September 16, 2016

How “Nailing Yoga” Damaged me & Saved my Life.

	Pascale Kavanagh, author's own

When I walked into my first yoga class over 25 years ago, I nailed it.

I use that term, as un-yogic as it is, for a reason: it’s what I felt.

My ultra-fit dancer’s body was more than capable of reaching, twisting and balancing in any position my teacher requested. It wasn’t always easy. But it was almost always possible.

I had no way of knowing, at that point, that torquing my hip so that I could lift my leg higher wasn’t actually what was supposed to happen. It slid past my awareness that my “whatever it takes” attitude was counter to the heart of yoga.

Nonetheless, I was consistently praised for my abilities and encouraged, very early on, to pursue teaching.

To keep my carefully crafted superiority intact, I avoided, as much as possible, teaching anyone who did not have advanced asana practice. Bodies with constraints were not my thing.

Then the inevitable happened. I became one of those bodies. Multiplying overuse injuries, motherhood and the passing of decades very effectively began to limit what my body could do. Even what was still possible, began to really, really hurt.

I had mastered the yoga of demonstration, domination and dissociation. (Well, that’s not a real thing but it could be.)

Thankfully, the perfect teacher, Max Strom, came into my life.

He saw how all the habitual inconsistencies, misalignments and cheating to create a particular shape, that had been commended by so many teachers before him, were the actual sources of my pain and injuries. While I felt that I had been “nailing it,” in reality, I had never done a minute of yoga. The only solution was to dissect my entire practice and re-learn everything from scratch.

I was an advanced student and teacher, now being instructed on the most basic poses. Like the apprentice sushi chef allowed to only cook the rice, I cooked my practice. Yoga 101 over and over until I retrained my body, reeled in my ego, and allowed the Union, at the heart of yoga, to enter my awareness.

This hard left turn in my practice was the first time (after 15 years of serious study!) that I understood the egolessness at the core of yoga. I had to deconstruct my beliefs about what is important: external achievements or the value of integrity.

I had considered myself a person of high awareness and high integrity. (Spoiler alert: Another turnaround coming.)

Though devout in my spiritual pursuits, the rest of my life reflected a fundamental misalignment. All that I had compromised, in a bottomless addiction to the adulation of my teachers, other students, and my ego, had created a huge blind spot in my life.

The Way we do One Thing is the Way we do Everything.

The process of becoming impeccable in my yoga practice, which, strictly speaking, began with a modification of physical movement patterns, had repercussions throughout my life. It was not merely learning to obey different postural cues. It was realizing the consequences of all the micro-decisions I made about who I was, what I stood for and what price I was willing to pay to get what I wanted.

What began with my hips, feet, and spine became the catalyst for the departure from my career, my marriage, and the well-constructed façade of my life. The consequences were both catastrophic and life-saving.

All this just because I no long hyperextended in downward dog? 


It occurred to me because I had applied integrity. It didn’t matter where it started. It only mattered that I let it bleed and seep into everything else.

It’s a bit like remodeling one room of your house. Everything else, which had previously looked fine, no longer holds up to scrutiny.

Our systems long for integrity: physically, emotionally, mentally. Our souls want us to experience the exquisite sweetness of harmony.

It’s a call we all hear (I’m sure of it), but one that is insanely easy to disregard because it feels impossible. It is a complete dismantling of self-identity, coupled with ample doses of courage, humility, faith, blood, sweat, and tears.

There is some good news too. (I know you were wondering.) We can begin anywhere when working toward a life lived in greater alignment. Mine started with my muscles and bones. One of my clients began with making his bed every morning.

Another with learning how to say “No.”

The great news? We’ve all got somewhere to start.

What will it be for you?


Author: Pascale Kavanagh

Image: Author’s own

Editor: Sara Kärpänen

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