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Doin' it anyway: Q&A with Lydia Mansi

Kate Foster

I kinda think of Lydia as being the original Badd Karma Badassador because not only was she so proactive about getting involved, when she came to see me soon after it because clear that she was 100% my kind of gal. And then she started to share her story. It’s the very best kind of story because it starts out funny, then gets serious, but ends up being a thing of life-affirming joy. But I think what struck me more than anything right now is that fact that Lydia has a very good reason to not do yoga—but she does it anyway. Get ready to be inspired. Here’s the story:

OK, so start at the beginning, lady. Where did it all start for you?

It was the summer before my AS levels and in my 17-year old wisdom, I wanted to catch the eye of the demi-god living next door. I hatched a plan: I needed to get a book out of the library and start casually practicing yoga in the garden. So far, so Dawson’s Creek. I diligently practiced twice a day and soon found that my time on the mat was actually helping me sleep better, manage my anxiety (something I’ve battled since childhood), and gave me energy, In fact, I was actually enjoying contorting my body into all these shapes I couldn’t pronounce – and so my rather accidental love affair with yoga began. And with the boy next door. Score.

I know it’s not all been plain sailing though. Tell me about the challenges you experienced in your practice at the time?

I was diagnosed with spina bifida age 10. It’s something you’re born with but we only found out after I had an accident in gym class. While I have the mild form, it means that two of my large lumbar vertebrae aren’t formed properly, so my discs are prone to prolapse – anything can cause it, even sneezing. I spent my early teens in and out of hospital having numerous procedures and wore a steel corset for 6 months. Other than the risk of disc prolapse, it has left me with severe sciatica and numbness in my left leg.

What does that mean for your practice today?

I find all the basics a challenge – sitting cross-legged, balance poses, spinal flexibility… when you’re starting out on your yoga journey, that’s frustrating. But even within my limitations, I’ve found poses that light my inner fire. Warrior 2 has always made me feel so strong and invincible, it’s such a power pose – and totally do-able! You don’t need to fold your body up like a piece of origami to feel the benefits.

How did you deal with that when you started going to classes? Did you find it hard to find the right class/teacher?

I didn’t venture into a class situation for quite a while to be honest. None of my friends were interested in yoga and in 90s rural Devon, yoga studios weren’t exactly plentiful. At uni in London I managed to find a class to join, but even then it was at a gym in Peckham and was very much about strengthening/toning, than the kind of yoga I now know and love.

I became a health and beauty editor in my mid-twenties and began road-testing every studio, exercise class and gym in Central London. But there is nothing more intimidating than practicing your downward-facing dog next to gazelle-like super models and flexy yummy mummies. I never stuck at one studio for long. I found myself distracted by those around me, whether my vest had rolled up or if they’d be rolling their eyes at the hapless girl in the corner who couldn’t even sit cross-legged. I always felt I needed to justify my inflexibility to the teacher (and the rest of the class) at the start so they didn’t think I was a complete failure. Not the most positive mind-set to start a practice…

That sucks! How did you get over the self-consciousness you felt?

My spina bifida carried on frustrating me throughout my twenties. I was hospitalised three times in a year and after a bad car accident in 2010 I was off work for 6 months and in the physio clinic daily. I felt broken but once I recovered and was able to get back to my yoga mat I had a bit of a lightbulb moment, like “how awesome is my body that it can be here, doing this?”. It definitely kicked my butt out of the ‘poor me’ phase and into the ‘aren’t you bloody lucky’ mindset. Yes, I still find a lot of poses hard and my spinal flexibility is never going to be great. When my discs do prolapse and I need to take time away from the mat and that’s fine too, I don’t beat myself up about it now, or compare my body or practice to anyone else’s. I show up on the mat every day and that’s what makes me a yogi.  

How does yoga affect your overall health—physical and mental?

Yoga has been my go-to calm place for 20 years. Everything from the loss of my parents to boy trouble has lead me to the mat. That’s why I’m so passionate about getting involved with Badd Karma – I want to help encourage people, like me, onto the mat so they can access the amazing physical and emotional benefits it can unlock. There’s pretty much nothing I don’t think that yoga can help – anxiety, back pain, searing loss… it’s sooo accessible too. You can do it at home, in your PJs, when the baby’s napping… I hear all the time ‘oh I couldn’t do yoga, I can’t even touch my toes!’, or that people are scared off by the ‘spiritual’ element of it and think they’re going to be chanting into their third eye, wherever that is. I’d say to people worried about that: forget what you think yoga is about and just explore.

Have you surprised yourself, in terms of what you can do on the yoga mat?

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve found my yoga soulmate: Vinyasa flow. To me, it’s such an empowering, fluid dance. I find it hypnotic. My body takes over and it’s the only yoga practise that I’ve found that calms my anxiety-frazzled, over-thinking mind. Forget meditation; getting into a flow that’s synced with your breath is like catching a wave.

Why should people who are less flexible not be put off trying yoga?

Spina bifida aside, I would just encourage anyone to have a go. A great teacher will help you find poses and use straps, blocks and cushions to support you in poses. The magic thing about yoga is that each time to try a pose you will get a little deeper, bendier and twistier. I can now get my forearms to the ground in a forward fold and yes, I am showing off.

What should people look out for in a class or teacher? And any tips for adaptations and ways to overcome self-consciousness?

Talk to your teacher beforehand, but not in a hurried stage whisper at the front of class whilst everyone is sat on their mats. Actually talk to the studio and ask for a pre-class chat. Talk through your concerns, what you’re self-conscious about and if you don’t feel completely supported and reassured by your teacher, find another! It’s a bit like online dating: you have to shop around, but don’t be afraid to! You will eventually find someone who inspires your practice and that bond is really special. I know it’s really hard to convince yourself sometimes, but people really don’t care what you’re doing on your mat. They’re probably slipping on their sweaty palms just like you. When you do find your tribe and you all do a flow together, in sync... there is nothing to beat it.


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