Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | August 1, 2014

The First Rule

I’ve been teaching yoga for 12 years, and I love it. The style I teach (my classes are called Yoga for Flexibility) focuses on poses that, to me, feel like they’re more about the stretch than about strengthening. I do this so my students can hang out in the poses awhile, almost like a yin class, and really find and embrace the stretch.

I get a lot of brand-new-to-yoga students in my classes, because I try to make sure they’re accessible to anybody, and over the  years I’ve developed something of a speech I give to new students. It goes something like this. “The first rule of yoga is that nothing we do should hurt. If it hurts, don’t do it. Don’t wait for me to give you permission to cut it out, just cut it out when your body tells you to.” I go on to explain that, unlike many other forms of exercise where you try and focus outside of your body (The tv in front of the treadmill, a book on the recumbent bike) so you can keep doing it longer, in yoga we listen to the body for signals about what the body can do.

I’ve been giving this spiel for over a decade. And yet, recently, I found myself on the receiving end of pretty much the exact same speech from a physical therapist I was seeing to work on my feet. You see, my feet have hurt – sometimes so badly that I can barely hobble around – for years. I told the doctor and the PT it has been about two years, but when I start really thinking about it, it’s been longer than that. It’s nothing exotic, just plain old plantar fasciitis. But it’s been there awhile, and it’ll probably take awhile to get it healed.

How does someone who not only hears but gives (ad believes!) advice about listening to your body at least several times every month for a decade ignore pain in her own body for years? That’s an excellent question.

A lot of the gap, I think, exists because I have a gap in my heart knowledge. I know and completely believe in my head that punishing myself isn’t a helpful or productive path to joy, but somewhere in my gut and my heart, I suspect maybe it’s the path for me. That kindness toward myself is a cop-out, that things that feel good can’t possibly be effective.

And yet, over the years in my yoga practice I’ve seen it time after time. Pushing past limits leads to injury and limitation. Relaxing into resistance leads to a way through – maybe not to the place I thought I was going, but to a place that clears my mind and takes me back to what I’m doing on the yoga mat in the first place.

I don’t know where this particular journey will lead me. I have some suspicions, though. I’ve already started researching ways to cure foot pain with yoga, and I hope to start offering those classes this fall. And I know I’ll learn a lot that will help me understand how kindness can be an effective healing agent – which will be important for the work I’m starting as a coach. More than anything, though, I’m looking forward to seeing how the new approach leaks into the rest of my life. Because as I stop holding myself back by beating myself up, there’s no telling what I can accomplish.


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