From a purely physical space, I began committing myself to my yoga practice a little over a year ago because I had back surgery the spring of 2013 and it was bugging me whenever I rode my bike or did a spin class. Since having my back surgery, I have worked really hard at listening to my body and doing what it tells me it needs. With this said, it was clear I needed to do something other than spinning. My discovery in exploring physical activities? Yoga did not aggravate it. Yoga felt like it may have helped it. Yoga helped me become aware of what was actually happening within my body: my spine and my muscles.
As cliche as this will sound, yoga has given me much more than this. Growing up in Colorado, I was of the school that I had to push my body to its limits to be strong, to have an activity be worthwhile. I did this with skiing, I did this with cycling, I did it with running, I have done this with any activity I have done. I like to feel strong. But here’s the reality: all of these activities have beaten my body up so much that I lost the ability to listen to it (“Just push through the pain”). So I kept working through injuries and I kept ignoring what my body was telling me: that I could be strong and not beat myself up doing it. This is one of the superficial things yoga has given me – a way to feel strong without beating my self up.
None of the activities I mentioned earlier, running, cycling, skiing, involve a high amount of skill other than skiing. It took me years to perfect my technique and it may be the only activity I do where I feel graceful. It is a sport that I mastered over a long period of time – but it hurts me to do it now because of my back. As a writing teacher, I am pulled to activities that require some type of skill to earn mastery. It is through this skill building, this thinking through of process, that helps me engage with both my body and my mind.
Here’s a quick example: a few months ago I took Amy Baker’s inversion class thinking, “I’ll go, see what inversions are about, laugh at myself, and be done with it.” I saw it as something to try out because I never had before. I like trying new things. But after the class I was hooked. She showed me that with practice, with effort, someday I might be one of the cool kids in class who can do these things, these inversions.
I’m happy to say that I’ve been working on them and can do a couple of inversions and am getting closer to others. This has opened up a trust that I never had in myself. I am more grounded. I fall back to my breath and my body awareness when I feel stressed or overwhelmed.
The lessons this practice has given me fall back to one basic lesson: trust. Trust myself, trust the people I care about, trust that what the universe brings me is good for me: trust.
But the thing is, the deeper I go into yoga, into learning what my body can do if my mind believes it can, the more I fall in love with the process of learning, getting stronger from the inside out, and seeing what this little body can do. There are poses I struggle with, and I will keep working towards them-but the poses are only a symbol of the shifts occurring within my being, my process, my happiness.