Today was the start of the third week of Charm City Yoga’s Mysore Challenge. Participants need to practice a minimum of five days a week for the month of June, and then they’ll be entered into a drawing for a free membership at the studio for the months of July, August, and September. Being a teacher at the studio, I already have a membership, can attend any class I choose for free. The kicker is, I haven’t had a regular practice since becoming a yoga teacher in 2006. That’s a humbling and sobering confession to make. I, the teacher of yoga asana, have not had a regular yoga asana practice for eight years.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have practiced at home from time to time, I’ve even attended a few classes and workshops here and there, but nothing regular, as in showing up at the same time every week, come rain or shine. I have made every possible excuse under the sun for this lack of showing up for my own practice. Back in the days of being an elementary schoolteacher, I said things about full-time schoolteaching in addition to part-time yoga teaching, working about 80 hours a week, not having time for my own practice. Then, I stopped schoolteaching, got married, got pregnant. Definitely had no regular yoga asana practice at that point. Once my daughter arrived, I said things about being a mom, and then being a mom times two when my son arrived. There’s too much laundry, there are too many dishes, there’s just too much everything, I’ve told myself…and all of these things I’ve said have translated into me not following through on one of the most basic foundations of solid yoga teaching–my own personal practice.
So for eight whole years, I had no regular practice…but then this month rolled around. This Mysore challenge happened. I already have a membership, so I’m not participating for the chance to win a prize. No, my friends, it’s not the prize I’m after–this girl just likes a good challenge. Something about seeing the same people day after day, anticipating the initial enthusiasm that would draw large crowds, the excitement of all that shared energy…and then I imagined that when the reality of the need for discipline, for steadfastness would sink in, participants would most likely be dropping like flies. The satisfaction of being among the last standing, the achievement of that, the pride of knowing that I was all in, really in, for the long-haul–all of this really appealed to me.
There’s also a sticker chart at the studio entryway…and this girl loves stickers. I loved being an elementary school teacher because it was perfectly acceptable to put stickers just about anywhere, especially on work well-done…and putting stars and smiley faces next to my name day after day, and seeing that row of stickers grow, well, it’s nerdy, but I love it.
I joined the challenge because I’m in tune with the discipline necessary to stick with a practice day after day. I have been maintaining my daily meditation practice for nearly three years now, and I have been blogging daily since January 1. Yeah, I got this, I told myself.
So guess what happened? I was definitely full of the initial excitement, the enthusiasm at the beginning. The first few days were this sort of honeymoon period for me, the delight of getting back to a regular practice, having time for myself, feeling the glow in my body post practice, the peace. I was doing every pose in the primary series, feeling very proficient, doing most of the vinyasas, floating back, jumping forward, feeling pretty competent in the practice, binding very easily in my twists and forward folds, feeling pretty badass…But then after those first few days I got a big dose of humble pie. And then a daily dose since then. I have eaten lots and lots of humble pie since the beginning of the month. And it tastes bitter, and somehow good, at the same time. It burns, it’s sweet, it’s satisfying, it’s waking me up, it’s leaving me with the certainty that I am way more of a student that I am a teacher–and I am hungry to learn more.
Most prominent in the lessons my practice has taught me: I need to heal my body before I do anything else. In the course of attending to a regular practice I have become excruciatingly aware of my body’s limits. I have been ignoring two injuries for years now, and my practice has brought them to the forefront of my awareness. Left hamstring, ischial tuberosity, soft tissue damage, inflamed, painful, since August 2006–the first weekend of my 200 hour teacher training. Right shoulder, teres minor inflammation, probably due to demonstrating too many chaturangas-yoga push-ups.
I have done my best to rest the hamstring, and I have done my best to ignore it, but nothing has healed it. The pain is always there, and really feeling it, and having to baby the hamstring to not injure myself further has forced me to modify my practice, to be even more aware of my limitations. I have tried to rest my shoulder, and I have tried to ignore it, I have gone to physical therapy, but I haven’t been able to heal it completely, because I continue to do the thing that causes the inflammation. I have had to face the facts–I am injured, and to continue in the way I have been going would only harm myself further.
How I love a gorgeous, deep forward fold, the feeling of surrender, of turning inward. But I’m injured, and my hamstring doesn’t want to play along with my plan to prove my flexibility to the world. Instead of just going for the deepest expression of my forward folds complete with binds, I have had to hold myself back, because I don’t want to further injure my hamstring.
How I love to feel the strength in my upper body, my arms, my shoulders, my back…to move slowly, with muscular control, to maintain precise alignment, to hover inches above the mat, breathing. But I’m injured, and my shoulder says, “Wait a minute! Hey!” To save my shoulder, I have stopped all chaturangas, which are a crucial part of the astanga yoga practice–and now I want them back so much I can almost taste them.
Ahimsa, non-violence, is the first tenet of the eight-limbed path of yoga. If you want to read more about it, check out this post from the blog I created as a professional yoga teacher. In the midst of coming home to my practice this month, I became painfully aware–literally–of how my drive to be good, to succeed, to be a strong competitor in an extremely competitive field, can blind me to what my body, mind, and spirit actually want and need.
Tired of the literal pain in my butt from the ischial tuberosity, tired of the ever-present pain in my shoulder, I asked my body what it wanted me to know. I asked it how I can heal it. I asked the injuries themselves if there is anything they are trying to tell me–and I stated very clearly that I want to heal this pain.
I keep attending my practice, and I look at the practitioners who can fold their bodies with grace and ease, and I feel envy. I watch myself going more gently, and I feel anxious, disappointed. I see how I am comparing my practice with the practices of others, and I admit to myself that I am not keeping my mind focused as I should.
My practice is teaching me a lot. I will keep going. Hopefully I will learn how to be more gentle. Hopefully I will find a way to heal myself.
A Message from My Left Hamstring
I am hurting
why do you push me so hard?
what do you want?
what is there to prove?
Can you feel me hurting?
Please do not ignore this pain
I am trying to tell you something
I am trying to make you see
I am not your enemy
I am your friend
I have something to teach you
if you will only listen:
Slow down, be kind, be gentle
Accept yourself as you are
Hold yourself with compassion
Love yourself enough to not hurt yourself
And from this sweet soft place of authentic relating
of acknowledging the truth
you will see the interconnectedness of all things
you will become absorbed the unitive state
you will experience yoga