I am so grateful to be working with a physical therapist who intimately understands yoga (check out www.embodyyogatherapy.com). Additionally, she seems to understand exactly the type of person I am, including my tendency to push my body just over its limits -- time and time again. I asked her directly this week what my limits should be. I knew we'd be practicing inversions this weekend and I really wanted to get upside down, but safely. I She said, "Anna, first of all, don't do anything that hurts or feels uncomfortable. Second, do everything at 75% of what you would normally do. So if your brain tells you that you can do five handstands, do three. If you think you can hold for another five breaths, hold for three." Basically, override the ambitious part of the ego and have compassion with my healing body.
Ironically, the lead instructor and I were dealing with the same struggle. I'm trying to safely recover from injury, and she was pregnant. She wanted to demonstrate and do each inversion, and so did I, but both of us had to rein in the ego, look at the larger picture, and find compassion.
I did it. I mean, I practiced at 75%. Or I thought I did. I'm feeling a little compression and discomfort in my low back; not pain, just discomfort. But I did less, and that feels like a good start. Next time, I think I'll take it down to 60% of what I think I can do.
This weekend I learned a lot of really helpful and solid information about how to teach inversions safely. I learned how to tell if a student isn't ready for certain inversions and why, and how to work with that student to become ready. I learned new ways of spotting students upside down and a fantastic line of preparatory poses to build strength and courage before an inversion.
But the biggest thing I learned this weekend was something that our instructor said when we were in meditation: our yoga practice is meant to heal, invigorate, and relax us. It is not meant to harm us. When we are working past the edge, or moving incorrectly, or not listening to the body, we are not practicing yoga anymore. Yoga is a union of mind, body and spirit. If we are injuring ourselves, or no longer incorporating ahimsa in our practice, we are not doing ourselves any good. Yoga is meant to be a lifestyle; that is, something that we can practice our entire lives. If we can't figure out how to listen to the body now, how will we safely practice into old age?
When the body is healing, do less. What I've come to realize is that even if my ego is as strong as ever, my body is not as strong right now. That's okay. If I take it one day at a time, at 60 to 75% of normal, then slowly, my strength will build and I will find the healing aspect of yoga and be able to practice past my 60th and even 75th birthdays.