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Pushing It to the Limit...and Beyond

Posted Oct 06 2013 8:55pm

At the risk of sounding unpopular and uncool, I'm not a fan of CrossFit . Shocking, right? After all, how could I not be a fan of "elite fitness?!?!?" You think it's the yoga girl in me, don't you? Actually, I have a workout regime in addition to my yoga practice. It's not that I don't think people shouldn't workout and do all yoga all the time. I just don't think it's cool to break down/injure/endanger your body in the quest for fitness.

Harder. Faster. Better. Stronger. Go beyond your limit. Push past the pain. Hmmmm...it almost sounds like the lyrics of a rap song. Instead, it's the philosophy behind many people's fitness regime. I'm sure there are plenty of folks who love CrossFit and rave about it. From what I hear (and have seen with friends), it becomes addictive (and isn't it cool to post videos of your superhuman physical feats on Facebook??). Frankly, articles like these scare the heck out of me. What price are you willing to pay to be harder, faster, better, stronger, etc. Are you willing to spend some time in a hospital? Or how about chronic and/or acute injuries? Surely, vomitting during or after your workout wouldn't be so bad, right? For some these things are like a badge of honor (I can hear the I'm-so-cool-because-I-push-myself brag now: "Yeah, I blew out my knee during my workout.")

I'm all about being in shape but the question I ask is, why? When I think about being in shape, I think about feeling good. For me, having a toned, fit, "perfect" body isn't worth hobbling myself with chronic injuries. To me, that's not feeling good. In fact, it makes me wonder whether or not I'd be working out my body or my ego.

I have personal experience with this. There was a time when I couldn't stick to a regular workout program. I struggled with it for years before I finally decided to make the commitment to workout regularly. I found things that I liked and I stuck with them. I developed a love for working out, which pleased me. What didn't please me was how involved my ego got. I started flirting with pushing myself (which moved into an all out passionate affair with pushing my body beyond its limits). What started off as fun became a competition with myself.

We've all heard the hospitalization stories related with Beachbody's P90X. Well, I was one of the first folks to do the program. I was rife for the challenge and counted the days until I received the package via FedEx. Back then I was ramping up my workouts with harder and faster moves. So hard and fast, in fact, that my form suffered. So did my body. 

I completed P90X and was quite proud of my "accomplishment." I could do a bunch of pushups, make it through a 40+minute plyometric workout, had a strong core, blah, blah, blah. My ego loved it. It loved it so much that after taking a few weeks break, I went back for another round. A few weeks in, common sense prevailed. I was in pain on a daily basis. I clearly remember bouncing on my rebounder (as a warm-up to a another high intensity workout) one morning while in a hunched position because I was in so much pain from a pulled muscle. At the time, my live-in partner took one look at me and practically begged me to stop what I was doing and go back to bed to rest and recover (yes, I looked mighty pathetic -- and not very bright, I might add -- while trying to push through the pain). Another pulled muscle. One of many pulled muscles. I stopped the madness shortly thereafter and revisited why I was exercising in the first place.

Lest you think it only happens to gym folks or CrossFit fanatics, let me reassure you that this sort of pushing beyond your limits mentality is alive and well in the yoga world, too. At the beginning of my yoga practice I would push myself into postures my body wasn't ready for. I remember once coming into Wheel with hardly any preparation and no counterpose afterwards, feeling like I was a yoga goddess. What I was was stupid. My body paid the price. 

While in a weekend workshop with a prominent yoga teacher who gets a lot of press to this day, I watched my fellow yogis get taken in by his story of hobbling into and out of yoga class that pushed him to his limits. He told the story of how he pushed himself and how strong he was for facing the challenge, overcoming it, and hobbling back to class again the next day. He made it sound as if sustaining injuries was some sort of badge of honor. Yes, there's nothing like injuring yourself and then going back the next day to do it all over again all in the name of being a dedicated yogi. What about hobbling is a good thing? How is hobbling yogic (ahmisa, anyone?)?

One of the gifts of my yoga practice is a healthy love and respect for my body. I have a relationship with my body. That means that I listen to it. I take care of it. I try to give it what it needs. Yes, I do sometimes push it but I make it a priority to respect it if it says "slow down" or "back off." I don't chose some popular, ego-cossetting workout over my love and respect for it. 

Yes, it's taken years for me to get here. When I come into a Forward Bend and feel the tug on my hamstrings, I'm reminded of the times I dishonored my relationship with my body by going way beyond my limits just so I could look good while going deeply into Downward Dog. Way. Too. Deeply. Like the popular yoga teacher from the story above, I hobbled out of many a yoga class (back when I attended yoga classes). It didn't make me a better yoga practitioner. It didn't make me happy. It didn't earn me respect. It felt crappy and it made me realize that I was disrespecting my body and chosing my ego over my well-being.

These days my body and I are on better terms. Sometimes I don't always listen the first time, but I do, eventually, listen. I suppose that's why I feel better than ever. I probably can't do as many pushups as I could during my P90X days, but that's okay. It's a decade later and I roll out of bed with no pain, which is ironic to me considering I'm older. I feel better now than I did in my 30s. When I recently increased my kettlebell weight, I checked in with my body first and continued to feel what was going on as I continued with the heavier weight. When I noticed fatigue was causing my form to suffer, I went down to a lighter weight.

Fitness regimes are great. It can feel awesome to sweat and to work our muscles. The thing is, these regimes are like hammers -- depending on how they're used they can build things or kill. When your ego is running the show, you convince yourself that you're challenging yourself and going beyond your limits so that you can get "better, stronger, faster, healthier." But are you? And if you're hitting it hard, are you giving your body what it needs to sustain that sort of strain on your body? If you're working out like a pro athelete, good for you. I just want you to remember that a pro athlete has a team of people making sure that his/her body is getting what it needs (we're talking nutrition, bodywork, rest, hydration, etc.) to offset the stress placed upon it.

Maybe it's the fact that I'm 41. Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I've pushed my body in the past and paid for it. Or maybe it's my history of practicing yoga (the ups and the downs). I'm not interested in CrossFit or extreme workouts. I'm trying to calm my ego down, not build it up. My goal is to love my body, not push it beyond where it wants to go.

Every time I see another Facebook post of yet another CrossFit injury, I cringe. And I remember why I workout in the first place. Yes, I like to look good. But I like to feel good even more.

Namaste!

 


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