How Flexibility Changed My Yoga Practice
People thing being flexible in yoga is not only a pre-requisite, but an end goal… but let’s backtrack a bit.
When I was younger I was a dancer, gymnast and figure skater over a span of 10 years. I always thought I was flexible, but when I was a figure skater (around age 12) I found some trouble when I was trying to do a spin with my foot behind my head (my 25 year old brain cannot remember the formal name of this ). I found I was able to grab my foot with ease, and in turn was actually over extending my back. I became sore so quickly and when we went to the doctor it wasn’t long before he told me I had hyper flexibility in my lower spine. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was my first run in with hyper-flexibility.
Fast forward more than 10 years, and since I didn’t do much physical activity or stretching throughout high school and college (unless it was walking to/from the bar), I was a little out of touch with my body.
When I started my yoga practice I wasn’t really sure what my body could or couldn’t do. Could I touch my toes? Could I bend back that far? Could I twist all the way to the right, what about to the left?
The first injury I got that affected my yoga practice I actually did not get from doing yoga.. I was riding a dirtbike with Chris in Vermont, fell and ended up fracturing my tibia and over-twisting my knee pretty deeply. Although this injury wasn’t directly FROM yoga, it affected my practice. It kept me off the mat for about 2 months, and once I was back on it – I had to be extremely careful of my knee. It took about a full year for me to fully recover.
A few months later I was in a seated twist towards the end of class, and remember pushing myself just a little further than I normally would. I went to un-twist, and could feel that I went too far. I laid down for savasana and when I got up, I knew I messed up.I’m lucky it was just an over twist on my muscle, but it was still painful and took again about 4 months for it to fully heal.
About two months ago, I was in class and it was a GREAT flow class. I was sweating, moving and breathing.. and really felt I was kicking ass. I had been in a deep low lunge hip opener and remember thinking “I’m kind of sinking here” but I kept going with it, kind of because I didn’t really know how to NOT sink into it. At the end of the day I got home and my hips we’re so sore, they were even tender to the touch. I knew I went too far.
This injury was scary because hips are so fragile and take a long time to heal. Anything muscular in general.. you’re basically at the mercy of your body. It’s not like a bone where you get a cast, but it’s self control to NOT re-injure the muscle.
The point of me delving into all of this is that I have found a silver lining in all these minor injuries. We push ourselves and get so caught up in our ego, mindset, what we think something “should be”… that we aren’t taking care of ourselves.
These injuries have also caused me to totally change my teaching style. I can’t tell you how many times in a deep lunge/hip opener that I’m telling people to activate their glute and their legs. Or in a lunge – press through the feet and stay active in the thighs to protect the hip and the knee.
We’re always SO focused on where we think we need to be (ie: deep bending into a lunge, twisting around 180 degrees in a twist) that we don’t realize we aren’t putting our bodies first. The beauty of yoga, is that even if you can bend deep into that lunge and rotate 180 degrees in a twist – there’s ALWAYS another step. There’s always an Iyengar or someone else who has done something deeper, harder, longer… and getting there is NOT the purpose of yoga.
Teaching yourself patience, self care and love however.. is the purpose of yoga.