Over a week ago, I hurt myself. I pushed myself too hard in a class, and I woke up the next day unable to move my neck or right shoulder without being in extreme pain. There are times when we don’t know any better, or maybe we are given bad information by an instructor. In those instances, we are not to blame. I, however, am a yoga instructor (I know how to modify), and my teacher was competent (she told us to modify), and I distinctly remember feeling I needed to stop, but then thinking, “I’ll never get stronger if I don’t keep going.”
Typing that phrase makes me shudder a little inside. I know better. I am always highly concerned about the safety of my students, but I am not so sure I take the same about of care regarding my own body. I’ve never done well in extreme exercise or fitness boot camp style environments because I take it too far. I will keep going until I am on bloody stumps. That’s why my yoga practice has been so beneficial to me. It was a place where I could learn to listen to myself, create my own approval, and be content with my abilities. When I think about that day, my mind was not in a state of listening, receptivity, and contentment. I wasn’t moving for the joy of it. I was moving from a place of striving, possession, and ego.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the pillars of mindfulness is to be non-striving. Most things we do for a purpose, to get something out of it. He says that this attitude can be counter-productive in meditation (I equate yoga practice with meditation). We come to yoga because we want to relax, get stronger, lose weight, exercise, or get more flexible. These are admirable goals, but with the goal comes with the underlying belief that we are not okay, we are fundamentally lacking, and we need to be fixed. This idea of non-striving doesn’t mean we become careless or lazy. It means instead of striving for a goal or a result, we see and accept things as they are. Over time with patience and repeated practice, progress is made on its own.
My desire to strive to get stronger was injurious to my body. I walked away from this experience with an acute awareness that my striving was coming from a place of “not good enough.” I’ve taken a break from weight-bearing exercise to allow my shoulder to heal, and it’s been an opportunity to practice non-striving.
As much as I would like to admit that I have this whole “non-striving” attitude down, I have a hard time with it. Striving comes very naturally to me because feeling flawed comes naturally to me. While, I have made progress in this area, obviously I am sitting here with an ice pack on my shoulder because it’s still there.
We all have varying yoga practices, and while I think I wanted my yoga practice to be about how damn strong I was, it probably needs to be about how much I give a damn about myself. Currently for me, being strong is this easy well worn trail I’ve traveled thousands of times. Caring for myself is that uncut path through the woods. It seems so dark and treacherous, but it is a new way, full of possibility. I’m going to try this new way for a while. Take in the scenery, be in the present, be content with my practice, my path. The funny thing about this whole injury is that I spent so much time, energy, and sweat to get strong, but the more I am content with where I am, the more I am aware of the present moment, the stronger I feel.