It’s my wish that every dedicated asana practitioner have to break-up with their practice at least once in this lifetime.
I’m not talking about spending time apart, burn-out lapses, or recovery periods.
No, what I’m getting at stretches so much deeper.
I’ve had a dedicated asana practice for more than twelve years and I am grateful for the many gifts that have appeared. I embarked upon yoga after decades of competitive swimming and learning that, at 25, I had a life-altering and dangerous bleeding disorder: the kind that most people know about before they transition into adolescence.
I was an exception. In a lot of ways, my asana practice saved me.
I developed a stronger connection to my body and that awareness helped me to recognize most health issues before they could morph into a disaster. I learned how to listen inward. I made it through two stressful, bedridden pregnancies with lots of pigeon, meditation and breath work. I found a reserve of patience, compassion and spirituality that changed my life, career and parenting in every way.
I connected deeply into the community and made life-long friends. I even completed teacher training.
I loved to move, balance, sweat, invert and work on those seamlessly difficult transitions. I came to life during practice. It was my refuge, my joy, my challenge and my escape from the stresses of staying home with two young, hyperactive children. I thought my asana practice was key to both my physical and emotional health.
But in April, everything changed. I had committed myself to a daily home practice and right in the middle of a mindful, breath-guided transition, I heard a loud pop and fell to the floor in a heap of frightened pain.
I tore my labrum in my left shoulder, and it hurt. Two months later, I had a terrible and complicated surgery, followed by frozen shoulder, a manipulation and loads of physical therapy. I was plagued by constant pain, sleeplessness and my yoga mat collecting dust in the corner.
It taunted me.
Of course, I could have stuck to a leg intensive, or restorative practice, but even that felt less-than and heavy with disappointment. I cringed at every yoga selfie online, stopped reading blog posts, shut off the kirtan and wallowed in my asana-less existence. I was brittle and bitter, frightened by how much of myself and my life I thought was missing.
Once the pain pills and regret wore off, that spiral of energy that’s normally depleted on the mat, began to pulse. I turned to the page. I joined an online poetry workshop and started writing again.
I submitted my manuscript, wrote a chapbook, scored a contract for my first children’s book.
I started to examine our family dynamic, our living situation and was forced to face the reality that we were not happy. So, we moved. We left the home where both of my boys took their first steps, said their first words and jumped into a new adventure.
I fell in love with life again. Instead of exhausting myself by making shapes on-cue in a room, I began to reshape my life. I discovered who I was when I wasn’t using the words warrior, goddess, or yogini. Instead of creating space in my low back, or lengthening my spine, I began to find space in my day and worked on extending my comfort zone.
My drishti refocused—I saw what a crutch my asana practice was, even though I had been the one preaching to my students that it’s what you do off the mat that counts.
For the first time, I saw how reliant I was on the poses, how much importance I placed upon repeating and attaining them. I had been in strict denial about how attached I had become, like a lover who loses themselves completely in lust. I had never imagined what could happen if I stayed off the mat for a period longer than desired, than comfortable…that thought was once too unbearable. Now, it’s enlightening. I am grateful for both the practice that I had the ability to cultivate and the time I’ve been forced to spend away from it…equally.
Both have helped to me to wake up and fight for a happy, balanced life.
Today, six months after shoulder surgery, I attempted something that looked a lot like an asana practice, and I panicked. Not because it wasn’t familiar, or because a pain-free downdog feels months away, but because I’m afraid of losing myself again in those shapes. I’m afraid of loving it so much, that I mistake it for a life. So, I sat down and wrote this article. I wrote this as a reminder.
More importantly, I wrote it for you.
Your yoga mat called. It wants to break up. It might just be the end of the world as you know it, but I’ve come out the other side and I promise—it’s not as tragic as you think.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard