Updated: Dec 13, 2020
Two and a half years ago my back went out and I found myself in bed for a week. Any movement I made sent spasms of pain through my low back and pelvis. My back had gone out before, but a quick trip to the chiropractor had always gotten me back to my normal life. This time was different. X-rays revealed a degenerated disc and a misaligned sacroiliac joint. The big surprise for me was that my injury had been caused by my yoga practice.
I found a new chiropractor, started seeing a physical therapist and discovered Donna Farhi, an internationally recognized yoga teacher changing the way yoga views traditional postures. Over the next two years I learned an entirely new approach to my yoga practice. I learned new alignment principles, and developed new attitudes toward my own body. When I looked at my fundamental belief structure I realized I had not been practicing ahimsa (non-violence) toward myself.
I had the expectation that if I wasn't feeling the stretch, then my practice wasn't doing anything. I had the belief that I wasn’t really a yogi if I couldn’t demonstrate my pose prowess. I was thinking of my body as passive and inanimate, something upon which I imposed my will, so I superimposed ideas onto my body without listening to how it made my body feel.
Even though I was given permission in my teacher training to listen to my body, even though I was taught how to both practice and teach tools for listening to the body, it wasn't enough to override my mental programming. The concept that me and my body are in a relationship didn't really land. Ultimately, it was my body that showed me the wisdom of the teachings I had received.
In realizing the value of listening to and then honoring my body's wisdom, I learned that tied up with my effort to feel something and to look the part were ideas of worthiness. What I was really trying to achieve by pushing my body into the perfect pose, was a sense of belonging. Over and over again I forced my body to obey me, and felt justified, because in doing so I was proving I was good enough to be included in the larger community of yogis, worthy of wearing the title "yoga teacher."
Over time, instead of blowing past more subtle sensations, I have learned to listen to my body's signals. Instead of seeking out pain and stretch, I observe subtle changes in my prana, in my connective tissue, in my mind and thoughts in response to poses and movement. When I can accept myself right where I am, the most incredible world opens up. It is a world within, an edge of refinement that infinitely deepens.
The work for me now is not to position my body until I feel something. The work is to be present enough to hear something. The body is always talking, always has lessons and messages. I don't need to manipulate and change and judge and fix. My primary focus is to listen, and when I do, my body, mind and heart all have the space to heal and grow and become in their own time and in their own way.