We all know that the words "wreck" and "yoga" have been used together quite a bit lately. It's like watching a tennis match -- someone lobs a ball over the net and the player on the other side returns it . Back and forth the ball goes, volley for volley (yes, I'm following the Australian Open, so it's no surprise that I'm using this analogy). Is it a bad thing that people are talking about yoga and what happens when bodies are forced into postures that they aren't ready for? Certainly not.
Perhaps this makes me a bad yoga teacher, but I don't want to talk about vertebrae or cervical spine injuries or pulled this or torn that. Instead, I'm going to do one of my favorite things -- I'm going to tell a story.
Years ago, I was in a relationship that wasn't working for either parties involved. We did a lot of talking but there wasn't a whole lot of action to back it up. As a result, things went along the same unsatisfactory way for some time. All of the hurts accumulated over time into what one could call a fatal injury. I still remember the day I knew it was over for me -- I actually got a visceral feeling in my body (it was as if something snapped inside of me...perhaps it was the camel's back breaking after the last straw). My friend asked me when I knew it was over, and I cited that experience. That final injury was my wake-up call.
This off the mat story can be applied on the mat as well. If you find yourself injured as a result of your yoga practice, that's not front page news -- that's a wake-up call. It's a call to awareness, consciousness, discernment even. For me, that visceral experience I had brought everything I had been feeling for years -- and pushed into the background -- into the foreground. I could no longer ignore it.
Of course ignoring something is second nature for many of us. "Just suck it up" becomes our motto. Many years ago, I was taking a class with a yoga teacher who had a national reputation in the style of yoga in which he specialized. He told a story of him hobbling to and from yoga class but still teaching and practicing himself. He had such pride as he related the story of his sucking it up, because after all, the yoga show must go on, right?
Wrong! While I realize that the performance-based athletes seem to be of the belief no pain, no gain, I don't believe that's the smart way to go. One could argue it's the unconscious way to go. Pain is a signal -- whether it's emotional or physical. If something doesn't feel right, that's not a green light to continue but a yellow light encouraging you to slow down and proceed with caution. It's funny I should use that example, as when I drive, I tend to view yellow traffic lights as a reason to speed up in order to make it through the intersection before the light turns red. Luckily, my stupidity in the car doesn't bleed into my life.
A few years into my yoga practice, I experienced a bad hamstring injury. It was painful and it persisted for quite a few weeks. My ego was wanting to go the way of the teacher who was proud of his yoga-earned hobble. I tried a few times to push through the injury and continue to practice yoga as I had practiced before. Well, you know what they say about insanity -- that the definition is doing something the same way expecting different results. Yeah, I was basically insane. Luckily my body overruled my ego and I took a two-week break from yoga. Or more accurately, I took a two-week break from the way I had been practicing yoga. Instead, I focused on some gentle floor poses and plenty of Savasana.
I didn't practice the same way after that. My yoga practice continued to change over the years and it now resembles nothing like what it did when I began my yoga journey. Ah, if only my ego could see me now...it would NOT be happy. But my body sure is happy. And so is my soul. Achieving the perfect pose didn't nourish me or bring me peace. Hobbling around citing proudly "yoga injury" didn't do those things either. In fact, those things took me further away from what I deemed to be the magic of yoga after my first class -- peace and serenity (with a little bliss mixed in).
Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better." My current relationship doesn't even remotely resemble the relationship I mentioned earlier. The wake-up call injury my heart sustained was one heck of a teaching tool. Same goes for that hamstring injury so many years ago. Both taught me where my boundaries were and how to discern between my ego and my soul. And at the end of the day, that's how I think of yoga -- it's not about muscles or tendons or ligaments but awareness. Or at least, that's where my heart lies.
My suggestion? Don't wait for a wake-up call before you get conscious on and/or off the mat.