Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What Doesn't Bend Breaks

This past summer was a bit of a bust as far as fitness goes. I exercised maybe three times a week, mostly just to offset the number of backyard beers I was drinking. It was a good break, but now it's fall. The YMCA is open again, running actually feels nice, and after sitting at a desk for nine hours a day exercise is a necessity. Which means I'm suddenly working out a lot more, ramping up my mileage (8 miles on Sunday!), going to kettlebell twice a week (swing those bells!), and doing a ton of yoga (namaste, y'all!). I was a little worried that all this activity would injure my back yet again, but so far I feel fine. This is a huge relief, one that I attribute almost entirely to yoga.

For the last few months I've been going to two yoga classes at the YMCA every week, and doing short 20 minute flows that I find on YouTube after every run. When I skip a class or a session, I feel a painful tightness in my hips and lower back, which is excellent motivation to get my om on. Over the summer, while the YMCA was still rebuilding, I went to the bigger yoga studio in town, attending hot power flow classes where it was a struggle just to stay in the room, where we moved so quickly that sweat spilled off my skin and I slid across my mat. Still, when class ended I felt empty and wrung out, clean and pure. I didn't really enjoy it in the moment, but the way I felt once class ended, emotionally and physically, was worth it.

After a while, though, I began to crave something different. I didn't always want to move quickly through poses in a room heated to 99 degrees, counting down the minutes until it was over. Instead, I wanted to slow down and take my time, enjoy the process as much as the result, but I resisted my own desires. Opting for a gentle class seemed like a step back, and I always like to feel as if I'm making progress. If I ran five miles last Sunday, then I must run six this Sunday. If I wrote 1,000 words yesterday, then I must write 1,001 today. If I am regularly going to hot power flow yoga, then switching to a non-heated class would be moving in the wrong direction. I knew this was silly, but I didn't change my habits - not until the YMCA finally reopened.

Once it did, I stopped going to the bigger studio and returned to my humble home. At the YMCA the rooms aren't hot, so I had no choice but to "step back," and it was fine. I still got a good workout and I still felt as if I had accomplished something. Then one day, I misread the schedule and ended up in a basic class, which I like to call "Old Lady Yoga." When I realized my mistake I almost left the room, but at the last minute decided to stay. I'm so glad I did. Yes, the class was slower than I was used to, but that didn't mean it was easy. Not at all. We held poses for five or six breaths, which gave me a chance to go deeper and focus on alignment. I felt my tight hips, the source of all my lower back pain, begin to bloom. My muscles burned and my limbs shook, and it wasn't easy, just a different kind of hard. As it turns out, it was exactly what my body needed. When we finally relaxed in savasana, I remembered that yoga doesn't always have to be intense, or fast paced, or so humid it burns to breath. Sometimes committing to a pose and settling in is the hardest thing of all.

Now I split my time between the advanced class and Old Lady Yoga. This allows me to work on more difficult poses one night of the week, while strengthening, stretching, and healing my body on the other. My yoga practice, like everything else, is best when I strike a balance. Imagine that.


PS: For more of my writing on yoga, check out my Elephant Journal essay (Om is Where the Heart Is), a love letter I wrote, which is still true (Dear Yoga), and a review of a book (Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses).  

PPS: Thanks to Ani DiFranco for the title of this post.

PPPS: photo credit