It suddenly clicked and all came together one night while searching on google. Obviously I learn almost everything I know from google, ha. It was actually a culmination of a few things. A long weekend intensive with a yoga teacher named Alex Crow, a new found love for barre classes, and a consultation with my midwife and a physiotherapist on my low back and pelvic pain. And just like that I realized - "holy crap, I'm working with an injury...and likely it's because of yoga". It couldn't be! How could the one thing that was always so good for me and I was always so good at be something that wasn't so good for me anymore?!? From there things changed - slowly but also fast. The way I practice and the way I teach is different and here is my story why.
My background and story is a little unique but honestly the end result of not being able to practice yoga (at least for the time being) because of a yoga related injury is pretty common. I have been lucky enough to have 4 healthy pregnancies in the last five years so I could not be more blessed. But with each baby weighing 8, 9 and 10lbs 6oz respectively (#4 is on the way and setup to be a Mac truck too) I have had some pretty heavy lifting all within a short period of time. This could be a part of what has resulted in an pregnancy related condition called Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (or SPD as we will call it). What happens is the pubic bone and pelvic region becomes unstable during pregnancy. Typically the pelvis is fixed and the stability of the muscles, tendons and ligaments around it are what keep it in place and healthy. Some of these being the gluts, hamstrings, quads, pelvic floor, psoas, etc... In a healthy and functioning body the pelvis stays fixed but when you are pregnant the body releases a hormone called relaxin which is used by the body to loosen up the hips for childbirth. If your body has too much relaxin and you do not have enough stability and strength in any of the spots listed above you could run into a diastases of your pubic bone and also debilitating sacroiliac pain in your low back. This is what I have. It started in a major way with my second baby and was so bad at the end of my third pregnancy that I would often fall to my knees when the stabbing pain would run into my SI joint. I thought this was maybe just part of pregnancy and eventually after months of recovery post birth the sharp SI joint pain would stop.
So - you are saying - well this isn't a yoga injury - this is a baby thing. Wrong though. Read on...
What happened when I would recover from the unstable pelvis is I would start to feel pain in my hip flexers and the front of my psoas. For a long time I knew it was an overstretched feeling. Like a rubber band had been stretched too far and then couldn't contract right. An ache with some sharp shooting pains. Why was I getting this? Well - the most likely reason was that after years of leaning into a yoga practice and practically nothing else I had created unstable and weak hip region that was overstretched and underworked.
One yoga teacher working on the changing landscape of yoga has some poignant things to say. Alex Audra says that the most common body we are seeing in a vinyasa yoga practice has “habitual actions that don’t serve us well and these are often exploited in the most common/repetitive vinyasa yoga sequences. For example, countless women who have practiced vinyasa yoga for more than a few years are discovering that they have minor to serious hip injuries (e.g. hip labrum tears or degeneration). There is even an injury that is often called "yoga butt" (upper hamstring tendon). Generally, someone who is genetically flexible (and many adept yoga students fit into the "hyper-mobile" category) is attracted to yoga and praised for their genetic capabilities...and often those same "strengths" are exploited (the student is encouraged to consistently go to her end range of motion during every asana) and eventually they become weaknesses.”
What we are realizing with todays practice and what I have realized first hand is that there is danger for the type of yogi that is like this. The type of yogi that wants to lean into an intense practice and likely also lean into their flexibility. I have a hypermobil body and even with all the awareness around that and being a teacher myself the poses that are taught have no choice but to exasperate that and almost certainly lead to injury. Additionally, as a teacher, I’m working with how to teach a class full of hypermobil bodies but also newer students, older students, and students who may in fact be the opposite of hypermobil or simply have a healthier range of motion in their body that, to them, appears like limitations in poses.
Is the practice I know and love bad for me?! There is a lot at stake for me when I ask that question. I own a studio, I'm a teacher and also and mostly a lover of asana. But, what is yoga to me? Is it a series of poses or is it all the "more" I learned to live my life by? Can I get rid of or maybe even change the poses that I believe are exasperating the problems of the hypermobil yogi? Do I dare touch the sacred movements that have been taught for years just because my gut tells me it's right?
I say yes. I try to teach differently now and I have a lot of reasons why and how I do it. I am working to bring stability and function are at the forefront of my sequencing and overpower any need to lead a student into any Instagram pose or advanced asana. I want the look of yoga (and by yoga I'm referring to asana) to change and I want other's to come along.
