When I first started practicing yoga, it was one of the most challenging and rewarding physical disciplines I had experienced. I got stronger, I felt great, and my practice improved. I felt like I had come home.
After several years of yoga-euphoria, something changed.
First my practice plateaued. And then it started to hurt.
Although my mind and spirit loved yoga, my body began to whisper some objections. I injured my hamstrings (chronically overstretched), tweaked my knee (too much ego in lotus), consistently dislocated my rib, and lost contact with the whole gluteus family: max, med, and min. As theses injuries compounded, my balance became worse, my hip started to ache, and my practice declined. Worst of all, the wear and tear caught up to me in my daily activities. Loathe to change my practice, I decided to “work through it.”
The moment of truth
It was the touchdown that finally pushed me over the edge.
While playing touch football on the beach with my family over Christmas, I made a mad dash for a touchdown. As I launched into my sprint, my chronically stretched and weakened left hamstring finally gave out. Although I made the touchdown, I spend the rest of my family vacation icing my leg. I couldn’t walk without a limp.
I loved my practice. I just didn’t like listening to it.
After my hamstring injury, I finally had to acknowledge that my physical practice needed to change. The slow, strong yoga style I’d been doing for years had not prepared my body for dynamic movement. My poor hammies and neglected glutes couldn’t sustain the rapid, power move of my dash.
Now, there is nothing wrong with yoga. It’s simply that yoga – like any repetitive physical activity done over time – will dole out specific stimulation and specific wear and tear if it’s the only exercise that you do. And the way that I was doing my practice had created some weak links. If I wanted to really take care of my body, then I needed to make a change.
I pulled up my yoga stakes and started going to TRX and the gym. I got a personal trainer. I did squats. My goals were straightforward: get my balance back, find my glutes, make my hamstrings happy, and run 20 minutes.
I wasn’t the only yogi looking around for some extra fitness on the side. Senior yogis in the community were going to Cross Fit. Teachers whispered to me in secret that they were going to the gym. Long-term yogis wanted to rediscover the parts of their body that yoga was leaving behind.
Yoga’s new look
As yogis start cross-training to balance out their bodies, priorities in group classes are starting to shift. New ideas about the form of yoga are starting to percolate. Whether it’s Jana Webb’s “Joga” (Yoga for Athletes) or Desi Springer and John Friend’s “The Roots” (a glute lovin’ romp that focuses on empowering the back line of the body), we’re starting to see the pollination of modern athleticism into the yoga studio. Power and core classes increasingly derive ideas from personal training and other physical methodologies. Functionality is more important than putting a foot behind your head.
Is this yoga?
Does an evolution in the physical form of yoga detract from “tradition?”
While the physical yoga practice has really only been around a couple hundred years, the meditative heart of yoga has been around for millennia. Regardless of the shapes of the physical practice, the real yoga continues to happen in our mind. The shapes are the roadmap, the destination is you.
Why I started practicing again
Yoga is a place to come home to my body, my breath, my emotions. While I love my TRX and HIIT classes, listening to Katy Perry and running on a treadmill doesn’t give me the same kind of self connection. I returned to yoga in order to find a quiet place to come home to myself. I returned to yoga to address the crazy voices in my mind. And I returned to yoga because through the movement of my body, I can experience the mystery of being alive.
I’ve returned to my practice with a great deal of humility. I use props, bend my knees, and do a lot of standing poses. The daredevil postures that I used to practice may be somewhere in my future, but I’m not in a rush to get there.
And wouldn’t you know: yoga still has some surprises up its sleeve. Even though I’m returning to essentially same practice I left, my body feels radically different. Hamstrings are happy, ribs are happy, and I’m unearthing some crazy little imbalances that TRX and the gym had left unaddressed. Most importantly, I’m willing to listen to my practice now.
Moving forward, I’ll try to keep up with some jogging…and I’ll occasionally try to lift heavy things. To keep my body happy, I’ll do my best to balance the slow beauty of yoga with some quick sprints and fast movement. There’s beauty – and yoga – in jogging, too. And I’ll continue to do my slow-ass, propped up practice, and let it unfold in its own time.
Yoga’s real secret is that is really doesn’t matter so much what the practice looks like. So choose the style that makes your body smile. Whether it’s hatha, Iyengar, ashtanga, yin, or hot, when it comes down to it, our yoga practice is a safe place for us to be, feel, and come home.