I was never one to practice fast but I loved the constant flow of my practice – from one posture to the next one breath at a time, being absorbed in the moment and feeling unrestricted and – most of the time – at ease.
This all changed when my shoulder (or my whole body?) recently said “enough!” – and called a stop to my practice. Not only that, but a stop to how I moved my body, how I used my arm and most importantly, how my mind and body operated.
Being used to getting up at 5:30am to do my own practice before teaching 1-3 classes each day was a beautiful routine for me. I loved it as I was living my passion. But yoga teachers, like the rest of us, are only human and can be prone to illusions. Illusions such as telling myself that “I’m just moving scar tissue” as my shoulder joint ground with every rotation and as usual I was doing (over-doing?) all the stretches that the physios and chiros had shown me.
But like with anything, yoga is the great bearer of truth and the undiagnosed misalignment of my left shoulder joint (which probably goes way back when I broke my collarbone in my 20s) and probably doing a bit too much in terms of practice and teaching, finally came to light when my shoulder collapsed underneath me in Bhujapindasana – a pose I’ve effortlessly done countless times before. Again, there was a brief period of delusion, thinking only because swollen ‘bursitis’ shows up on an ultrasound that’s the cause of the pain and that drainage and cortisone would take care of it.
Subsequently, when we took our Christmas and New Year’s break in Bali to practice Ashtanga Vinyasa with Rachel Grey, my shoulder joint was so unstable that it was clicking in and out of the joint and the muscles were more or less switched off. I was obviously not physically capable to come even close to practicing my beloved Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga in the traditional sense and asked Rachel if she would allow me to do a modified practiced. Her reply was unconditionally encouraging and in addition, she offered me a private Yoga Therapy class to assist my modified practice.
And that was the start when my practice became slow, very slow, ultra-slow and I discovered that I had to re-learn and re-train my body to do the simplest posture to give those over-worked shoulder and back muscles a break and call the dormant, stabilizing muscles back to life. It was humbling, often frustrating but also deeply revealing how we can start to heal by really going back to basics and looking at the postures, breath and gaze point in a new light. And whenever we are down and need help, it seems there is always this little angel that appears to gently pick us up and maybe telling us “I think you are doing too much, Evelyn.” Rachel was such an angel and through her expert advice, gentle guidance and encouragement I was able to develop an asana routine that I could follow without hurting myself and in fact strengthening the shoulder.
It also led me do further research and to consider such seemingly blasphemous options such as including small weights in my yoga practice. And again, the universe blessed me with articles that popped up on the internet from such renowned teachers such as Paul Dallaghan, Monica Gucci and Amy Ippoliti about yoga and aging and supplementing yoga with weights or considering strength training to heal a long-term injury. Because, let’s face it: Yoga is NOT an exercise regime (although a lot of schools now try to blend yoga moves with aerobics, pilates and other forms of acrobatics), it is a spiritual practice and the asanas are part of the 8 Limbs to strengthen, purify and prepare our body to be able to sit in meditation for long periods of time. Regimented asana regimes are not necessarily a cure-all. In fact, yoga asana encourages the need to be intelligent with our practice: to listen, to modify and to symbiotically adapt the yoga practice to our modern day lifestyle, which unfortunately is nowadays mainly reduced to sitting or doing monotonous tasks. It also means adjusting the yoga practice to your age: If you are in your 20s and 30s and you are reading this, you may be rolling your eyes and saying “Not another one of those articles about slowing down!” No, don’t slow down. You are in your prime! In fact, step it up (but intelligently!), take advantage of the gift nature has given to you by providing you with a strong, flexible and quickly-healing body. Live life to your fullest.
And for those of us in our 40s and 50s who still aim for the 6-pack ab and are constantly striving for more, higher and better – good luck to you! While I had this mindset for a while, now I’m happy to say I finally made peace with where I’m at, what my body looks like and celebrating and appreciating what I still can do without beating myself up! And I have really come to appreciate Gregor Maehle’s (one of Australia’s most renowned Ashtanga teachers) look on practice and age: “For example a major break-through in my practice was the letting go of progress and success orientation. I understood that I needed to simply do the practices rather than doing them to succeed and to progress. Consider the following: You may have about 10 or 15 years of progress in your asana practice in you. Then another 10 years give and take of stagnation and then (hopefully) several decades of going backwards. If you are really lucky you may have 60 years of going backwards such as T Krishnamacharya did. Or do you think he kept improving after he peaked in his asana practice in his forties? The myth that yoga is about improving, succeeding and progressing is just that, a myth.”