I’m here to give you permission to retire that pose. You know the one. The one that you keep doing, or trying. The one that causes you pain for days after you’ve done it. The one that you feel compelled to practice because it looks cool, or you’ve always done it, or it’s super-advanced, or you bring it out at parties to impress your friends (kidding, I hope you don’t do that.) You know the one I’m talking about, because it’s the one where you tell yourself, “I shouldn’t be doing this” every time you do it. Listen to your intuition, and retire it, please! It’s actually quite liberating.
Yoga injuries are real. Even as an advanced, long-practicing yogini, it’s really difficult to keep your awareness so dialed in that you won’t ever get hurt. What does “listen to your body” mean anyway? If you’re newer to yoga, it’s even more imperative that you do not push for the pose. Making a pretty shape with your body may be fun, but the bigger the shape, the longer it can take you to get there. And for what exactly? I’ve never met anyone who reached enlightenment from putting her foot behind her head.
I could tell you a dozen stories about people I know who have hurt themselves through practice. And every single one of them went against the intuition, and pushed for a pose. I won’t tell you their stories, but I’ll tell you mine.
I had been practicing for a few years, and had always considered myself to be flexible. During this particular class, we were working on Hanumanasana, front splits. We were using blocks under our hands, and slowly moving one foot more forward and the other foot more back. We were to keep weight in our hands and stop when we reached our ‘edge.’
Well I reached my edge, but I could tell I was really close to the floor with my front leg. I was so close, in fact, that in that nanosecond my ego said, “you got this.” Evil ego. I didn’t have it. Pop, pop, pop. One for each of my hamstring muscle tendons. Something had to give.
I was lucky. They were partial tears, and I was relatively young. I had to modify everything on that side for years, even something as basic as triangle pose. It was a great lesson, but I wish I had learned it another way.
I remember the lesson anytime I’m asked to do something that I know is not good for me. I’m not doing arm balances without walls. Nope. Retired that. I’m not doing one-legged wheel anymore, either. Retired it. I may occasionally try out King Pigeon, but I’m not going to push myself into it, and it’s the next one on the retirement list. I like to think that I’m much wiser now. Age has its advantages.