Every time I go to yoga, I spend a ridiculous amount of time looking at my body in the mirror and nit picking at it. When did my hips get so wide? Can I remember a time my thighs didn’t touch? Is that a paunch developing around my belly? By the middle/end of class, I’m fully committed to the poses and focusing on not falling over and hydrating my overly sweaty self, but it’s a curse to spend those first 10 minutes or so bringing myself down.
Last Friday, we were moving from the standing and balancing poses to the floor poses. In between these two sets, there’s a nice long savasana or corpse pose–essentially you’re lying on your back. Your heels are together, but you’re letting your toes fall apart as you relax. You chin is slightly tucked, eyes open toward the ceiling. Your hands are by your sides, palms open. You’re accepting relaxation. In between each pose in the floor series, you return to a short savasana before repeating poses or starting new ones. It’s pretty much the bomb. It feels so peaceful. You’re relaxed and open, accepting what’s coming next and what you just accomplished.
While we were in one of the savasanas between floor poses, the instructor said something that really stuck with me, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. We had just come out of fixed firm pose, which always kills my right ankle (since I keep spraining it over and over again every weekend in soccer).
Fixed Firm Pose
In the savasana after that pose, our instructor said,
“If you’re feeling pain in the knees or ankles in that pose, don’t push yourself into the pain, scale back to what’s comfortable for you. Honor your body. Honor where you are in your practice, and honor what your body can do today. Every practice is different. Every person is different. Every day is different.”
That’s one element I love about yoga. It’s non-competitive. It’s accepting of everyone–beginners, experienced yogis, young, old, big, small, fit, or not. But it also has a different philosophy than most other exercise or fitness classes. It is a philosophy within itself: Come as you are. All are worthy.
Last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness week, and I read so many articles from those who have overcome eating disorders (or disordered eating) who spent months, years of their lives trying to force their bodies to be a certain way, look a certain way, do certain things, etc. that their bodies just weren’t meant to do or made to do.
We’ve all seen those images on Pinterest or fitness blogs or whatever else that say, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.”
And I too am guilty of trying to force myself to do things that my body just can’t or isn’t yet prepared to do. I find myself telling myself things like, “Come on, Carolyn. Get it together.” Or “Push yourself harder. Stop being lazy.” And while those are fine motivators for times when I’m just feeling like not putting in my best effort, sometimes I know I’m pushing myself beyond just discomfort and into pain–and into the potential for injury. Sure, there are some elements of fitness that are painful. Black and bloody toenails or can-barely-walk after a marathon legs are painful, but the key to that type of pain or discomfort is that you’ve trained your body to handle it to that point. You don’t go from 0 to 26 miles in a week.
I think, in fitness (and in life in general), there’s a difference between discomfort and pain. A lot of times, when you become a fitness addict, you’re obviously become a discomfort addict. It feels good to push your body out of it’s comfort zone, to do things you’ve never done like run a marathon, achieve a yoga pose, or bench press a weight you never thought you could. But there’s an element of fitness that has been celebrated too much, I believe, that pushes people beyond discomfort, beyond their training threshold of pain and injury to achieve a goal their body has been prepared to reach.
It’s not honoring your body. There’s a tenuous balance between pushing yourself to improve yourself (cranking out all 25 push ups without giving up), and not honoring what you’ve worked for up till that point (trying to run 10 extra after only running 3 in every other run). Building your body up to your goals involves overcoming small moments of discomfort. Expecting your body to perform a miracle that you haven’t prepared it for is asking for injury, and calling it “weakness leaving the body” is stupid.
There are so many small elements that affect what our bodies can and can’t do in any given day–sleep, work, food, even the air we breathe. It’s important to honor your body where it is and honor what it can achieve at this point. Honor the journey that your body is on. Push your body into discomfort, but do not push your body into pain.
Remember that there’s a difference between discomfort to achieve a goal and pain. Give your body time to reach it’s goals and reward yourself for those you have reached! And, for heaven sakes, give your body some credit for all the amazing things it does for you every day. It’s truly a miracle that we’re alive and breathing, that hearts are beating and minds are computing. Honor that and celebrate that on your journey toward better health.