Once upon a time, I was young, strong, flexible, and had a healthy sense of personal competitiveness. I wanted to be the best at what I did, one of which was yoga.
A former dancer and years of being in the health and fitness industry, made yoga easy for me. It hooked me because it wore me out while simultaneously giving me so much energy. I pushed hard. I loved the vinyasa classes. I hated the restorative and gentle classes. I thrived on figuring out how far I could push my body.
For eight years I pushed until my body pushed back. Something as simple as a new pattern of sitting in my big, leather chair while working on my laptop brought an end to that pushing. Not a sudden injury as I’d seen frequently in students and fellow teachers. Not an accident. Sitting. Working. I impinged my IT band which let to Peri-tendonitis, piriformis syndrome, and two herniated discs. To put it simply, I didn’t just have a pain in my back, I had a pain in my butt!
My body got my attention. At the worst of it, I could not stand, sit, lay, or walk for more than a few minutes without being in pain.
What I didn’t know in all those years of pushing is what inquiries I had created in my body, compensations in tendons, ligaments, and muscles that didn’t really want to do what I was doing. I “cheated” in small, mostly unnoticeable ways to everyone but my beautiful body. I didn’t take the time to develop strength properly. Instead, I found my edges and I pushed though.
It took years to recover and to be honest I may never get back to where I was before the injury. I literally had to relearn everything I already knew with the body I now have. What this journey has taught me, though, is the importance of slowing down and being present enough to discover what’s going on in me.
Our cells are constantly regenerating. We never have the exact same experience in life twice. Each time we show up to the mat, it’s going to be different for our body. What we ingest (physical, mental, and emotional ingestion) in the 48-72 hours before a practice makes a difference. If we show up to the mat with the intention to burn off the stress, burn off the calories, push through the pain, fear, doubt, mental chatter, or whatever else is showing up, we can’t possibly hear that small voice inside saying, “Listen to me. I’m trying to show you something.”
Do you have to give up the vinyasa to hear the message? Of course not. You do need to slow it down more. A full breath is not a sip of air. The movement or asanas connect to the breath, not the other way around. When you commit to that switch, your practice will become more challenging. You’ll find your weaknesses. You’re ego won’t like it. You body and soul, however, will love it. They will become your favorite teachers.
When you slow down and stop caring about keeping time to your neighbors and start caring about the honor and integrity of treating yourself and that beautiful body of yours with respect and dignity, you’ll have the leading edge over your neighbors both on and off the mat. Setting down the competitive ego as you step onto your mat allows you to be more intentional. Practicing at this level takes skill and courage. And that is precisely why so few do.
Written by Wendy Reese from Mighty Yoga Hanover
Wendy Reese is a lifestyle strategist who specializes in whole being, author, host of The Whole Being Zone, author of Just Tell Me What To Do! and yoga teacher with 13 years of teaching experience (she is currently competing her 300 hour yoga teacher training at Hanover Mighty Yoga). Find out more about Wendy on her website: www.wholebeinginc.com