How yoga healed my battered, worn body

When he was forced to quit rugby, Gary Colbert’s body was a wreck. He tells CHRIS DUNNE how yoga turned his life and wellbeing around
How yoga healed my battered, worn body
Gary Colbert

RUGBY was always Gary Colbert’s passion. It was his game, his spirit, his love. He couldn’t imagine life without the sport, no matter how many cuts, bruises, or aches he sustained over 20 years; he never gave up. Then he had to concede.

His body could no longer sustain the constant barrage of physical injuries that eventually took their toll.

Now Gary has found a new passion; a new path. Sports yoga has healed his body.

“I have lived the healing process,” says Gary, 42, from Midleton. “Yoga saved me.”

H credits it with saving him from invasive surgery.

“I have no cartilage at all in my right knee and my knee therefore has no lubrication and supporting cushion between my upper and lower leg,” says Gary. “It is just degenerative; ‘bone on bone.’

How did he avoid surgery then?

“It is all about balance in the body,” replies Gary. “And the correct, even distribution of one’s body weight.

“I have absolutely zero stiffness, pain, or movement restrictions in my body today. I move freely like a child.”

Gary has come so far on his yoga journey, totally healing his own body, and has committed himself to intensively practising it daily.

He has even moved away from his previous profession into teaching yoga full-time, so that he can help others to heal their bodies too.

“It’s not just in order to try to give back what I have learnt in the hope that it may benefit others,” says Gary. “But also to continue the never-ending daily healing process of the body.”

He recalls his glory days when he played his beloved rugby for 20 years, for Midleton RFC.

“I played at a pretty good level,” says Gary. “At All-Ireland and League status.

“During that time I picked up my fair share of injuries and I accumulated quite a lot of scar tissue around my body.

“Towards the end of my rugby playing days, I was experiencing an awful lot of movement restriction and a lot of a pain and discomfort.”

His passion for the game didn’t fade, despite his body’s protests.

“My right knee weakened considerably and I even suffered internal bleeding at one stage,” says Gary. “I found it very difficult to get in and out of the car.

“I justified the pain every day by saying it was because I was still playing actively.”

But he was actively doing more damage to his body.

“When I suffered a meniscus tear from the continual wear and tear; I underwent a laparoscopy to evaluate how much cartilage function was left,” says Gary.

“I was only 32 and the surgeon suggested I swim or cycle to relieve the physical impact on the knee.”

The advice didn’t sit well with Gary.

“I played a match against UCC when I only lasted 15 minutes on the pitch. I was like a lame horse; a dead duck.”

Gary’s mobility was seriously compromised and when he suffered an accidental blow to the face and trauma to the skull, he had to accept his rugby playing days were over.

“It was like a massive kick into the stomach,” he says

He lost something else as well.

“In the following days after the incident, I had a very serious bout of sinusitis which resulted in me losing my complete sense of taste and smell. I have never gotten it back fully.”

Gary Colbert, in his rugby days.
Gary Colbert, in his rugby days.

This was an added body blow.

“I had completed a 12 week certificate course in the Ballymaloe Cookery School and I love to cook,” he adds.

Gary was fed- up.

“I felt compressed; It was a bit like a death,” says Gary.

“The feeling was almost worse than the pain in my knee. I had no interest in cooking now. The sense of smell and taste were totally gone. I began to eat purely for texture alone. It mattered more and I made bad food choices, often comfort eating, which didn’t help the situation. It was like I was going through a rebellious streak.”

Another passion helped sustain him.

“My infant son, Eoghlan, numbed the pain a bit,” says Gary. “He helped me to try and ignore my plight. He slept upstairs, though. I remember dreading the stairs.”

Gary couldn’t ignore his physical restrictions forever.

“One morning, not long after Eoghlan was born, I met my mother to go for a walk with my son in his buggy. I was unable to walk along the pier that day with the buggy; a distance less than 50 metres. My mother still says; ‘I could hear your knee cracking as you walked’.

“She was very concerned about me. That memorable walk was about six months after retiring from rugby; my pain was getting worse every day,” says Gary.

“My body was starting to buckle due to the wear and tear over 20 years and the injuries had added up.”

He had to take stock.

“I knew things were getting serious and I knew that my gradually increasing lack of movement and mobility was affecting the quality of my life.”

Gary had known what true pain felt like. It was a familiar foe. He had to revisit the pain to heal his body. He was about to embark on a journey to say goodbye to movement restrictions, stiffness and body pain forever.

“When I was introduced to an Indian man in the trident Hotel in Kinsale, who practised Ashtanga Yoga, I was instantly attracted to the physical and the healing elements,” says Gary.

