Teaching yoga has really refined my skills of hypocrisy. I tell my students to listen to their bodies, to care for themselves, to give themselves permission to skip a flow or take Child’s Pose, and inversely, to give themselves permission to try something new, a variation they may have decided–consciously or unconsciously–wasn’t for them.
And yet it is so hard to practice what I preach.
Over two weeks ago, while teaching on a Saturday morning, my left wrist started to bother me. “Huh,” I thought to myself, “That’s odd. Oh well.” I finished the class, took class on Sunday, taught again on Monday, took class on Tuesday, and by Wednesday I couldn’t bend the wrist or lift anything with my left hand. At the insistance of two friends, a pair of massage therapists/personal trainers/martial arts instructors/yoga instructors (so I couldn’t really challenge their suggestion), I begrudgingly went for an X-Ray. Afterwards, I was greeted by a fast-talking doctor with a downstate accent, who peppily told me that there was nothing wrong with my wrist. It wasn’t broken or fractured or even sprained. I had tendonitis.
I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed by this diagnosis. Tendonitis? That didn’t sound like anything worth the pain I was experiencing. With a flurry of prescription pad papers, Doctor Peppy told me to take an anti-inflammatory, wear a wrist brace, and it’d be better in ten days. “It can hurt like hell for you little girls, but it’ll be better in no time.”
Deciding to appreciate the fact that he thought I was little, and ignore the implication that I was a child, I dutifully wore the wrist brace and semi-dutifully took the anti-inflammatory, trying my best to stay off the wrist. The first time I took class, I responsibly stayed on my forearms in Plank and took Dolphin instead of Down Dog. But it’s been over two weeks now, and I’m getting frustrated. I tell myself that if I wear the brace, it’s OK to take Up Dog on my fists. I’m having a hard time taking my own advice to listen to my body. Instead, I’m listening to my head as the woman next to me, a newly-minted teacher who is as annoyingly kind and intelligent as she is beautiful, arcs into Upward Facing Dog. So I don’t stay off my wrist completely. I start to break through the skin on the knuckles of my left hand, convinced that staying on my fist will work just fine.
One day, I forget the brace and take class anyway, stubbornly refusing to modify. Because I’m trying to ignore what my body is telling me, my thoughts gleefully chatter away. I find myself silently criticizing that woman’s Warrior II, that guy’s Revolved Triangle. By the time we reach the peak of the work phase of class, my breath runs hot and ragged in my chest. I try to breathe deep, but the air doesn’t seem to help.
I have no choice. I take Child’s Pose.
It feels revelatory. The tightness in my chest loosens. Suddenly I’ve made space for the length of my spine. My breathing works again.
It’s such a simple solution. Such an obvious one. Since hurting my wrist, it’s a solution that I’ve given to others, probably dozens of times.
I still get frustrated, taking class. When we go into arm balances–often my favorite part of the practice–I think the longing is probably visible on my face, especially when the class is working on Firefly pose or going from Crow to Crocodile. I feel like I’m ten years old again, wanting the teacher to know how great I am–I can do it! Look at me! But I can’t do it. Not right now. So I close my eyes. I breathe. I’m working towards accepting that I will have a gentler practice, for a little while, and that’s OK.
I’m working towards accepting.