Listening to Your Body

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The eternal battle in knowing the difference between what your body is telling you it needs, and what your mind is telling you it wants does not always improve with age. It just changes.

Learning to listen to your inner self, the brilliance of your natural, innate self, is not easy. Since early childhood, parents are always trying to get their children to pay more attention to their inner workings. We, as yoga teachers, try to instill this objective in our students. But, are we always good listeners? And, is our sense of our innate self always accurate?

Sometimes, what we think we are “hearing” is what we want to hear. And, that old “no pain, no gain” adage only encouraged us to turn off our inner signals and “move beyond” them. Well, those signals exist for a reason. Our bodies are intricately and beautifully designed, yet we so often find ways to subterfuge ourselves.

In yoga, we would hope that we are learning to let go of these diversionary tactics. And, in some ways we do. But, we also tend to find alternative areas to focus on. For example, let’s use hamstring stretches. Almost everyone has tight hamstrings because we either sit too long, or exercise too much or a combination of both. Hence, tight hamstrings. So, we learn how to stretch them. And we keep stretching them. Yet, do we know when we have over-stretched them? Usually not. Do we recognize when we are beginning to stretch into the ligaments? Usually not. Do we feel that we are doing something wrong when we stretch? Of course not!!! And yet, stretching into the ligaments can be very damaging to the joints. As we age, the ligaments become less resilient and don’t bounce back to their original shape as they can do when you are younger. You are then left with unstable joints. Because when the body said to stretch the hamstrings, we stretched. We forgot to then listen to when the body was telling us to stop!

I have been working recently on general alignment from a new perspective. I have always felt that when I sincerely focus on my posture and alignment, I can feel when and where I need to make adjustments. After all, I have been teaching and practicing yoga for decades. But, I am having some shoulder “issues” and have been seeing a wonderful therapist who pointed out that what I feel to be correct can simply be years of my body telling my brain what “balance” is, which can be the result of much misguided info. The body will always find ways to create balance. It may not be correct, but the brain will have the body compensate for areas that are weak or tweaked, to create a sense of balance so we can stand, function, etc. And, after years, this can become your new “normal” and feel correct.

So, instead of just learning to feel what is correct alignment, take a good look in a mirror. Sometimes what we think of as balanced and aligned is quite off the mark. YIKES! But it feels aligned! SO, the point I am making is this: as yoga teachers, we should certainly continue to instill the sense of understanding how postures and movements make us feel. BUT, we should also make sure we remember not to blindly trust that we are “hearing” truth. Tell your students to go look in a mirror occasionally and make sure the alignment they are feeling is what they think they are feeling. And if some contradiction is apparent, they should figure it out and try to work from there. Then, they can eventually create a new “normal” which might be more realistic and healthier in the long run.

Please send me some comments on whether you are finding similar issues and how you are working on them.

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