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How My Ego Got Me Hurt On The Yoga Mat

Amber Shumake
Written by Amber Shumake

I have a confession: I hurt myself on my mat on Monday.

I practiced from a space of lack. I was fatigued from my weeklong vacation, which culminated in a seven-hour road trip home. My hip flexors felt like guitar strings, my core a hollow vessel. Stepping up into a handstand, I felt like I was going swimming in jeans.

My ego didn’t take too kindly to that sensation.

You’ve been away from your mat for a week. You never declined bread or dessert on vacation. You’re a teacher at this studio.

Essentially, you’ve got something to prove.

And just like that, I reverted back to the woman I once was — the one who felt her mat was a place to inflict pain, a place to get even. I thought that woman was long gone. Over the past year, I’ve learned the art of softening. I’ve learned that yoga should actually heal, not hurt. If it hurts, it’s not yoga. If the movement is not connected to breath and intention, it’s not yoga; it’s calisthenics.

Several times my body begged:

Stop. Please. Modify. Do what feels good. You’re not warm enough for that pose. You’re tired.

Stop. Please.

But I let my ego steer the ship. I muscled my way into an arm balance that usually I float into with ease. And I felt my neck revolt in silent dissension.

With some rest and perhaps a good massage, I’ll be ok in a day or so. I’m embarrassed to share my soul’s confession, especially with the controversy around yoga and injuries. But as a yoga teacher and writer, I encourage people to risk being unshielded on the mat and in their lives. And that’s what I hope to do through this post: to strip the shields away in the hopes that you'll join me in a dialogue. I believe in the healing properties of yoga. I believe in intelligent, mindful sequencing. I believe in yoga’s power to make us better versions of ourselves.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t occasionally muscle my way through life. For a long time, shutting down was my default switch, and when I find myself in unfamiliar waters, I find myself steeped in struggle mode. I thought I was past that.

One of the most irritating things I experience is when my students attach their self-worth to a pose. They believe that if they’re able to kick up into a handstand without the wall, they’ll prove themselves worthy. But nothing really changes when you conquer an elusive pose. You still become hungry for the next one. You still get pulled over for speeding and come home to your unmade bed and piles of dirty spandex. You're still you.

You are worthy. You always were worthy. You always will be worthy. Handstand or no handstand. Arm balance or no arm balance. We teach people how to treat us. Let’s not hurt ourselves intentionally. Treat yourself like the big deal that you are — on your mat, in your life.

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