Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.


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The Healing Pose

I have a shoulder injury. I’m not sure how I did it.  I discovered it when I went to do a Side Plank on my left side and a sharp pain shot out of my shoulder, collapsing my arm.

Side Plank

I couldn’t believe it and spent a couple of months putting my knee down in Gate Pose instead. But it didn’t get better.

Gate Pose Variation

Gate Pose Variation

I finally went to the doctor. He wanted to rule out a rotator cuff tear. After an MRI, we found it is an inflamed Acromioclavicular joint or AC joint.

Shoulder anatomy with acromioclavicular joint, eps10

Along with a possible cortisone shot, anti-inflamatory medication and physical therapy, the doctor has advised; No push ups, pull ups, raising my arm high above my head and no weight-bearing exercises.  It means no Down Dog, no Chaturanga, no Sun Salutations, no Planks…the list goes on and on.

So basically, no yoga.

I’ve been running, doing a lot of leg work outs and sit ups.  Afterwards, I spend a long time in my favorite pose, Half Pigeon.

how_to_do_pigeon_pose-LG

It’s a solitary workout. I miss my Baptiste yoga and my interval training classes.  I’m used to smiling faces and the friendly guidance of the instructor.

When I was in yoga teacher training our instructor said, “Yoga is the practice of breathing through stressful physical positions so when you get off your mat you have learned to breathe through stress.”

The purpose of yoga is to work the body so that your mind can truly relax into meditation. Buddhists use a term called Monkey Mind meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable” to describe an unfocused mind. My yoga practice helps me to focus my frantic my mind.  It allows me to adapt to the moment.

I have never been serene. My thoughts jump around like one of those mischievous movie monkeys. Bouncing around, creating havoc and anxiety.

I am confident that if I was currently a child in school, some well-meaning teacher or school counselor would get a hold of me and accurately diagnose me with ADHD or ADD. My mind has always hopped about in a way that didn’t match my surroundings.  I learned to make my busy brain work for me, but it can be exhausting. When I started practicing yoga it was as if that crazy monkey went to charm school. My thoughts learned to wait their turn.

I’m not able to do yoga right now and I’m a bit scattered.

It’s unfortunate.

But it is not the end of the world.

It’s time to literally take my practice off my mat, breathe deep and focus with gratitude on the healing that is happening.

 


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Yoga Practice 101: The Competitive Pose

I have a freakishly competitive nature. It will lie dormant for months then suddenly erupt, usually during a benign activity that doesn’t require the intensity I bring to it. Once, after a game of dominoes, my good friend Bob said he would rather break his own arms than play with me again. Others (including my husband) have shared similar sentiments, thankfully without the violent imagery.

 I spent 12 years in sales. There, the competitive spirit is encouraged and rewarded. I was in competition with my team mates, other offices, divisions and states. Not to mention the competitors. The corporate language gave value to blood sport. We were encouraged to kill our numbers. We were also reminded in meetings, with heavy handed analogies, that sharks die if they stop moving. So, I moved. I really hustled.

Until I didn’t want to anymore. I grew weary of chasing an ever growing quota. As competitive as I am, that is not all I am. So I made a change. I got my teaching degree and went to teach High School English. Turns out, competition comes in many forms. Drop a competitive person into any environment and they will find a competition. This is not a bad thing.  My last year at the school, the seniors voted me and the math teacher “Co-Teachers of the Year.”  I’m proud of that.

The people I practice yoga with include marathon runners, college athletes, financiers and CEOs to name a few. These are people that deal with intense competition in other parts of their life. They are not shrinking violets. Yet, as far as I can tell, none of us go to the studio to compete with each other. Speaking for myself, my time on my mat is for me.  If I am taking on a challenge, it is the challenge of an asana and it doesn’t matter what anyone else in the room is doing. Although, it wasn’t always like that for me.

When I first starting practicing yoga, I would have an internal conniption fit if I couldn’t perfect a pose. I was constantly comparing myself to my classmates. I saw it as a failure to take a modification. Forget taking child’s pose, I was going to push through my muscle fatigue. Before I built my upper body strength, I was furious that I had to use my knees during the push up in chaturanga. Don’t even get me started on my epic journey into crow. It’s hilarious looking back at myself. Did I expect to jump in at an advanced level?

I guess I did.

It makes me wonder, where else have I done that?  When have I grown frustrated with something because I wasn’t (what I perceived to be) the best at it?  The answer to that is a long and sometimes frighteningly petty, list.

I ask the question, not to beat myself up, but to make a point. Competition is imprinted in our human DNA. Competition is why people play sports and have game nights.  It is why people excel in their professions and hobbies.  It is why the phrase “the thrill of the hunt” was coined.  Competition is where we learn how far we can jump and dream.  Our survival as a species was successful because we are competitive.

But let’s face it.  I’m not out on the Serengeti trying to outsmart a lioness. Surviving, for a suburban yogini, is pretty easy.

That doesn’t make the competitive spirit go away and it shouldn’t. Competition is a good thing. We learn from it. Because in competition, there is a chance you might lose. Our life’s lessons are written in our losses. There have been some amazing trajectories born from significant setbacks.

Let’s go back to my first hyper competitive attempts at yoga.  My failure there was really only in my head.  But it was a real failure in my head.  I was missing out on the true nature of the practice because I was so busy trying to “keep up” with my neighbors.

There are many moments in life that we should relish the opportunity to jump into a competition.  There are other times that our drive should take a backseat to what is important in the moment.

The trick is figuring out which moment is which.

Obviously, in the case of Bob and the dominoes, I might have made the wrong choice.