Often, how we approach our yoga practice is representative of how we live our lives. Sometimes we can see things in our yoga practice that might not be so obvious in our lives. We might discover areas where we're working harder than we need to be, pushing through pain, or struggling against a challenge. We might even be struggling against ourselves.
If one part of you is working against another, you might be working harder than you need to be, which limits how far you can go. You essentially create a glass ceiling for yourself.
What does this look like in yoga? I see a lot of glass ceilings and many injuries in the yoga world. A whole lot of this comes from people opposing themselves. Happily, there's good news. As soon as we see it, it's a huge relief, because we can change everything in an instant. Here are a few ways to perfect your yoga practice so that it treats your body a bit better:
1. Be aware of how you can injure yourself with your yoga practice.
Have you ever jumped into a handstand or put yourself in a bind (wrapping the arms around a leg) and then tried to move, or pushed to open up those hamstrings and hips? These are all completely normal things to do in yoga. They're also all ways in which you might be working against yourself, and limiting your potential.
By jumping when your hands are on the floor, the strength of your legs works against the strength of your arms. The wrists lose in this battle, which is why so many yoga teachers have chronic pain in their wrists. Similarly, moving while in a bind (for example, from a bound side-angle into bird of paradise pose) sets the strength of your legs against the strength of your shoulders. The shoulders lose on this one, becoming hypermobile and eventually painful. Pushing to open hamstrings or hips, in forward folds or ankle-to-knee pose? Here, your upper body goes to war with the resistance in your lower body. This is why so many yoga teachers have damaged hamstrings along with hypermobile hips and knees. Hypermobility leads to chronic pain and possible need for surgery, which isn't what anyone wants.
2. Change how you move.
Rather than jumping, pushing, or moving against your own body, relax and move easily. Most people try to stand on their hands by jumping and launching their feet forcefully from the ground to the sky. This seems logical. Our feet are covering the greatest distance, so it's what we see and where we're most likely to focus our attention.
After lots of jumping, the strength of our shoulders, arms, and wrists might learn to compensate for the sudden force from our legs. But with this compensation comes a whole lot of stress and tension, in both our bodies and our minds. Each time it's a jump and a prayer, hoping not to tip over or fall back down. Often this goes along with bouts of chronic pain in the wrists and shoulders, which people even start to see as "normal" in yoga. Let's try something different — shift your focus from the outside of the body to the inside:
- Shift your mechanics. Forget about moving your hands and feet. Move your middle instead. Roll around gently from your belly and hips, and stay relaxed enough that the rest of your body just gets to go along for the ride. You don't need to work hard with your arms when you're walking; they just move naturally for you. It's no different when you turn things upside down.
- Practice this way every chance you get. When you're on your feet, see if you can get your arms to move just by moving your belly. When you're on your hands, see if you can get your legs to move in the same way. Don't worry at all about moving your hands and feet. They're connected to your arms and legs, so they're likely to take care of themselves.
- Shift your focus. Move your focus from the outside to the inside. If you've memorized the rules for where to put your hands — rotate your shoulders, flex your legs, suck in your belly, and ground your toes — forget them.
- Relax enough that you can feel your body. Breathe deeply, connect, and begin the ride of your life. From here, eventually nothing is all that hard.
3. Change your yoga goals.
You generally get what you practice, so changing your practice goals can change your whole life. For some kinds of yoga, the goal is to burn through your suffering as a way to transcend your body and move into something greater. When that's your goal, you might deliberately put yourself in a place that's rather uncomfortable and immobilizing, then try to move.
A better approach may be to have evolving goals. Believe that you can feel good right now. In this case, your yoga will have a different goal. If what you want is peace, freedom, and creativity, you practice peace, freedom, and creativity. If what you want is to feel good, you aim your yoga at feeling good. Relax and connect.
Move slowly enough and breathe deeply enough that you have a chance to notice how you feel and respond to it. Give yourself the freedom to discover the unusual, the extraordinary in you. You will become inspiringly capable in what you can do right here, right now, in this life.
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