chinasi, the highest point in Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir

Taking a moment to enjoy the view on a film recce, in one of my favourite postures at Pir Chinasi, the highest point in Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir, 2011.

It took a long time before I was ready to face the well overdue MRI for my lower back and pelvis. After an injury last year, later exasperated by a poorly thought out camel pose during Jillian Michael’s Yoga Meltdown, I was left with the lumbar spinal movement of snake without it’s slither.

My journey with yoga began at the age of 16, what desi girl didn’t want to be Ashwairya Rai from Taal, gracefully moving into extensions and what not on Indian landscapes?

Back home on the Isle of Man, yoga was different all together, sucked into the yoga fad spurred by Geri Halliwell’s abs in that video ‘It’s Raining Men.’ My friends and I would boast about our crows and splits, caring only about getting into postures, pushing our bodies before they were ready.

We did our breathing through glossy lips but none of us had any awareness of the inner self or any real understanding of our form. We followed the videos (yes, videos!) purchased from HMV and quickly moved unnessecarily into advanced poses and bragged about it over our Diet Cokes at the lunch table.

My attitude then, was perhaps the anti-“om” to the central message of yoga. Yoga, as I understand it now, in my own words, is not about ambition and showing off but to accept yourself as you are in the posture at any given moment and to be patient, because everything you seek [in that posture] will come to you in time. This beautiful lesson has been fully realised at the studio I currently practice in, The Yoga Sanctuary.

Ten years ago, I had zero patience, I had twenty things I needed to do after my workout and I just wanted to touch my toes in every posture. That was how I insisted on excelling at yoga, thinking the only way was to be as bendy as possible. I had all the flexibility and no strength and without any real assessment of the harm that was being done, over time; yoga was taking its toll on my spine rather than helping it.

In the intervening years, amidst lessons in gym studios and sun salutations at home to burn off that extra slice of pizza, I knew, on some level I was going about yoga all wrong. I only really paid any heed to it when I experienced yoga at the hands of a teacher in Karachi, Pakistan, who begged me not to push my body so hard and told me that when one experiences yoga truthfully, it is like prayer.

Another one of my favourite postures, taking a breaking from screenwriting

Two dancers embracing their inner yogi whilst taking a break from screenwriting at Azad Film in Karachi, at the time we were working on a film called Downward Dog, 2012.

From 2011 to 2013 for the most part I practiced yoga by myself, for maybe twenty minutes a day, only doing what I enjoyed. Without the ambition I imposed on myself in classes, I learned to relax, focused on yoga meditation and gentle stretching. Last year, in February, I was hurt in an accident when pushed against a window, which is perhaps what triggered the further deterioration of my lumber spine over the course of 2013 as an injury to my left hip caused it to move out of alignment putting pressure on my lower back. Yet this all was still unknown to me.

I did a webisode of Jillian Michael’s Yoga Meltdown and one backward bend too far which left me with a harrowing lower left back ache for over a year. It finally got to a point where I couldn’t even bend down to pick up grocery bags and was in pain even when laying down. Needless to say, my yoga mat began to gather some much needed dust.

Earlier this year, I ended up at The Yoga Show where I came across a booth for Rosedale Wellness Centre, who were doing posture alignment checks for free. The lovely lady at the booth told me I had the spine of an old woman at the tail end of her life at the tender age of 29. With my 30th birthday around the corner, enough was enough. I began to educate myself on the spine, how yoga could help me (if I practiced it safely), and the importance of posture (something I used to once think was only important in terms of of elocution and etiquette).

At the Rosedale Wellenss Centre in the healing hands of Dr. Aliya Salayeva, I finally began to find relief from the pain through a practice known as Functional Chiro. Bolstered with renewed strength I summoned the courage to allow my inner yogi to find release once again in the form of restorative yoga at The Yoga Sanctuary. After a long and grueling relationship with myself, I feel I have finally found a safe place to let my inner yogi realise her true potential, without ambition or fear of judgment whilst healing the aches and pains in my mind, body and soul. The teachers I have come into contact with at The Yoga Santuary these past few weeks have enabled me to practice something I love safely.

I abused my privilege to practice and have suffered for it but yoga alerted my attention to the gnawing issue in my back. Had it not been for that disastrous camel pose, I probably would have continued to slowly damage my back. I am grateful for the awareness it has given me over time. These days I am further from my toes than when I started and it is a humbling experience, to know there is such a long way to go. In class, a couple of weeks ago, one teacher, so beautifully said (not in these words exactly, but this is how I remember it); the goal is to reach the end position in a posture, but then what? Whatever it is, look forward to it and nourish your spine, it holds in essence, the fountain of your youth.

Springing to restore

It’s been a quiet few weeks on the blog, but a busy few weeks for me, with lots of internal healing going on, as I finally addressed an injury to the spine. I have discovered that while the season of spring is one for blooming, it often comes from much needed restoration. For me personally it came from deep meditational stretches at The Yoga Sanctuary and lovely walks to Bloor and Church in Toronto’s shying warmth, to strengthen oneself at the hands of Rosedale Wellness Centre. More to come on this later.

As summer hangs in the midst, one often looks for light fresh dinners that promise as much hearty satisfaction as those warming winter meals. Inspired by the vegetable and fruit on show during yesterday’s walk through Little Italy following an Iranian brunch at Takht-e Tavoos (I dare you to try the their Guisavah: two sunny side up eggs topped with buttery dates and walnuts) we have decided to do a thirty day salad challenge for dinner. Though you might think that means pitiful suppers, if there is one thing I have come enjoy over the years, it is a decadent summer salad.

To inspire your own endeavour, I leave you with the first salad. This one is no less impressive than coming home to an ocean pie from the cold. After a day outside in the timid sun, a nest of bean sprouts, snow peas and spinach housing a sweet fragrant salmon fishcake, dressed with a creamy, spicy sesame dressing goes down well. All the indulgence without a compromise on summery health resolutions.

Will serve two sufficiently.


For the cakes:

200g of cooked wild salmon, flaked
1 medium sized sweet potato, cooked and mashed
2 spring onions, chopped
1 bunch coriander, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2″ piece of garlic, grated
Juice and zest of a lemon
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Quarter cup of coconut milk
1 egg beaten
2 tbsp Sunflower oil

Pre-heat oven to 300F and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Add all the ingredients to a bowl and mix well. Form into cakes with hands, you should be able to make about ten. Cook two per serving and keep the rest in a freezer for another time!

Heat sunflower oil in a frying pan.

Cook the cakes, about two to three minutes on each side. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes.

For the salad:

Cup of bean sprouts
Cup of snow peas
Handful of spinach
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sesame seeds

Arrange the spinach on a plate.

Toss the bean sprouts and snow peas in a wok with a tsp of olive oil and sesame seeds for for five minutes and topple onto spinach.

For the dressing:

2 inch piece of ginger
1 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp water
Quarter lemon peeled

Blend all the ingredients together in a chopper.

Arrange fish cakes on plate and finish with dressing. Serve with a wedge of lemon.