Stay tuned for more posts about my journey through SPD, the way I'm recovering, my philosophy on what yoga is and isn't and how I am trying to change the way I teach.
Before I began practicing yoga in earnest, and long before I became a teacher, I must admit that I had a preconceived idea about yoga. I thought there were exactly two types of people who practiced yoga; skinny, rich, shallow white women in ridiculously expensive stretch pants, and skinny, poor, deeply enlightened brown men in modest white loin cloths. I had no desire to become the former, and for obvious reasons, no chance of becoming the latter.
When I first began my practice, I felt out of place. Walking into the studio with it’s seemingly successful, happy and well-dressed yogis, listening to the cheery, trouble-free chitchat, and rolling out my cheapo yoga mat, left me feeling a bit uneasy. I wore heavy men’s sweatpants and a white cotton tank top and it didn’t take long before I was a sweaty, ridiculously frustrated, and somewhat embarrassed mess. The entire experience left me feeling out of my league; both physically and financially. I felt out of my percieved class and I almost didn’t go back. But I did.
I slowly began to realize that all this ‘stuff’ that I was feeling was my own insecurity. All the preconceived ideas I had about yoga, my aversion to being thought of as that ‘type’ of person (or worse, my fear of not being as good as that ‘type’ of person), and my resistance...oh my resistance, was all my own yucky stuff rising to the surface. It didn’t always feel good, but I kept going back. I noticed that the only time I wasn’t distracted by all this stuff was when I was actually on my mat, in my breath and practicing. I’m not saying I didn’t do the occasional looking around, but the self-consciousness of not fitting in or being good enough was somehow eclipsed by the breath, the movement, and the practice. I found little moments of relief and though I may not have been consciously aware of what was happening, my spirit was, and I kept going back.
Yoga is magic, it is brilliant and it has the power to transform. I realized that all of us has stuff that we carry around, no matter where we come from, and although my stuff may not look like your stuff, chances are, it feels pretty much the same. The more I practiced, the more I felt connected. I felt a genuine amity, gratitude and a deep compassion towards my fellow yogis. What I have come to understand is that yoga doesn’t judge, doesn’t discriminate, and doesn’t categorize. It meets each yogi exactly where they are; the good, the bad, the shallow and the enlightened and reminds me that there is exactly one type of person who practices yoga; human.
Have all you need – sounds simple, right? But how many of us are always searching for more, for what’s next, for perhaps that unattainable goal or state of life that may never be. One of the primary elements of psychology that I learned a while back and have held onto is the term “self compassion.” We all can be our own harshest critics, often setting standards for ourselves that we’d never set for others, and judging our own decisions and life choices in a way that we’d never do to anyone else.
It has taken me about 12 years to finally feel that I do indeed have all I need. Up until getting married and more significantly, having kids, the path I was on in life was very clear and linear. I centered most all of my decisions around getting ahead in my career. I chose the colleges I attended with that in mind, I worked long hours and made many sacrifices along the way, but I was confident in what I wanted and where I wanted to go.
That all got turned upside down when I created my own family. My priorities shifted when I got married, but more significantly, they not only shifted, but they became very conflicted after I had kids. There became trade-offs – many many trade-offs….namely, the ultimate one, do I continue on the career path I’ve worked so hard towards, or do I detour so that I can be a real “mom.” Now I know now that you are a mom the second you have kids, no matter whether you work, don’t work, have help, don’t have help, play legos with your kids or not; but at the time, when my children were babies, everything felt like mutually exclusive choices.
I made what felt to be the best decisions at the time, shifting the amount I worked, the jobs I held, and how I balanced my life as a wife, mother, and an employee or business person. Literally every decision I made for many years I instantly regretted. I would decide almost right away I had made the wrong decision; because of this, I built up over time a fear of making any decision at all.
This self-criticism and self-judgement (this was not what I envisioned for myself; this was not where I was supposed to be at this age) started to shift about two years after we opened Lexington Power Yoga. I say two years because for the first 1-2 years of opening LPY I regretted everything about it. Owning a small business can be both incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. For the first 1-2 years it is pretty much only incredibly challenging. The self-crticism and self-doubt only increased in those first two years – this was literally the worst decision of all career related decisions I had made. And then things started to shift – it was gradual for sure, but I started to realize how proud I was of what we had built; I started to truly value and appreciate the community we had created; I started paying attention to the thank-you’s and the praise more than the crabby customer emails.
