Eyes need a break from the screen?
Listen instead. Press play!
I have to admit, as a teacher I'm a little embarrassed to share this post with you. That's probably why it's taken me so long to get it out of my head and onto this blog. All I can say is I'm human and I make mistakes and if the most important thing about mistakes is that you learn from them then I feel like I should share. I learned my most valuable lesson in my physical yoga practice by repeatedly making the same 'mistake' - which is what I'm choosing to call it for lack of a better word. I hope that me sharing my experience with you can shine some light on where in your practice you might be pushing too hard. Maybe it's time to take a step back.
Whenever I tell people what I do for a living, they usually respond with:
"YOU MUST BE SO CALM"
Actually no, not at all, that's why I do so much yoga.
"YOU MUST BE SO FLEXIBLE"
Actually, I'm less flexible than I was when I started.
You read that right. I started dabbling in the world of yoga over a decade ago, I've been practicing regularly for 9 years, teaching full time for the past 7 and the truth is, I'm less flexible than I was when I started. Are you wondering how that's even possible? Stay with me, especially if you're one of the bendy ones that can access a lot of range of motion in your practice.
I guess it's important to point out that I was a dancer first and a yogi second. I came to yoga with a lot of flexibility and an inner perfectionist that always wanted to be 'the best' which in my opinion at the time meant having the most range of movement.
The higher the leg, the better.
The bigger the backbend, the better.
You get it. In my mind, deeper = better.
I wish I could say that I dropped this mentality early (and I know I'm still very 'early' in my yoga journey) because of all the valuable mental and spiritual lessons I was learning about accepting myself as I was and listening to my body. The truth is, this need to push myself stayed with me way longer than it should have.
It wasn't my deepening connection to the spiritual teachings of yoga that taught me to stop pushing myself.
It was my body.
It's hard to say when the pain began because at the time (I've realized in looking back) I wasn't tuned in and truly listening to what my body was trying to tell me. I'm sure I brushed the aching in my right hip off for a long time as muscle soreness, just a normal result of working out and practicing a lot. But eventually my hip was so achey, my piriformis so tight and the radiating pain down my leg so agitating that I couldn't ignore it. I had to make changes to how I was moving. With the help and input of an amazing physiotherapist, some good friends who also happen to be phenomenal yoga teachers, my chiropractor - shoutout to Dr. Giannone at SWAT Health - and tapping into the knowledge that I have (I swear I've learned something with all the trainings and time I've spent in a yoga studio) I made some serious changes to the focus of my practice that have had a really positive impact on my body, my practice and the pain I was feeling in my hip. Here are a few of the key things that I've learned over the past few years that have helped.
Stability is just as important as mobility.
Yes, yoga has a stretching component but it is so much more than that. I think a lot of us (especially the flexible ones) have a tendency to overemphasize the bendy parts of the practice. There's nothing wrong with flexibility, if we keep it in perspective and remember that there is more to the practice than physically going deeper. Is it really necessary or beneficial to your body to push yourself to that point in every single practice? I've learned that just because I can do something all the time, it doesn't necessarily mean I should.
I'll give you a really simple example that I've been implementing in my practice lately that was inspired by my 300-hour training. Upward Facing Dog is a 'deeper' backbend than Locust pose but I've started substituting Locust pose in for some of my Upward Facing Dog's in Sun Salutations. Why? Because Locust challenges me a lot more from a strength perspective. It's actually harder for me than moving through Up Dog and gives me an opportunity to build more strength along the backside of my body. Strength is good, especially when you're flexible!
Every body is unique. No two poses will ever be the same.
I think it's important to point out that there is nothing wrong with deep backbends, intense inversions and bendy hips. These are all great things and if you can touch your foot to your head in dancers all the power to you - if it feels like the right expression for your body.
Anatomically speaking, there are certain poses, especially in their deepest expression, that some of us will never be able to access. That's part of what makes your body so fascinating - there isn't another one out there like it so why should you expect your pose to look like the deepest expression that you see in someone else? As the saying goes, stay in your own lane and stop worrying about what the perfect pose is supposed to look like. Your perfect pose will present itself if you stop focusing on everyone else and start focusing on yourself.
Deep and demanding poses are awesome - if you're actually listening to your body.
This post isn't meant to scare you or shame you into shying away from a challenge in your practice. You should always be growing and exploring what's possible on your mat. I'm simply trying to get you thinking about what is the driving force behind your practice.
Is it an hour out of your day to celebrate that you're alive, that you have this amazing body and that you can use it to move through the poses? Then keep doing what you're doing.
Is it an hour where you push and pull and yank yourself into the hardest version of every pose so that you can prove to yourself and anyone else watching that you're the best? Then it might be time to make a change. Remember, every single day on your mat should look and feel different. If you're constantly in the same expression and that happens to be the deepest, hardest, biggest version, ask yourself: are you really listening to your body?
Over the past three years I would say my practice has become more advanced than ever before but if you were to take inventory of the poses I'm doing, you might think I'd regressed. If you practiced beside me today versus a few years ago, I promise you things would have looked a lot 'fancier' in the past. I've learned by pushing myself too far at times that an advanced practice has nothing to do with the poses and everything to do with how you move through them.