The more I practice, the more I feel like I hold myself back. I hear so many horror stories from other teachers (torn meniscus, herniated disk, face plant/bloody nose) that I start to worry that if I go too far, I’ll end up in the territory of unnecessary pain and injury.
On the other hand, I feel stuck in my practice – like I’m not advancing because I’m not trying. In not trying, I’m cheating myself out of the mental focus and physical awareness.
It’s a fine line between trying something that you might be ready for without going to the point of injury. It’s a line that everyone has to figure out for themselves.
As for me, I’ve started to venture out of my comfort zone. I’ve been lucky to have open hamstrings (or some people think I have none since I can forward fold deeply and never seem to find a stretch in them… Heh) and decent backbends. Hip openers have been hard. A desk job has shortened my hip flexors and had started to create some back pain (refer to iliopsoas.) After practicing yoga for a few years, my hips have finally opened enough that I can put my foot behind my head (not comfortably though) before I felt stuck. I’ve recently discovered an amazing sequence from Tiffany Cruikshank to work towards Kala Bhairavasana. Suddenly I’m outside my comfort zone, but well within the realm of what I am capable of doing. I’m not there yet, but I think if I try, I can actually do it. Toeing the line and hoping that my limits are farther than I believe.
Growing up as a dancer, one of my dance instructors always grilled into us that “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” What is this “perfect practice” nonsense?
1. repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency
Anything can be a practice (even something that’s bad for you, such as smoking cigarettes.) The more you do something (good or bad), the more difficult it becomes to undo. As you repeat patterns in your life, the more you travel the same neurological paths in the brain – eventually carving grooves that your mind and body default to.
Does this mean that you’re stuck with the awkward walking patterns and dysfunctional body movements you thought you were born with? No! In the same way that you can quit smoking and overeating (with an insane amount of discipline, willpower and practice), you can adjust your motions. Just realize that it took 10/20/30 years to get to where you are now, it will take a some time for you to undo that damage. Don’t be discouraged though – the mind tends to forget the grooves that were once there if you spend enough time away from bad habits.
Think of this like snowboarding – you can keep riding and carving the same path in the snow. Eventually you decide that you are reading to try another slope; the double black diamonds are beckoning you. After spending time away from your familiar slopes, they eventually become covered by layers of snow before being washed out completely. As for approaching those new slopes – it’s daunting at first. You’re unaware of where to go safely, and where the moguls and ramps might be. Once you start to have a better understanding of the landscape, you become comfortable enough that you don’t have to put in a conscious effort to head down the slopes.
Yoga is a practice that helps you become aware of where you can go and what you can do. It’s not easy to start from scratch, but being mindful of how your body moves makes you more appreciative of what it can do.
While prepping for handstands at Wayne’s class this Monday, I noticed that Gabby has much longer legs than me.
I would like to point out that I am about 2″ taller than her, but my legs were 2″ or so shorter than her. My torso makes up for the height difference.
My torso is also taller than Wayne’s, and he’s probably 4″ taller than me.
Body proportions do affect certain capabilities in yoga – I can touch my toes to my forehead with my legs straight in front of me because of my long torso. Others with shorter torsos may never do it. It doesn’t make them any less flexible than I.
So sometimes there are good excuses as to why we can and cannot do certain things. Don’t beat yourself up.
In Buddhism, there is the practice of loving-kindness meditation. In lieu of trying to attain the perfect meditation for yourself, you instead focus on positive thoughts towards others and build feelings of friendliness and altruism.
Now, I know thinking positive vibes to the world doesn’t seem like it can do a whole lot. How could wishing happiness for others really make it come true? I’m not wholly sure myself, but I think that people are more motivated by external stimulus. For some people, it’s God and the afterlife. I am not religious, so does this mean I’m screwed? Not quite. For me, I do yoga so that I can focus and be calm. I am normally an erratic, hot-tempered person. I still am. Doesn’t mean that I can’t try to be better. I try to be better so that Fernando (my fiance) can enjoy my happiness. I am trying to be more even tempered because I don’t want me future kids to have to deal with a chaotic environment.
Altruism drives are more motivating. I used to do yoga for myself – because I want to get better at a pose. I want to put my foot over my head. I want to do a handstand. Me me me. Now, I am motivated to try different teachers, different styles and branch out – not because I want to be better for myself, but because I want to be a better teacher.
Does this make sense?
I get asked a lot about what yoga to do for weight loss, or what pose to do for weight loss. If only weight loss were as simple as doing a yoga pose!
To be honest, I’m probably not the best person to ask for weight loss tips – I’ve been more or less the same weight for the last 10 years of my life (I haven’t grown in height for 15 years… Heh.) My parents didn’t become overweight until they moved to America and gorged on the American diet… and I am pretty good at (sub-consciously) regulating myself. It’s not like I was born with skinny genes – like I said, my parents gained weight later in life (but my relatives in Asia stayed slim.) I can speculate as to why, but my general belief is that Asians tend to subscribe to the belief that we should eat until we’re 80% full (ba fen bao, for those Mandarin speakers out there.) I know there is also the belief that you should eat everything on your plate. These 2 ideas get along – just don’t stack your plate with more than you can eat.
As for exercise, Americans consciously exercise more than people in any other country I know (based on personal observation – this may not be a fact), but we are still one of the heaviest countries in the world.
It’s not to say exercise is bad, but you have to see everything in a holistic way – every action you make contributes to your current state. One pose isn’t going to save you.