My Dad, who I love to absolute bits, is a very interesting man, full of complexities and stories to tell. But as I mentioned in another post, he really isn’t someone I would picture being inclined towards the practice of yoga. He’s a bit gruff. He doesn’t like “touchy-feely stuff.” He’s the kind of father you could imagine meeting his daughter’s dates at the door with a shotgun (okay, he never did this, but it would be easy to picture). So my father’s recent voyage into the yoga world has been nothing short of shocking. And I do mean shocking. However, after a recent visit to the massage therapist, he was informed he was taking it a bit far and was on the brink of injuring himself, stretching his muscles beyond what they’re currently capable of. This got me to thinking: Just how far is too far when it comes to yoga?
I do believe that one of the great things about a good yoga class is that it pushes us to challenge ourselves and what we think our minds and limbs are capable of. However, it’s also important to listen to what your body is telling you. Apparently, my father’s body is saying, “Please stop. I’m not quite ready for this.” But still he pushes and I’m guilty of having done the exact same thing in class, but never when home alone by myself. Why is that?
Now us soldiers, current and retired alike, are a bit of a competitive breed and so are many other North Americans. It’s bred into us, after all! But when you’re sitting in a small yoga class, watching what the guy next to you is doing, it’s easy to push yourself to his level, even if that isn’t quite your level yet. In most of the classes I go to, the instructor will show a pose, then provide several different alternatives for beginners, intermediate and advanced yogis. But when you’re surrounded by a bunch of advanced people in full on Salamba Sirsasana while you’re bent into Child’s Pose, it’s difficult to sit there and perform the “easy version.”
I learned long ago to not let myself feel bad about sitting in the beginner version of a pose, if that is where I feel I need to be at that particular moment. Some days, I’m just not my best yoga self, and pushing to be something I’m not makes the whole experience negative instead of positive and reflective, as it should be. Other days, I am one of the advanced people! But I don’t push myself to be someone else. If I did, that sort of takes the pleasure and purpose out of yoga.
So all I can advise is to listen to what your body is saying. If a stretch just isn’t quite feeling right, back right off until it does. But if you’re feeling particularly limber one day, then give yourself permission to stretch that much further. But don’t compete. Don’t look at what the guy next to you is doing and think, “Well I can do that.” Because one day, with a bit of practice, you will be that guy. Yoga is a journey and each path winds in a different direction, full of bumps in the road. The best part is, for each person, the destination different. That’s what keeps it interesting.