Louise Barry, mUX Conversion Specialist on Yoga

My favourite thing about Yoga is that it gives me time to chill – I end up focusing so much on each posture and my breath that I completely turn off for that time and end up feeling much better as a result. As I am doing yoga, I can tell how different parts of my body are doing, where it’s tight or sensitive. Over time, I have become super intuitive to how my body feels. As a result, I have become more aware of the impact that different foods have on my body, or even how being around certain people makes me feel. Many things affect our bodies in different ways – by doing yoga, I have become more connected to my body.

My name is Louise Barry and I work as an mUX conversion specialist for Google. I chose this job because I was looking for more work-life balance and better growth potential. Google had everything I wanted and definitely hasn’t disappointed.

I was born and bred in Dublin – I really love it here. We travel a lot both for work and fun but we always love coming home; I’m definitely a home bird!

My journey with yoga began about 15 years ago when I was diagnosed with a pars defect in my spine – this is a stress fracture of the bones of the lower spine. It’s caused by overuse of the lower back, mainly from sports that involve repetitive backbends. I did a lot of ballet when I was younger and we were told to stand a certain way; I later found out that a lot of ballet students suffered from this spine defect as a result of these postures. I later took up horse riding, which definitely made me worse and further aggravated my spine; I had to give up horse riding because the pain became progressively worse.

I had tried everything from physio to injections in my spine, and nothing seemed to work. I was scheduled for spinal surgery, but in a last-ditch attempt to help manage the pain, my surgeon asked me to try yoga. I wasn’t overly keen on the idea; I felt it was very much for hippies and also not real exercise (yoga wasn’t as popular then as it is now).

I reluctantly went to a hot yoga class with my mum one evening and did the initial warm-up. For years, I didn’t have full feeling in my left leg – as we were doing the stretch, I got a rush of pins and needles in my left leg and I was able to feel the sole of my foot. By the end of the class, I had nearly 90% of the feeling back in my leg. We decided to sign up for a month’s membership and went 2 to 3 times a week for the first month. All of my pain and discomfort had 100% gone. I continued going for several weeks and then contacted my surgeon and told him about the improvement; he ordered a new x-ray of my spine to see if there was any physical difference. When I met with him to discuss the next steps, he was pleasantly surprised – not only had all my symptoms gone, the muscle I had built up around my spine was compensating for the weakness within it. He said he’d never seen results like it before. And with that, he cancelled my surgery and sent me on my way with a prescription of … yoga.

I have done all types of yoga from aerial yoga, laughing yoga, yin, kundalini, bikram, vinyasa, ashtanga – you name it, I’ve probably done it. (the only one I haven’t tried is naked yoga, not really for me!). Each type of yoga has different benefits, so it depends on what you’re looking for at the time. Even laughing yoga was a great … laugh (not something I’d do often, but we had great fun while we were doing it). The two I would do most often are Hatha and yin. When I feel good and strong, I will want to do an ashtanga class.

The most important yoga posture for me is downward dog: that’s the posture I use to see what’s going on with my body. I’m normally able to get my feet fully planted on the mat, but when I’m tense or stressed, my heels are lifted and my legs are a lot tighter. I will go into downward dog at the beginning of my practise to judge how tight I am. If I’m very tight, it usually means I’m stressed, so I will just become more aware of that – stress used to creep up on me before without me even realising it.

I love to do yoga in the morning, as it sets me up for the day. But realistically, I usually only have time in the evening. I switch it up all the time to keep it interesting. I love to do weights, but I can’t do weights without really bad back pain, so I have to do yoga right before and right after. Over the last year and a half, I’ve incorporated weights into my yoga practice. Most of the time when you see me doing yoga, I have weights beside me; I do 20 minutes of yoga, followed by 20 minutes of weights, and then the remaining 20 minutes of yoga again. I also like to do super basic yoga postures with leg weights; I love how intense it makes the posture and improves your overall practice.

I love the intensity of some postures, so a lot of the ones I will practice will involve me holding the posture for a few minutes while I settle into it. You start sweating and trembling and you’re screaming at yourself to get out of it, but you really benefit from it. I think it’s so important to do each posture as well as you can within your limitations. What I mean by that is rather than rushing through a flow class and barely settling into each posture before you move again, why not slow it down and focus on perfecting each posture from head to toe to get familiar with how it should feel. For me, this was where I really felt the benefit of each posture.

The main health benefit for me when practicing yoga is a simple one: it manages my back issues for me and allows me to get on with it pain-free. I have to do yoga for simple things; if I want to go on a hike, I will need to do yoga beforehand to loosen up my spine so that I’m not in pain. If I’m taking a long flight, the one thing I will always have on my back is my yoga mat – sitting for too long on a flight causes the worst pain and burning sensation, so I do yoga before and after a flight where possible. When I am on holiday, the one thing I will always do is yoga – sometimes it’s not out of choice, as I need it to make sure I have no pain. Afterwards, I always feel so good.

In the future, I want to keep learning and growing in my practice. The last few years of yoga have been some of the most enjoyable for me because I’ve played around with different flows to find what works best for me. I’m looking forward to continuing that and seeing where it goes.

I definitely feel a lot of different aspects of your life benefit from yoga, and one of them would be your career. I’ve learned to handle stress a lot better; I also notice stress earlier on now and am able to address it early rather than letting it fester. I’m very fortunate that the company I work for appreciates the benefits of all exercise, including yoga, so you are always encouraged throughout the day to workout, meditate, or go for a walk. Sometimes, reminders are put in our calendars to take time for ourselves to relax and do meditation if we want. As a result of this type of culture and openness, I have rarely had a genuinely stressful day in my current role because I have the space to address it and an open environment to talk about it. I think having companies that appreciate the benefits of all exercises, including yoga, is key to achieving well-being.

My advice to anyone interested in doing yoga is to try out loads of different classes and studios. Be selfish about your time on the mat; use it for whatever you need: be it headspace, physical workout, whatever it is. Don’t be shy about playing around with what you learn.

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