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Surfer Quan Huynh-Thu Heals His Recurring Back Pain

Quan Huynh-Thu has healed his recurring back pain with yoga.

“I tried yoga because of recurring back pain.” Quan Huynh-Thu

I started to surf at the age of 40, shortly after I moved to Sydney. Fast forward five years and I’ve become one of those people who plans their free time around the ocean forecast—swell direction, hours of the tides and wind direction. I wish I had time to chase the swell but I don’t, so I mostly surf at my local spot.

Beyond the sport, the amazing sensation of freedom and the direct connection with the ocean, is pure magic to me. Every time I paddle out, it’s as if there is a virtual box on the beach in which I can put all the negative thoughts, tensions and worries. The box might still be there when I come out of the water and what I put in it hasn’t necessarily disappeared but that moment of peace in the water often provides me a different and more positive perspective. I never was a morning person until I got into surfing and nowadays I can’t think of a better way to start the day than a dawn patrol with the sun rising over the ocean.

SURFING’S TOLL ON THE BODY

Surfing is pretty brutal on the body. It’s an endurance marathon paddling out, followed by a massive discharge of energy sprint-paddling to catch a wave. You add body compression, extension, rotation in ever-changing and unpredictable conditions, throw all the awkward falls into the mix and set waves crashing over your head and you’ve got a body in desperate need for attention and recovery. But that is not why yoga entered into my life. I tried yoga because of recurring back pain

My first symptoms of lower back pain appeared in 2013. I didn’t do much about it, shrugging them off. But in 2015, I had a spinal disc herniation (L4/L5 central and L5/S1 lateral prolapse). There was no clear cause. It wasn’t an injury sustained from sports or accident. But it was the most intense physical pain I have ever experienced. I had to lie still in bed for three days because it was the only bearable position, fuelled on anti-inflammatories and pain killers. I could hardly move, survived on cereal bars, bananas, apples and water. Once I could stand up, I was walking more slowly than a turtle.

THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

I followed a 10-week physio rehab program to get back to some form of normal physical condition. And since I was out of surfing for about 4 months, my first surf session was a real mental challenge. I had the image of my back breaking whilst taking off on a wave. From that point, my lower back pain was recurring in daily life. It wasn’t debilitating but it was this ever-present, daily, mild pain and discomfort. Every morning, my back would also feel tight and stiff waking up. It was draining my mental energy out of me.

Quan Huynh-Thu practices yoga to heal his recurring back pain.

YOGA 15 TO THE RESCUE

As a single-parent with two kids, my life can be pretty busy so when I researched yoga, it was clear that finding time to go to a studio was a no-no. There are hundreds of online yoga programs, free videos on youtube and alike but nothing came close to Yoga15.

Abi’s approach provided me everything I was looking for—short, super easy-to-follow videos, guidance, explanations straight to the point, a practical and logic approach that spoke to my scientific mind. Through her videos and her articles, Abi gave me the ability to understand yoga, its impact on my body, what to do, why and how to do it, what to pay attention to, what is good for my condition, what to avoid in my condition. Abi’s pose library is to this day the best source of information I have ever found to learn how to properly practice yoga poses without risking injury. 

A CLEAR AND SIMPLE METHOD

The Yoga15 videos are very simple to follow as Abi talks through each routine in a systematic way using a consistent vocabulary. Each movement and body position are precisely described, removing the need to look at the video all the time. I also found extremely helpful how she always guides you through the breathing (in and out) in synch with each movement. After practicing a new video routine a couple of times, I could easily follow it by just listening to her voice and mentally visualising what I am supposed to do. It allowed me to focus on what I’m doing rather than trying to just follow someone else. Practising these videos gave me a sense of progression too as I got better and better. Nothing like nailing a difficult balancing pose for the first time. 

FREE FROM RECURRING BACK PAIN

I paid a painful price for not giving enough attention to what my body was telling me for many years. Yoga15 was instrumental in getting me to practice yoga regularly and in helping me to understand my body mechanics. Both these have helped me to get out and stay out of daily physical pain. When I started yoga, I considered it to be a bit like a domestic chore, something I should do or had to do. But nowadays, it is much more than that. It has become an integral part of my life. Even my kids have learned to give me time and space for my daily yoga practice. It is my version of the morning “coffee fix”.

I initially practiced yoga for the physical aspect of it but I now also enjoy its mental benefits. I’ve never felt so relaxed and fit in my adult life. My body is getting stronger, more supple and mobile every day, even though I am a middle-aged man and getting older every day. That is quite satisfying and rewarding.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION

A physio told me once that after a problem of disc prolapse, back pain will never completely go away and it is now a matter of managing it. I still get a yearly painful reminder. It is like catching the flu each year. But I have now learned to recognise the signs and to take care of it before it fully blows out. It seems that the days of daily back pain are behind me and that took persistence, consistency and discipline. It didn’t happen overnight. Throughout this journey, I sometimes felt frustrated and was tempted to give up as my lower back pain kept coming back even though I felt I was doing everything necessary to eradicate it. But I feel I have taken matters in hand and I am in control of what I can control.

This journey takes time, dedication, commitment. But I am not in a rush. This is a lifetime practice and the benefits are also for life. And I hope it will allow me surf for as long as possible. I am forever grateful to Abi for all her help.

Photo credit: Surfable

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