Category Archives: injuries

Observation: Practice Lesson #4

As this is the last post in the Practice series I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what makes people stick to a routine. I’ve already talked about how I don’t think that discipline builds a practice or keeps it going, I’ve talked about lighting a spark to keep the fire alive in your practice and I’ve helped brainstorm ideas for the actually composition of a practice. Now what is going to keep you showing up every morning, every Thursday at 6:30 or Sundays at 3, whatever your chosen time slot.

This is what led me to the fundamental question: what do you gain from a practice?

I tried to think of the people in my life who have practices that don’t involve yoga, because I know all the benefits of doing yoga on a regular basis. I wanted to see the benefits of their non-exercise based practices. Two immediately came to mind. First would be my parents’ practice of drinking coffee together every morning in their living room. They don’t down their coffee over breakfast, they instead take about half an hour (sometimes more) and just drink their coffee and chat. They use it as a time to catch up, make plans for the day and to de-stress if the day is going to be hectic. I know it lowers both of their stress levels and I know it is the secret to their marriage. The other practice would be that of my father-in-law’s writing on Saturday mornings. In the midst of raising four boys and maintaining a very full career, he devoted each Saturday morning throughout his life to writing. It helped him keep the mindset of a writer, allowed for alone time in a busy household and energized him for the week.

These are two successful, long-term practices that are very simple, but additions to a busy lifestyle. So why when things get crazy did they keep them? Why is it worth showing up on your mat again and again?

Observation. Think of all the people in our lives we pay to observe us: doctors, therapists, supervisors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc. We want someone else to see the patterns, to notice the thing we’ve missed. And don’t get me wrong—that is a necessary skill set. Every time my acupuncturist treats me she sheds new light on this body of mine that I try to figure out 24 hours a day. We need that outside advice, but we also need to make sure that when we see these caregivers we know what is normal.

Even if normal isn’t healthy, it is worth knowing about. A practice lets you compare every single day to every other day that you do the same thing. Yoga students can attest to that first down dog in a practice when you first check in with the body. Think of the first down dog after vacation or after you’ve been for a long hike. The body is entirely different than the last time. We need to be able to compare.

You owe it to yourself to know what the body is capable of, what it is learning to do and when it has achieved something it didn’t expect. This isn’t just about injury and illness, though aren’t those two reasons enough? This is also about improving and the ability to be proud of yourself. With equal positive awareness it is also about aging and noticing what may be harder than it used to be.

The better we are able to say, hmmm, this is new, when something catches us off guard—the better equipped we are to walk into a doctor’s office and say this is new and I’m worried. Knowledge is power, but it requires regular observation.

When you show up to your next practice, be mindful. Do your day’s work. See what there is to see. Make a list of all the things you want to observe from this perspective. My parents are not just drinking coffee; they are monitoring their marriage, making sure it is healthy every morning. My father-in-law isn’t just writing, he is taking time to be an artist and see how his artist-self is after a week.

What observations are out there for the viewing in your practice?

Rest

I blame myself. All those days I taught class with a drippy nose, barely any voice or came in late to class without any neck rotation. Those classes were all mistakes. But I’m learning, I’m growing up. I am trying to be a better example.

It took me a few years of teaching to realize that I’m a role model. If I come in with my back thrown out and teach from a chair (I have so done that) I am telling my students to go to work in pain. I am telling myself that my students’ one day of practice is more important than my overall well-being. Or worse that the money I would make teaching an hour class was worth the pain or sickness.

In January 2011, we bought a new car. I had been driving my beloved, but challenging, Saab for years and over Christmas vacation it broke down on us twice, each time on the Mass Pike. I lost it. It was a full and absolute turning point. I decided we were not going to be starving-artist-type-college-students anymore we were going to be respectable adults. I walked into the local dealer and bought a brand new car that week. I came home and calculated that my cute little Saab had put me back $17,500 in the six years I had owned it, most of which had been while I was in grad school. No wonder I was always strapped for cash. During grad school I broke down more than ten times maxing-out our AAA account for towing both years. Not to mention inconveniencing several friends for trips to and from garages. Owning that Saab was not taking care of myself.

It was a downhill slope from there. First it was the new car with the 100,000 mile full warranty, then it was skipping school when I was sick. What a concept? Get the notes from a friend, stay home and rest. I started canceling class if I woke up and had a fever or felt lousy. I figured people would prefer to stay home than to leave class sick. It was a big mental shift.

On the opposite side of grad school I don’t have the ability to run myself ragged anymore and I am fully devoting this entire fall to rest. Even in the midst of starting a business I planned how many days a week I wanted to see patients and how many days I wanted to be home to rest. I’m making a concerted effort to shower every day, brush my teeth better, eat when I feel hungry, drink more water. I’m trying after years of breaking down my body, to spoil it. This is more than rest. This is making recovery a priority.

I am astounded at how many of my yoga students don’t know how or don’t know when to rest. I will always throw students out of class for showing up with an injury.  If you sprain an ankle over the weekend or throw out your back, I don’t want to see you in class Monday morning at 7:45. I want you to rest at home. That is how recovery happens. Almost all small injuries will be better if properly rested in the first 48 hours. You don’t get to go back and rest a sprained ankle three weeks later. By then the injury is deep in the body and causing lots of difficulties. Ideally I would love for you to make an acupuncture appointment for the little aches and pains before they become big ones, but I hope you already know that.

Rest is the secret medicine to almost any ailment. But we would rather take cold medicine or put a bandage on something than give in and let the body heal.

Do you get the metaphor of the new car? Does that make sense to you? We have these little stressors in our life that we don’t fix because we don’t think we deserve to rest. We don’t brainstorm options because we feel trapped. Here is a new option for you, write it down if you need to. You are the only one taking care of you—you had better do a good job. Be proactive about your needs, not reactive. Look for the solution that creates energy and reduces stress. You will know you are on the right track when you continue to feel giddy about the decisions months later. I still love my new car.  It is the cutest car ever.