May 14, 2015

Bruised Ego, Torn Hamstring: Lessons from an Ashtanga Practice.


My ego really loved yoga.

My ego loved going to class, getting my body in all those super-pretzel poses and watching myself  advance in my ashtanga yoga practice. It really seemed like a match made in heaven—until that day my ego and my hamstring had a little situation.

The conversation would have gone something like this (if hamstrings and egos talked):

Ego: Oh, what’s a little triangle pose without warming up on a cold day. I’ve been doing this for years now. This is beginner stuff.

Hamstring: Ouch, you may want to ease into it a little bit. How about a little warm up first?

Ego: Oh come on, this is only triangle pose. I can do far more challenging poses than this. This is just a little side bend.

Hamstring: Again, ouch. Snap. What was that? That feels weird and not in a good way.

Ego: Get over it. Ouch. Push through it. Ouch—maybe not. Sorry hamstring.

Hamstring: Thanks ego.  Namaste.

In short, my ego and hamstring were indeed talking to me—I just wasn’t listening.

How often do our bodies (and intuition) send us clear signals about when to ease up, slow down and to stop pushing—yet we ignore the signs altogether? We succumb to the ego—pushing, coercing, rationalizing and justifying its way into taking us further from awareness rather than closer to it.

And this isn’t just about how we do things on our mats. It’s how we do life. Are you resting when you need rest? Taking time to regenerate? Saying no when you need to? Are you able to access that space where there is growth and advancement—but not at the expense of your health and awareness? In other words, are you getting there (which can be a yoga pose, a career goal, health goal or love goal) because you are choosing a conscious path—not a forceful, ego driven path?

It become crystal clear to me that day I pulled my hamstring—I realized I was letting my ego run the show. I was a type A personality doing yoga.

And it’s generally not the calm, candle lit, lavender-scented eye pillow classes that you find us type A’s flocking to. It’s more likely the hot yoga, the ashtanga, vinyasa and power hour classes. Why? Because our egos love a good challenge and where’s the challenge in sitting still and breathing? (Even though we all know this can be the most challenging thing for those of us with over active minds).

And so while many of us go into our yoga classes with the intention of finding peace and health—some of us may find ourselves slip-sliding into unhealthy patterns. Patterns that are more about pushing and less about conscious progressing.

But pushing too hard in yoga (or life) is not what it’s all about. Being in the now and cultivating a relationship with your mind, body and spirit—this is the sweet spot.

Yoga literally means “to unite” and so it’s up to us to decide if that’s what happening for us during our practice—or if we are simply feeding a hungry ego.

Here are some potential red flags that may indicate your ego is running the show in your yoga practice:

1. You’re getting injured. (Hint: yoga isn’t supposed to hurt)
2. You’re upset when a studio doesn’t have mirrors.
3. You only like the peak hour, super busy classes.
4. You beat yourself up a little if you fall out of a pose.
5. You say namaste a lot, yet don’t really now what the word means, or practice it in your life.
6. You do a lot of yoga, but you’re kind of a jerk (ouch, I know).
7. You have more Lululemon pants than any other type of pants.
8. You’re upset when studios don’t have mirrors (yes, I said this twice).

By the way, did I mention that I happen to love Lululemon pants, prefer mirrors in my yoga classes and do occasionally get a bit frustrated when I fall out of a pose? Deep breath. I guess it’s called a practice for a reason.

The massive takeaway from my torn hamstring was that I learned the importance of cultivating a yoga practice off the mat. It wasn’t just about mastering the poses and being aware of my breath—it was about how I was living my life.

So here’s the gist: consider slowing down a bit. Don’t push so hard. Listen to your body. Ease into it.  Discover what yoga really is—a more clear understanding of self and our connectedness to the source of all life.

Yes—there’s a bit more to this yoga thing than stretching and saying Namaste at the end of our power-hour yoga class. And this isn’t just for us type A’s. We could all use a little reminder now and again to take it easy, love on ourselves a bit more and consider less pushing and more mindfulness.

Our practice off the mat matters just as much (if not more) than whichever pose we can master—just ask my hamstring.


Author: Carrie Jolie Dale

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Bexx Brown-Spinelli/Flickr

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Carrie Jolie Dale