I have been doing Yoga to some degree over the last three and a half years and though it has been a long process, it has been very rewarding.
I began my trek in Yoga while frustrated that I could find no relief to my chronic lower and upper back pain. I was taking medication the Veterans Affairs had prescribed me, which was doing nothing to help the situation and wasn’t effective at mediating the pain. One day I just stared my chronic pain down and decided that if I was going to continue to have to live with this damned pain that it would simply have to be on my terms.
I started Yoga stretching in earnest but pushed myself way too hard and way too far. I watched some YouTube videos. My wife and I went out and purchased some Yoga equipment and Rodney Yee videos. I made the mistake of believing it was easy. I made the mistake of believing I could do it in one day. Or a week. A month even.
Yes, Yoga is a lifestyle rather than an exercise. I really didn’t know or even understand at the time. Three and a half years later, however, it is perfectly clear.
That first week I was at least 200 pounds in body weight, had not done stretches since I was in the military, and did not eat very well. My wife and I turned on the Rodney Yee video and tried to keep up. My wife having more endurance than I was able to go through the Yoga exercises pretty easily, while I had a rough time switching from one position to another. To me, the sheer speed at which he could whip through the routine was astounding. I could barely handle the pain of one stretch, let alone the pain on my joints as I switched to another position. Oi! Frustrated and not willing to give up, I just did what he was doing.
Then, I broke my legs off.
I didn’t really break my legs off, but I overexerted my interior thigh muscles. I had a good stretch going on, but there was a distinct “tearing” kind of pain that appeared just after the “max stretch limit” of my legs. I had a nice, elated feeling that my leg muscle was getting more limber, then — POW! NaRgGHHHhhhHhh!! I fell over to the side, clutching my thigh. Nothing for comparison, just outright, pure pain and agony.
I whined like a sissy about it for maybe three weeks. I couldn’t do any yoga during this time. Hell, i didn’t want to do any Yoga at that time. I had to walk bowlegged and could barely lift my left leg more than 4 inches high. Walking up steps proved difficult and extremely painful. I had to bathe in epsom salts which I don’t think do anything other than have a placebo effect.
After I was pain free, though, I went right back to Yoga because I wasn’t going to let some pain dictate what I was going to do! This time, I did maybe 25-30% of what I felt I was capable. When I felt comfortable I stretched a little further. Each week I added a few extra inches of exertion and stretch length. At the very beginning I could touch the floor with my fingertips from a standing position. After a few months, I could place my entire palm flat on the floor in front of me. A few more months later I could place my palms flat on the floor behind me, and stand on a staircase and touch the next step down. That’s bendy!
I do not like to do conventional Yoga though. I don’t go to a class and I don’t hang out with other people who do Yoga. Most of the people who see me do Yoga make fun of me and I make fun of them back because they can’t do the things I do. Then I show them how superior my flexibility is compared to theirs and they get the picture. Haha! For real though, I use the “grease the groove” technique for everything in life. Yoga is no exception.
I cannot find 20 minutes to do Yoga. If I take time out to do Yoga, it is usually only until my pain tolerance shuts down my practice. I will go to 100% pain threshold within a few minutes usually because of my back, and then exert myself 10-15% more than what I can stand. Without pain, there is no growth. So I do what I can stand, push it further, then do some more.
Because of this, my Yoga time is relegated to 5-10 minute mini-sets. Then, I grease the groove all throughout my day. I work behind a computer, so I sit all day in the same position. Each 15 minute break I have I perform some kind of 5 minute stretch, especially with my legs, calves, feet, and back. I don’t do upper torso stretching because people tend to stare. At lunch, I will go outside to soak up whatever sun is available and do my back stretches. If I am talking to someone and I am standing up, I take the opportunity to do some kind of leg or calf stretch. Sometimes people are like “wtF joO Doeeng?” but since I am used to it and ignore them, they eventually get used to me doing it all the time.
Then they try to do what I can do and hurt themselves.
I laugh to myself. This is a prime example of what Yoga can teach us about ourselves and life in general. It teaches us what we are capable of. It teaches us what is possible. It teaches you that sometimes you cannot just jump right in and do what someone else is doing even if they make it look easy. It is a lifelong lesson that grows alongside us in our experience. As we push ourselves more we expand our abilities and capabilities, but we don’t simply start out with them. We have to nurture and develop our capabilities.
