As I write this, I have a bag of frozen peas strapped to my leg, icing a strained ligament in my knee. How did I strain it? Doing yoga. It was my own fault and I knew I should not have pushed it, but I did.
Last week, for the first time in 12 years of practice, I found my way into full lotus. With tight hips from running, this was a huge success and I was feeling great about my accomplishment.
The next day, I was a little tight in my knee, but nothing that restricted movement or caused any discomfort. Two days later, I was back in a yoga class. Same style, different teacher and I went for the full lotus. Success! Full lotus achieved.
Then, came the forward fold. And rather than listening to my tight knee and enjoying the bliss of full lotus, I went for the forward fold. Pop! Ouch. I quickly straightened my legs and immediately felt the tightening in my knee. Thankfully, it was the end of class and I was able to finish up and get home to ice.
So here I am, icing my leg and not working out for the week (or until it heals). This injury has me thinking about the basics. Whether you're new to yoga or have been practicing for 12 years like me, the guidelines are always the same:
1. Arrive a few minutes before the start of class.
This way you give yourself enough time to select your space and get settled on your mat.
2. Listen to your body.
Each and every yoga class is yours. The person on the next mat has a different life story, so make sure you do your class and not theirs.
3. Remember that every class is different & you're different in every class.
Some days I can balance on one leg like a champ and others I fall unmercifully. I often find my mat is an indication of where I am in my day. If I'm scattered and distracted, it will show up in my practice.
4. Be present.
No phone, no computer, no mental grocery list making. This is your time. Enjoy it.
5. If you're new or have an injury, let the teacher know.
This helps them teach as much as it helps you practice.
6. Have fun. It's just yoga!
Who cares if you fall? It makes no difference if you choose child's pose over downward dog. (Also, see #2 above.)
This is your time.
8. Focus on calming breaths.
There are some days where I lay down for the final relaxation and my mind is still racing. When this happens, I don’t get up and leave. Instead, I count my breaths in and my breaths out, each to a count of six. My mind isn’t completely still, but it’s better to focus on calming breaths than remind myself, over and over, of a task I have to complete later in the day.
9. Find a yoga style that you enjoy.
There are different types of yoga: heated, traditional, vigorous, and restorative. One class will hold a pose longer, building strength, while others flow through a sequence quickly, elevating your heart rate. Find one that you enjoy.
10. If you don't like one style of yoga or you don't click with a certain teacher, find another one.
There truly is a practice for everyone. Each teacher is unique, with a distinct teaching style, voice and practice.
For me, the benefits of yoga are immeasurable. The class forces me to be present and in the moment. I check out from the day-to-day distractions and detach from my cell phone and computer for 90 minutes. At the end of class, I'm an all-around better person, with more patience. Everyone wins.