Yoga is a physical exercise. It is a challenge for both your mind and body. Pushing your body into positions before its ready can create injury. However, the intent of yoga is not to manipulate your body into strange contorted pretzel like figures. It is about listening to your body and mind. The beauty in yoga is learning how to pay attention.
Body awareness is a skill and it is a skill that our Western society is constantly working against. Our nature is to compete. However, this competitive impulse can cause you injury and in some cases severe injury. I’ve been fairly lucky with injury in my yoga practice. However, in the past two months, I have had two separate occasions where I noticed the particular differences in my own body. My first experience was when practicing tree pose.
Tree pose has always been one of my favorite poses: I would practice it endlessly. Sometimes I would even find myself teaching a college course (not yoga related) standing in tree. It felt natural. However, there was one day a few months ago that I kept faltering in tree. I was baffled. What was going on? Why was body wavering in a pose that previously I’ve had no troubles in?
On that day when I was practicing tree, my body was telling me that something was amiss. Later that week, I discovered that I had an ear infection (my body’s imbalance let me in before the pain in my ear did).
On a completely separate occasion, I was taking part in a yoga class, which had a very long Savasana. During this asana, I noticed some small twitches in my back but I ignored it, rationalizing that no one can injure himself or herself in Savasana. I was wrong: that night I had severe pain in my back. By lying prone for twenty minutes, I had awakened an old injury.
It was my wake up call. Afterwards I really began to pay attention to how my body changed every day and how my body performed poses changed every day. I know never practice yoga without having props, bolsters and straps near by. I also strive to pay attention, no matter how silly my mind tries to tell me I’m being.
The Savasana injury was a huge wake up call for me, mainly because I ignored my body’s needs. I really began to question why I did this? Truthfully, it was because I was embarrassed: I mean who can’t lie still.
This got me wondering that in our push to perform, are we missing the true value in yoga? Unfortunately, I think the answer is a resounding yes. Baron Baptiste and several advocates of power yoga talk about leaving your ego at the door. I now know that this is essential when practicing yoga.
One of my favorite interviews is Yoga Journal’s interview with Baron Baptiste, his realistic, honest, reflection on what yoga is, is really refreshing. Baptiste and others believe that when we hold onto our ego this is when we get injured. There are several ways that we hold onto our ego, but the most common one is our need to compare and compete. Sometimes we injure ourselves physically by ignoring the needs of our own body and forcing it into a position; other times our injury may be emotional, by not being true to ourselves.
Baptiste advocates in his practice the need to pay attention, to listen and to respect what our body is trying to tell us. So in your practice today and tomorrow, pay attention. Listen to the secrets that your body is trying to tell you. Be mindful in your asanas and notice how your body changes each day and each moment.