What to Do When Yoga Isn’t Working. ~ Kathryn Slater

Via elephant journal
on Mar 27, 2013
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Photo: Grosso

Oh great—the thing that makes me feel the most like me, the most strong, full, and fearless—is filling me with fear and uncertainty and panic.

A month ago, I quit yoga. And like quitting anything that is hard to quit, I did it cold turkey.

I wasn’t teaching. I stopped going to class and practicing at home. I stopped making notes in my “awesome things to blow my students minds with” notebook.

I even stopped doing the always-luscious child’s pose, because I knew that once I was there, I would want to press through my lower legs and inhale into table. And then I would only be an inhale and exhale away from pressing down and away into the earth and lifting my hips into downward dog. Which obviously counts as practicing. And like I said, I’ve quit that.

This is not the first time I’ve packed up my yoga mat and called it a day. I’ve quit yoga a bunch of times, but never because it has failed to serve me—just the opposite, actually.

Generally, when I quit yoga, it is because my practice has served me with a notice that I don’t like. This time it was a neck injury. Last time it was my shoulder. One of the first times I quit was right after I started, because my body was screaming a million messages that I didn’t want to hear.

Imagine the nerve of my nervous system, trying to save me like that.

So here I am once again, faced with this message from my body—a message that has come in the form of a recurring neck and shoulder injury.

And as I sit here wishing that I’d done some sun salutations this morning (which you aren’t allowed to do when you quit!), I’m starting to wonder … could this be the time that I stop this vicious cycle? Can I imagine the possibility of actually getting my shit together and soldiering on?

The truth is that I don’t want to quit.

I don’t want to stop teaching, learning, practicing and innovating on my yoga mat. But injuries (particularly of the neck variety) along with the startling truths that are so often revealed on a yoga mat, scare me.

Injuries fill me with fear and send me running. Literally—I always start running a lot when I’m not practicing yoga. Coincidence?

I don’t like to feel like part of my body isn’t working properly. I thought that yoga was supposed to make you strong and healthy and have amazingly glowing skin?! So what is this fear and pain and groundlessness? And why can’t I get it out of my life?

The yoga is supposed to work.

So the thing is this: My neck no longer hurts. This is the real kicker—as soon as I stopped practicing, the pain went away.

At first that really pissed me off. Like, oh great—the thing that makes me feel the most like me, the most strong, full, and fearless—is filling me with fear and uncertainty and panic. And it is literally hurting me.

So what do I do? What is the big answer?

Well here’s what I’ve come up with. And it turned out to be pretty simple after all.

Here is my plan to stop quitting yoga:

>> Accept that your practice is the medium in which your body communicates with you. Accept that if you’re going to make the decision to do yoga, your body will get better at telling you what is helping and what is hurting. Listen, listen, listen and then ask someone else to listen. Write it down. Listen again. But don’t stop practicing.

>>Accept that once the messages are delivered, and you have actually listened to them, that you may have to change something about the way in which you practice. Maybe the intensity is too high. Maybe you’re not activating the muscles that will give you the most support in a particular posture. Maybe doing hundreds of chaturangas without balancing them with a little bit of sukha is not working. Fine. That’s reasonable. Change something. But don’t stop practicing.

>>Your yoga practice shifts and changes daily. It has to, as it is constantly responding to the weather, how much food you’ve had, how much sleep you got, which muscles are sore and what exactly is going on with the trillions and trillions of cells that make up you. Quit fighting this fact. Your body is constantly changing and adjusting. To just press on with whatever you have on your yoga schedule (the fourth straight day of intense Ashtanga) may not be working. This is where your innovative, creative and adventurous nature comes in. Buck up and get artistic. Paint a new picture. Create a new story. You can practice yoga for hours lying on your back or supported by bolsters. Look into it.

>> Practicing anything consistently is hard, takes incredible focus and dedication and will always be that way. Accept that it is not easy to get on your mat. It is not easy to take five minutes to breathe quietly and meditate. These things are difficult, and were made for warriors. Just like you.


kathryn slaterKathryn Slater is a loud talking, fast walking yoga practitioner/cyclist. She loves any excuse to share her personal experiences and is excited to contribute to the ongoing discussion concerning all things yoga, the fabulous world of bikes, and also, the art of combining the two. Learn more at www.yogabodyrock.com

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Assistant Ed: Stephanie V./Ed: Kate Bartolotta


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7 Responses to “What to Do When Yoga Isn’t Working. ~ Kathryn Slater”

  1. Barbara says:

    I am almost 52 and jumped up one day nine months ago and threw myself into a power Ashtanga class after having not practiced yoga in some 20 years or more. It is very clear to me what I can and cannot do. I cannot, for example, do headstands because I have scoliosis and arthritis in my neck. So I gave the headstand up for shoulder stand. Much better. I know my body's limits and I respect them. And so far, no major or even minor injuries have occurred. Muscle on, sister!

  2. mega hall says:

    one word for you, yin.

  3. Robyn says:

    I started yoga daily about 6 months ago. Immediately, I got overzealous and hurt my back. It still hurts. I'm always reading about how people with injuries turn to yoga and they are cured and saved and all the rest. But yoga hurt me (well, I hurt me, really), and it's not healing me and I just don't know what I'm doing wrong. I get tempted to quit for the sake of fixing my back, but I just can't bear to.

  4. Kathryn Slater says:

    Well, in my case, I can say that overzealous is one of my main characteristics. And in yoga, this can be great for practice, as it gets you excited and motivated to be on your mat and to explore new things in practice. I have always done a very vigorous practice, and have struggled with balancing that vigor.
    There are so many therapeutic yoga teachers that could work with you to build a healing practice. Don't quit, just reevaluate and then make a commitment to exploring new ways to practice. New ways, that won't cause you pain.

  5. Kathryn Slater says:

    Yes! Thank you for reminding me to look into that.

  6. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Well, I for one, found a new style.

    This is not the first time. The first time is when I found a new style right in the neighborhood. That taught me alignment. Then my home practice took on a whole new dimension.

    Now, this time … it isn't so clear-cut. There is a softness there that hadn't been in the other styles.

    If it influences my home practice, then I'm sitting pretty, pardon the punny phrase …

  7. arlene says:

    Don't give up. Just really listen to your body and don't be over ambitious. Keep moving at a good even pace. Leave your neck out of it. Find a class that feels right. Just stand in tadasana for a few days then do some forward bends. Don't try to get anywhere; just be. Breathe; particularly slow uyjihi breath. Take a walk by the sea or some trees. Pick up one of your yoga books and see where it falls open.

    All love to you.