I have another theory 🙂
When I was 21 years old I made a lot of big life decisions. Chopped off all my hair, went vegan, got a tattoo. The other big change was I started doing yoga. Up until then I had remained fit and comfortable in my body through dance and step aerobics, but at that point I decided I wasn’t pursuing a path of “right living” and it was about time I started. All of my philosophies changed as I entered my twenties and discovered I had a very new idea of perfection to chase. At that young age I felt so behind. I had a lot of catching up to do!
I entered my first yoga class with a mat that matched my outfit and a cute water bottle. I was the youngest by at least a decade, huge ego boost! I figured I had this covered and would do just fine. In terms of strength I did fairly well but, like many of us, I struggled with flexibility and quieting my mind. I had a vision in my head of the perfect yoga body and the perfect yoga mentality and I was on a quest to master both.
Fast forward eleven years.
I’m happy to report I’ve made leaps and bounds in the arena of mental clarity and for quite a while I thought I was doing well with the flexibility. Right now however, I’m experiencing a bit of an ‘Aha!’ moment which is causing me to question everything I came to believe about yoga.
I want to be very clear that what I’m talking about is based solely on my own personal experience inside my own personal body. This theory I have is about me, it’s not meant to pose any negative light on yoga as a whole.
As I enter my thirties my philosophies are changing again. The most interesting thing I’m experiencing is an overwhelming desire to go back to the way I was when I was seventeen but with all of the experience and knowledge I have gained since then. When I was seventeen I was focused, confident and physically active. I could do anything. Then I went to college and we all know what happens there. Then I drank my way through my twenties, lost focus, became incredibly depressed and basically lost myself in the process of finding myself. Here I was in this decade that’s supposed to be all about self-exploration and I was losing what I already knew. I stopped trusting my own instincts and started listening to other people’s opinions more than my own. This happened on many levels of my life but here I want to focus on the physical.
I took my various yoga teachers’ lectures on proper physical alignment as gold thus ignoring everything my body had come to learn on its own. I didn’t even know what it meant to listen to your body even though I had been doing that instinctually all my life up to that point. Yoga class was teaching me how to move and stretch in a different way. Seemed like a good thing at time, it felt like growth, but let’s not forget that age 21 was also the first time my back went out. It was the beginning of my sciatica problem and the loss of my core strength.
So what exactly is my theory? Here it is (and this has nothing to do with doctors or experts or professionals, this is just me talking about me):
I believe that proper alignment for my body is the way I moved and stretched before I ever took a yoga class. I believe it to be technically improper and something I naturally compensated for up until the point where I started to forcefully change it. Yes, I know yoga is supposed to be gentle. Regardless of the level of force, I was making it do something it didn’t want to do. As I changed it I sent a system that was happily taking care of itself out of whack and unknowingly set myself on a path that would eventually lead to chronic pain.
Because here’s the thing, I used to take dance class 5 or 6 times a week and do step aerobics in my down time. I was super flexible and yet I couldn’t bend over and reach my toes. I just didn’t worry about it and my back never hurt. I knew how I was comfortable – cross-legged or in a split and never with my legs straight out in front of me – so I never bothered to hang out in positions that made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t until I started worrying about it and set out on a mission to touch my toes and rotate my legs and hips inwards, as instructed in yoga, that my body started hurting. Basically I think my own personal improper alignment is what is necessary for my body to feel good and the quintessential proper body alignment is what pinches my nerve and causes my sciatica.
Over the past decade I have done more and more yoga and in turn my sciatica has gotten exponentially worse. Can you guess what the number one most painful thing for me to do, aside from sitting and driving, is when my back hurts? Downward dog.
Have I ever listened to the hurt? Oh no, I’ve told myself there’s something wrong with me and pushed through the uncomfortable in order to continue towards the goal of the perfect yoga body. Yoga has forever been a struggle, something I made myself do because I believed it was good for me. Part of that is my fault, a big part. But part of that is the way yoga is advertised which is basically that it’s the end all, be all way to balance and perfection. Look at the yogis! Well, guess what? Just like I’m not eating like the Japanese, I’m not practicing yoga like a yogi. I’m going to American classes where I am gently but constantly pushed towards a version of myself that really has nothing to do with me.
I have certainly benefitted in some ways from practicing but ultimately I’m coming to accept the fact that it’s not right for me. Just like I have to approach my diet differently, I have to approach my exercise regiment differently. There will come a moment when my sciatica pain will stop. I have no idea how or when I’m going to get there, but when I arrive the first thing I’m going to do is take a dance class with my friend Amber and remember how good it always felt. My body has known that all along, it’s just taken my brain a while to catch up.