Recently I was diagnosed with a degenerative disk disorder which was to large extent hastened by congenital physiology. This was preceded by a somewhat alarming loss (for a yoga teacher!) of mobility and strength. It required my yoga practice to completely change, for the 3rd time in my life. It might surprise you to learn that each time that has happened, my practice has deepened and matured… it has never been a loss. That’s because if we actually practice yoga in its truest form, it meets us as we are.
Many people, far too many, think of yoga as a workout. That is to limit yoga to a fraction of its potentials to serve not just the body, but the breath, mind, and spirit. In addition, many people, again, far too many, have a perspective of yoga as requiring certain postures including those that are inaccessible to them, that must be done in particular ways.
If they know that they cannot meet some preconceived expectation, they don’t even try. Or, they go to the wrong teacher (wrong for them) whose style simple doesn’t fit their needs and then conclude that all yoga is not for them. It is unfortunate.
An Interesting Question
Yesterday, I has an encounter with an acquaintance, and when I mentioned that I probably shouldn’t be lifting things because of my back, she looked at me and asked, “Aren’t you a yoga teacher?” as if 1) yoga teachers should never be injured and 2) yoga teachers who are don’t know what they are doing.
There is unfortunately at least a grain of truth to each of those assumptions, at least in regards to a yoga practice. Of course, injury of many kinds can happen to anyone at any time that have nothing to do with one’s yoga practice. But it is assumed that a yoga teacher who knows anatomy and asana well enough shouldn’t be injured by their practice. And yoga teachers who do get injured are often injured because they don’t know their own bodies enough to listen and/or are driven more by accomplishment than by embodiment.
For a long time now, since before 2000, I’ve been dealing with back problems. I only had a vague sense of my congenital condition. And though it had been pointed out to me by doctors in the past, it never presented as a problem, so I wasn’t really doing anything to prevent future problems other than just trying to remain fit and strong.
Unfortunately, I did some really stupid stuff when I was younger, felt invincible, and didn’t know how to recognize harmful activity. I also had a ridiculously strong work ethic that made it impossible for me to walk away, take a break, or give up entirely on tasks that I knew were compromising my body. They are lessons learned.
But time does take it’s toll on all of us. Change is inevitable. And no body is immune from the ravages of aging.
What I Wish I’d Said
What I wish I had said to this acquaintance was, “Thank God I am! I hate to think of what condition I’d be in if I didn’t have my yoga practice.” I truly believe that. Despite everything, I remain more flexible and mobile than a lot of people in my age category. And more importantly, I know how to rest and restore my body. I know what can relieve pain, and I know how to listen to my body when I try things that may very well be recommended for my condition but that don’t actually work for my body. Yoga has given me both an embodiment and wisdom that serves my evolution (aka aging) on this planet.
Of course, inherent in this woman’s question was also the misunderstanding of what it means to be a yoga teacher and that there’s some highly athletic aspect that assumes Olympic invincibility. I’m not a fitness teacher. I’m not a sports coach. I’m not even, in many regards, a yoga teacher. I’m a yogi who shares from her direct experience, and my wheelhouse is selfcare and restorative forms of movement. It’s yoga, but not in the Instagram sense.
Injury, fortunately, does not preclude me from either practicing nor sharing my yoga. In fact, it enriches both.