Too often, we all desire to do something in life but do not learn to stretch first. The most important part of my Yoga routine is getting a hot shower or bath first. I have never seen in a Yoga video anything about taking a bath. This is what *I* personally require to get my muscles loosened up first, else I hurt myself or have to have an extended session. I didn’t know this at first. I had to learn through the pain of experience what I needed.
Like Yoga, we can overexert ourselves and stretch ourselves to the point of acute pain in our jobs, relationships, family lives, and even in our play time. While I am able to slow down or stop doing Yoga for a period of time to rehabilitate snapped ligaments, (Joking!) we cannot just turn down or stop our daily lives to rehabilitate overexerted boundaries. Working too much, not getting exercise, poor diet, intake of toxins, and other factors such as work schedule, job stressors, and the like are not easily turned off or tuned out. We cannot just tell the boss that we are stretched to our limits and need three weeks off to rehabilitate. But we need to.
I’m certain that if I could manage to stretch even further, through the pain of a torn muscle, I would further injure myself to the point of not being able to use my leg without surgery. How ignorant would that be? To push so hard that I break myself beyond the point of self-repair? Well, that is exactly what the majority of Americans do every day in their personal and work lives.
Have you ever met someone and liked their personality and demeanor, so you started hanging out with them all the time, eventually leading to some falling out, resulting in that relationship failing? Have you ever had a job that you loved, but which had constraints out of your control which caused you to try every angle to make change — and couldn’t make it happen — to the point of you having to leave? Have you tried to manipulate others to get what you want or need out of life, to find that the only end is them pushing you away? Have you been trying the same method for years to achieve something but feel you are getting nowhere? Have you been pushing ever increasing profit margins, beating ever-shortening deadlines, only to feel dead inside despite gains?
Yes, you’ve experienced or are experiencing the pain of being beyond your limits and in overexertion. How long have you been overexerted? There is no shame in admitting it. It could be your own fault or it could be some outside influence, but unless you admit it you cannot move on to fixing it. Sometimes knowing when you’re wrong can help lead you to being right.
Yoga is a concept more than anything. It is a lifestyle choice. Meditation, Stretching, Conscious Breathing.
Think about your exercise routine. Your Job. Your Family. Your Friends. What you want to do. What you are doing right now.
Now, gently stretch all of those. ALL OF THEM. You have to make time for all of them so meditate on how you are going to do that. Take some time and effort away from one task and shift it to another until all have equal attention. If you have so many things that you can only give each a very little attention, ignore half of them today — and attend to that half tomorrow. Or break it up into quarters, or eighths, whatever works for you. Find out what your capacity is. If your capacity is less than what you are doing now, drop any excess load. A stressed motor will only run for so long until it fails and ceases. A well-balanced, oiled, and properly timed motor within its limits will run for far longer duration.
Do what you are capable of and then add 10-30% to give yourself a maintainable challenge. If your job is to grow tomatoes, learn your job, perform to the best of your capabilities, then attempt to figure out how you can do your job 30% more effectively. if your job is to move crates around a warehouse on a forklift, figure out how you can reduce expediting time by 10%. If your job is to manage your family’s budget, find what you are capable of saving and then try save 25% more. Yes, there will be some kind of pain. Yes, you may have to go beyond your comfort zone to gain muscle or stretch length.
The good news is that you can always go as far as your eyes and mind can see. When you get there, you will always be able to see further. Don’t try to see the end to everything. You really have no idea the possibilities that may come into your life. There is such unbounded potential in the world your puny mind cannot even fathom it. Why limit yourself to what you are capable of right now?
Set your eyes on some rock, some tree in the distance, some landmark in your life. Go there. Check it out. See if it is interesting. is it what you thought it was from way back in the past? Not interesting at all? Survey the horizon. What’s out there? Its a big world, and nothing is stopping you from taking the first steps toward that interesting thing out there… That is, unless it is you yourself which is standing in between you and your destination.
It is important to meditate, reflect, or pray, because it gives us the “quiet time” we all so desperately need, and also allows us time to reflect on the things we should be grateful for in life.
-And don’t forget to Breathe.