If you practice yoga, you know that when you come into the first pose of your practice, whether it’s downward dog or another one, sometimes you find yourself saying, “How did I get here?” Yoga can reveal so much in our bodies and it’s more times than not that we find ourselves surprised by the aches and pains we feel.
One of the reasons I love practicing yoga is its purity. In that respect, I find it similar to running; there’s not a lot of equipment and it’s pretty much you and your mat. When you run, it’s you, your sneakers and the pavement. There’s nowhere to hide, really, and in it’s simplicity, it can reveal so much if we only pay attention. In my work with private yoga clients, it gives the person a greater opportunity than in a group class to really work each pose completely. In this experience, I often hear things like, “Wow, I can’t believe how tight I am!” Or, “ I used to be able to do that pose without any difficulty; now, I can barely stay in it!” In some ways, yoga can be an unforgiving experience because there’s no place to hide. It calls for a degree of compassion though, as we move from posture to posture, trying to assimilate what we hear into our physical being without judging ourselves. But how did we get here?
I like to think of yoga as a way to connect the dots in our lives… the connection between all that we do off the mat and how it presents itself to us when we step onto the mat and attempt to move in a fluid and dynamic way. When this freedom of movement eludes us, we’re often quick to throw in the towel. “See, I told you I can’t do this!” But another option is to stop and look at the bigger picture. When we try to move our bodies in any kind of physical way, the result is an illustration of how we’ve been living all the way up until that point. Are we taking care of our body? Are we tired? Have we been eating well? Are we stressed? Have we been running? Are we spending our days carrying a small child? Have we been ill? Have we been caring for an ill family member? Only you will know the answers to these questions but yoga asks us to remember all of these contributing factors before we’re quick to jump to a global decision that yoga isn’t for us.
Oddly enough, yoga is the perfect thing for anyone having this kind of experience on the mat. Why else would we do yoga? Sure, it’s wonderful to move with grace and ease and there is tremendous joy in that. But if you’re experiencing inflexibility and discomfort on the mat, guess what? You’re in exactly the right place. Done with support and modifications, yoga can be the perfect way to open up the body, decrease the affects of stress, restore flexibility and strength and promote relaxation.
But even more importantly, a yoga practice is a wonderful way for us to start to connect the dots between all that we do off our mats and how we move on the mat. If we’re really tight in the hips and hamstrings, we might look at what other activities we’re doing that create tightness in these areas, such as sitting for prolonged periods, biking or running. If we’re really tight in the neck and shoulders, we might examine the amount of time we spend in front of the computer screen or think about the biomechanics we have when we’re on the telephone. If our lower back is hurting, we might look at how we sit when in the car, especially if we have a long commute to work, or think about regular heavy lifting we do on a daily basis. It’s only through our experience of the different yoga poses that we can start to backtrack and make the changes in our lives that will restore our health.
So the next time you take on a few yoga poses, if your experience is less than enjoyable, take a deep breath and go at your own pace. Notice everything and without classifying it as “good” or “bad,” just move forward. In the moments of frustration, send your brain some words of compassion and support and stay with it. When you reach the end of your practice and are in the rest of shavasana, take a moment to think about all that you are; your physical being, your emotional and spiritual side. Connect all that you are in this moment to your experience on the mat. Do you see any connections? Are there things you might change that could possibly increase your enjoyment and experience of yoga? These are the challenges that lie before us each time we practice. It’s up to us to hear the call and make the positive changes that will serve us well for our health and wellbeing.