I have become truly thankful for the balance I’ve been able to create between co-owning LPY and working PT in investing; for the non-profit boards I’ve been able to serve on; and most importantly, for the flexibility in my schedule allowing me to be proud of my role as a wife, a mother, and a friend.
While there is no true recipe for what defines life and what defines a happy life, we can all work on shifting our perspective, being grateful for what we have rather than mournful for what we don’t have, and for simply saying, “I have all I need.”
When I watch my almost two year old try to clean up the milk he spilt it makes me smile. He does an awful job at it in terms of actually getting the milk up but he puts in so much effort. When my three year old gets mad at his sister and wants to give her a smack I am so super proud of him when he resists. And when my four year old sits at our dining room table and works on spelling out her name for the fiftieth time you can’t be anything but amazed by her tenacity and effort. When kids are learning they learn with vigor and passion. They mess up and try again. They strive to do their best and even if it’s not our “perfect” it’s more than enough in that moment.
It’s the same pride and joy I feel when I watch a class full of yogis of all-levels come and practice week in and week out. My Monday and Wednesday night classes continue to amaze me. Half the room fills with people who are there EVERY single week. These are the people I am blown away by and have such a crazy respect for. We all know how hard it is to get there. To get anywhere, forget a place that is going to ask you to work and focus and grow! They show up each week and they do it - they do their best.
These people are especially awe inspiring to me because I know I battle with commitment to the physical yoga practice. I first started almost 15 years ago and from that point my practice has gone from more than once a day to not at all for months. I remember, before I owned LPY, and I practiced at another studio that I would hesitate even to buy a package of classes because just that one small action would make me feel nervous about the fact that I HAD to use them. This fear would make me feel angry and then I wouldn’t go at all! Go figure! It wasn’t until I did a 30 in 30 day challenge that I saw true changes happens. This challenge is where you commit to doing 30 classes in 30 days and it asked me to commit big time. At first I hated it, then I stopped coming for three days, then I doubled up on classes for a while to get them all done. And then…it started to click. At about week 3 I started to even it out. I would come regularly and my yoga for the first time wasn’t about doing the MOST in every class it was about doing my BEST. Some days that meant sitting in Childs pose for 20 min or backing off from a pose. This was the first time this had ever happened to me. The first time I gave myself permission to back up and rest (which all along was what I really needed since I’m a big time pusher in the rest of my life).
So my version of #doyourbest wasn’t do the best yoga pose, or the fastest asana or anything like that. It was simply to commit to being there. My best was to break the fear of that commitment and come every day and learn from my time there. My best was to rest. My best was to breath. My best was just to BE there. That is why I find the people who do this time and time again so amazing. It takes the most effort to just show up in life and #doyourbest.
Once you find how you can do your best there is no way to judge yourself or think harshly. In fact it will let you back off, and ease up and appreciate exactly who you are. So figure out what your best is and do it. Be proud of yourself, show up and #doyourbest. The rest takes care of itself.
Oh and Ps. Moments where you don’t do your best and you scream at your kids and hide in the bathroom (you all do that too right?) can be fixed by trying again to do better next time :)
Everything you need...If you were one of my regulars when I first started teaching you could certainly finish that sentence for me. It felt necessary for me to remember and to remind my students that there is nothing we need to buy or change to be complete. Something about the regular practice and study of yoga helped me to understand and see the brilliance of my own mind and body. I spent a lot of time thinking I needed change to be enough. Will I be better if I drink green juice and eat raw food? I wished my hair were fuller and my figure wasn’t.
Now it seems even more important in the every growing fitness industry to remember that it’s not about how we look or what we wear. It is about how we feel and how we engage in our world. It is a connection to our power and our purpose. We can feel true empowerment by taking time to slow down and recognize all that we already are. There has never been a time in human history where we have more personal power and immediate impact and yet we are still spinning our wheels and chasing our tails in the pursuit of “having it all”.
A few weekends ago I listened to Sean Corn talk about power dynamics, oppression and joining together to become truly equal. Joining together to make sure that we all have what we need. From that spirit it becomes much easier to lend a hand and making the world as a whole a better place, a better place for our aging parents, our growing children and every member of our global family.
We need to move away from the idea of #havingitall and step right into #havingallyouneed already and in this moment. It is time to step right into being enough and feeling empowered in our skin. The goal of looking or needing to be perfect is not only unrealistic it is completely irrelevant. It doesn’t serve to lift any one up, especially not the one striving for an airbrushed image. What feels best and elevates all of us is when we come together in all that makes us imperfect, real and vulnerable and in the end that is what makes us invincible.