…the same story I told my yoga students today at the start of our midday Flow class.
As I was warming up in the studio before class today, I sustained the worst yoga injury I have experienced to date. And yes, that means that I have injured myself multiple times while practicing yoga since I began practicing yoga about 5 years ago, but only consistently and in group classes for the last 3 years. This is partly due of my type-A, goal-oriented, and over-confident personality that, ironically, YOGA helps me chip away at and reshape over time, and partly because I’m a stubborn, slow learner when it comes to taking it easy and slowing down. I am very fortunate (read: dumb luck) that most of the time these injuries have been minor and have resolved themselves in a matter of days. But today, during my warm-up for class, I decided to try practicing a headstand variation that I had only tried once before. I got myself up into a tripod headstand, a stable pose that I feel confident and comfortable in, but then I slowly walked one hand out and straightened my arm, and then the other, so that I was balancing on my head, with straight arms reaching out in front and palms on the ground. Something like this, but with less tattoos and more shirt:
All was well for a few breaths, until I started to lose my balance and began falling backward in space. Short story even shorter: I wildly overestimated my falling/tucking/rolling skills, I panicked, and I crumpled over to the side, landing in an awkward pile. Upon sitting up, I became immediately aware that I had done some serious damage to some of the muscles around the right side of my neck and shoulder. Ten minutes before the start of class, I found that I was unable to turn my head to the right without excruciating pain and tightness. This meant that I would have to lead class without demonstrating much of anything. The pain is constant no matter where I position my head and shoulders now, 4 hours later, and it seems that I may be in for a long healing process.
You might be wondering why I’m sharing this story. So I’ll tell you the same thing I told my yoga students today as they were gently warming their bodies for practice, slowly breathing and moving between cat and cow poses with eyes closed. When you approach your yoga asana practice, or any physical endeavor for that matter, I hope you will take a breath and a moment to get really still and ask yourself why you’re doing it. What is the purpose of all this bending and stretching and twisting? What brings you back to your yoga practice or class again and again? Is it to achieve some specific shape with your physical form, to prove to yourself or someone else that you can do that thing you saw someone else do once? Or is it because of the way that your practice makes you FEEL during and afterward? Those are obviously just two of a virtually endless number of reasons you might have, but I hope you see the difference.
I hope you take the extra split-second before you attempt any advanced asana,or any intense activity at all, to ask yourself if doing that thing truly serves the most authentic, honest purpose for your practice. Today I did not do that, and now I get to learn my lesson the hard way. My over-eager, sneaky ego, that likes to disguise itself as “trust,” or “determination,” or any other number of silly things, told me that I would be just fine practicing this unfamiliar and dangerous pose in the center of the room, with no support, assistance, or real escape plan. Many times I have put myself in these sticky situations and I have come away without a scratch….again, dumb luck. Emphasis on the dumb.
“Learning the hard way is always an option available to you,” I reminded students today, “but is that really what you got on your mat to do?” Or did you show up for your practice to learn a better way to live, move, breathe, and think? A better way to love yourself and others, to smile more and suffer less…a better way to BE. If that is your purpose, as it is mine, I have found that it really has very little to do with the physical.
If nothing else, I hope that my story helps you (and me) to remember: BE KIND to yourself and your body in practice, above all else. We’re in the business of love and growth here, not harm. Slow and steady progress is what we’re after. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that.
With so much love,
*UPDATE* I am posting this 2 days after it was written and everything feels much better already. I am once again very fortunate, as it appears that I only caused a severe muscle strain and that everything is healing up quite quickly. I am still so glad I wrote and posted this right away, when the pain was still very fresh in mind and body. It’s an important message and I hope that my sharing will help others (and myself) to remember it, and take it to heart. Namaste 🙂