"Jump into a handstand, yogis—just kick!"
"Fly forward to the arm balance, if you know how."
"Add 10 more pounds of weight to the lift to increase your strength."
"Keep pushing—you can go a little faster and do better."
We've all heard one or maybe all of these phrases at some point. Whether it's a yoga studio, fitness facility, running trail, or baseball field, we've all been encouraged to push the limits. And sometimes, curiosity gets the best of us—and that can be a good thing. Curiosity is what keeps us motivated and helps us get to the next level.
But I’m proposing we introduce a new idea: "Listen to your body." It’s one of the best ideas I’ve learned from my yoga practice, and I've started to apply it to all areas of physical activity these days. Sure, I’m a yoga teacher, health coach, and former athlete. I’m "designed" to know and share this, right? Wrong.
Let's talk about my high school injury.
Let's rewind to my high school years, when I was a year-round volleyball and softball athlete. All positions for both sports require focus, physical strength, and perseverance to get better, faster, and stronger. The two positions I played were pitcher for softball and left outside hitter (front row) for volleyball. Hey, I’ve got these long arms for a reason!
Both of these positions require using receptive motions with my right arm, specifically, my right shoulder. Over the course of three or four years, around my sophomore year, I started to develop severe pain in my right shoulder, leaving me unable to even lift my arm up past shoulder height to shampoo my own hair.
I survived—and managed to wash my hair—but the pain and injury were caused by improper repetitive motion to my rotator-cuff muscle group. The trouble was, taking time off to heal wasn’t an option. High school only allows for four seasons to play each sport, and I was too stubborn to take a break.
But it never got better, and I ended up going to physical therapy weekly to receive strength stabilization and electrode therapy to remove the scar tissue, as well as (eventually) taking time off for a season to give my shoulder the proper rest it needed to recover a bit.
I learned my lesson: It's important to take the time to develop and educate yourself on proper alignment.
Learning the correct alignment not only propels you to perform at a higher level, but you’ll prevent a lot of sports-related injuries. This concept isn't rocket since, but it is something we usually forgo in a moment of opportunity to push and excel. Now, in my yoga classes, I'm a stickler for alignment of the shoulders, knees, lower back, and spine, because they’re the injuries I see the most often.
Fast-forward a few years, when I was at a desk for nine hours every day.
I was a full-time graphic designer, sitting behind a desk for nine-plus hours per day with poor posture and rounded shoulders, even though I was two years into practicing yoga regularly. Needless to say, crossing my legs into a bind sounded like enlightenment to me at the time, especially from a headstand position, then to an arm balance.
Yes, I was crazy. And yes, I ended up putting a slight tear in my IT band, near the insertion point that sits right below the knee joint. I didn't do this once, but twice. Have I mentioned I'm stubborn?
Over the course of about a year, I started to gain range of motion back in my knee, and I was finally able to walk and move pain-free and able to sit in a traditional pigeon pose once more on a mat. Additionally, I focused a lot on learning the alignment of the postures, how the body moves, and spent a great deal of time not doing all the fancy, "cool" postures but focused on the more foundational ones that helped open up my glutes, hips, and external rotators—where the real lotus posture is born from!
Once again, I learned an important lesson: Listen to your body.
Seriously. Listen to what it has to say at all times in your yoga practice, and in life. It’s not stupid; it’s actually more evolved than our brains and conscious beings will ever be in our lifetimes. Open up the lines of communication and actually take a breath (literally) to hear what your body has to say.
The mind will either be afraid—you want me to put what where?!—or will be left wanting more. So listen to what the body has to say, and you’ll be guided in a way that will not only keep you safe but help you develop a deeper level of trust and communication within yourself that will elevate you in every area of life—including any sports or physical activities you want to partake in.
Today, this is the way I teach and move in all areas of my life. In yoga, I move slower, yet I'm more effective, stronger, and flexible than ever in my body. Even though I can practice the "cooler" postures, including inversions and balances, more often than not I choose not to.
Give your body time to recover, space to feel, and an open mind to hear what it needs in each and every moment you are moving.
Inspired by Sara? Read up on her favorite heart-opening yoga poses and find out which yoga poses have beauty benefits.