He wasn’t a stranger to Yoga.

“I had practised back bends to keep flexible during my rugby career,” he says. “Weights were too intensive.”

The deep sense of connection that Gary felt in discovering his natural body alignment got him through the pain barrier. He started a new journey.

“It was like peeling away layer upon layer,” says Gary.

“The feeling was indescribable. I was so tight, so sore, and then through the process, I became more elastic and I got stronger as my body found it’s natural balance.”

It was a simple journey; a revelation.

“It was me. My body and my mat,” says Gary.

He was re-invigorated. He had found what he was looking for.

“Through practising breathing techniques daily, I managed to open up and free the airways in my sinus canals and partially re-invigorate my nerve endings in this area,” says Gary.

“Practising Yoga made me feel relaxed, it released any tension and it gave me a sense of wellbeing. The ease of movement and equilibrium gives a feeling of energy and power. It is totally exhilarating”

Gary had beat the pain barrier. He found the missing link and he found his soul purpose. It felt absolutely right to share the powerful connection.

“The sports yoga element gives me the freedom to express myself,” says Gary.

He made the decision to make Sports Yoga his career with the athlete, both past and present, in mind.

“I am working with clients now who want to experience the freedom from physical restrictions and from body pain,” says Gary.

“I understand first-hand how physical pain, lack of mobility and restrictions in movement is not just tiring and upsetting. It equates to a lower quality of life and standard of living.”

Gary’s clients feel the benefits of Sports Yoga. Achieving a freedom from physical movement restrictions and discomfort with mobility requires his techniques.

“It is essential for energy and it is a vital component of systemic alkalisation,” he says.

“There is more to oxygenating the body than simply breathing. Your body has a remarkable and complex system for regulating the amount of oxygen in your blood. The ideal level of blood oxygen is 95-100%, with anything below 90% considered abnormal.

“Oxygenation is a moment-by-moment by moment process by which your body stays alive and keeps functioning. Breathing is something we do all the time, even in our sleep. So it is easy to disregard it.

“When it comes to oxygenation, though, how you’re breathing makes a big difference in your blood oxygen levels.

Gary Colbert.
Gary Colbert.

Gary’s body is functioning to its optimum level now that he practices sports yoga.

“The feelgood factor is wonderful,” he says. “There is no competition in the class. It is just you, your body and your mat.

“The feelgood factor is re-enforced when people come up to me after class and tell me how re-energised they feel.

“Investing an hour or so in yourself to explore the healing process is so worth it, especially in this modern age, where technology is such a big part of people’s lives.”

Gary has found that his new passion has enriched his life. “Nothing fazes me now,” he says. “I am totally calm.”

Achieving a freedom from physical and movement restrictions and discomfort requires the following, says Gary

1. There is no silver bullet. No quick fix.

“A commitment to the body opening process is required. If the body has, over a long time, picked up bad habits with postures and alignment, then it also takes time to address these bad habits. This takes a commitment, a trust in the process of creating new habits and patience and consistency with practicing Yoga.”

2. An open mind.

“Many people deep down know that Yoga can benefit them. But they have preconceived ideas about it, maybe due to maybe bad experiences with teachers, certain classes, etc. Yoga is a healing science. It brings balance. An open mind is required when embarking upon this personal journey back to balance. So keep an open mind,

3. The Goal.

“This is always to achieve equal distribution of strength throughout the body.

“I work with all types of individuals, from clients working to address postural misalignment’s to sports teams needing restorative stretching sessions.

“Whoever you are, and whatever level you are at... the goal is always the same. To achieve perfect balance in the distribution of strength throughout the body.

“People strength train at the gym and continue to create postural issues due to training with incorrect alignment. This makes it impossible to equally distribute strength, perform more efficiently and achieve better results.

“People run on the road. Many run long distances and continue to create postural issues due to running with incorrect alignment. This makes it impossible to run with maximum efficiency and comfort.

Gary concludes: “Yoga re-aligns the body. Yoga re-trains the body. Yoga heals the body.”


Sports Yoga classes take place at Castlemarytr Resort on Saturdays at 11am.

The following classes are open to the public.

Monday: 6pm, Upper Aghada Community Hall (Beginners).

Monday: 8pm, Midleton Fitness Gym, Midleton (Intermediate)

Wednesday: 7pm, Gary Colbert Sports Yoga Studio, Market Green, Midleton (Intermediate)

Friday: 7pm, Gary Colbert Sports Yoga Studio, Market Green, Midleton (Beginners)

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