I am what most people would categorise as a “Type A” personality; I am goal driven, competitive, ambitious and intense. When I first discovered yoga, I was so in love with it that I practiced excessively. I went for multiple back-to-back intensive classes daily, did not listen to my body when I felt tired, and equated the pain I felt to how hard I was working to become good at yoga. I forced my body into various asanas even when I was not strong or open enough, because I wanted to get there. Yoga was like a mountain that my ego had to conquer and I was determined to get to the top. Then, I hurt my right hip.
Till today, I do not know exactly which poses caused the dull recurring ache deep in my hip joint. It was very upsetting because it was my first time getting a sports injury and dealing with chronic pain. My yoga teachers at that time were unable to give me any answers, so I decided to stop practicing completely till the pain went away. Sometimes there was no pain for so long that I thought that it was gone, and that was when the pain would make yet another appearance, as if to remind me that I deserved it for letting my ego get the better of me.
When I resumed my practice one year later, I could not help but feel a sense of dread as I thought about the possibility of injuring myself again. My love for the practice won in the end, but I knew that I had to work out a plan to face my fear head on.
These were the three things I did and still try to do:
1. I educate myself
When I am taught an asana that I have never done before, I would do my research on it after class. The alignment, dristi, common mistakes students make, etc., and actively try to correct myself the next time I practice the pose.
2. I focus on the journey instead of the result
While there are many times I have to talk my ego down when it urges me to do poses that I am clearly not ready for, I have slowly begun to appreciate the preparatory poses and enjoy the process.
Sirsasana in particular was a triumph for me because I was able to put my ego and envy (of other students going up so easily) aside, and embark on my own journey.
There was a lot of pressure on my head when I first tried sirsasana as my shoulders and core were not strong enough. In the following lessons, while other students practiced the headstand prepatory pose, I worked on dolphin exclusively to build shoulder strength. Two months later, I went up with a teacher’s support and did not feel any pressure on my head. Two months after that, I went up by myself without needing someone to support my legs.
Finally being able to do sirsasana was a great feeling, but funnily enough it was the journey that I valued the most; learning how to be patient, and trusting that I could just do my practice and all would come (as Pattabhi Jois would say) eventually, without focusing on the goal.
3. I listen to my body and practice self-awareness
As a student, I believe that I am ultimately responsible for myself. During class, this means paying attention to the teacher’s instructions for alignment so that I do not hurt myself, listening to my body, exercising caution and control when entering and exiting poses, knowing when to pull back (when I feel pain!) and when to push myself harder. After class, this means identifying which poses hurt, where they hurt and understanding why by asking my teacher or doing an Internet search.
Educating myself, focusing on the journey and actively listening to my body have all helped me become more aware and mindful in my practice, allowing me to enjoy yoga while keeping me safe from serious injury. It takes a lot of effort because it is easy to let the ego get ahead, and the few times my ego got the better of me, I hurt myself. While they have been minor so far, they remind me of the lesson my hip injury taught me. Yoga is good for you only if it is practiced correctly and safely; fewer people would get injuries from yoga if they adopted this mentality!
Rachel, March 2018 Weekend YTT