What's your weakness?
What’s your weakness? Tight hamstrings? Tweaky low back? Joint aches from an old injury? Most of us have one – or at least we tell ourselves that we do – a reason why we’re in pain, why we can’t/don’t do more, why we aren’t as good as the person on the mat next to us.
Mine is my wrists. As long as I can remember, they’ve been both a challenge and a crutch for me. A reason to not even try. Physical proof of my long-held beliefs that I am weak and broken. Like all long-held beliefs, they’ve been with me for so many years that I can’t remember when they first began – likely with a careless comment from a teasing friend and the embarrassment of looking like a fool in PE class. Over time though, these beliefs took on the stuff of urban legend – growing slowly larger from a combination of fear and never trying to prove otherwise.
That’s not to say I never tried – I played sports through high school and college and spent plenty of time in the gym but I was firmly locked into my stories of what I was capable of, never even considering that I could be stronger or be pain-free.
Finding a new way
Then I found Forrest Yoga. In every Forrest Yoga class and pose, we’re asked and challenged to find “What part of this can I do?” This is a central theme to the practice and it can be both empowering and triggering to those of us who cling to our old broken and not enough stories. Quitting is no longer an option because something is always possible and we are actively encouraged to modify to find what that is.
Through careful tracking and the support of wonderful teachers, I’ve had to re-evaluate these old stories and accept that I am far stronger and more capable than I ever gave myself credit for. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have to be mindful of how I use my wrists. Now however, they’re a reminder to listen to my body and practice self-care rather than an excuse to sit on the sidelines.
Recently, my wrists were more sensitive than usual. I’d also been stressed and busy and found myself slipping into my old pattern of using that as an excuse to stay away from my yoga practice – the very thing that would most ease my anxiety. Realizing this, I decided to make a different choice. Rather than doing nothing or pushing myself into greater pain, I’d explore what part of my practice I could do. I bought a pair of Harbinger wrist guards (as good for Sun salutations and handstands as they are for powerlifting) and showed up for a 2-hour weekend workshop – the ultimate opportunity to practice some self-care.
The name of the game was No Pain and the object was to make every posture feel good. The rules were simple:
- Listen to my body. This means being present, paying attention and stopping the moment my body asks me to do something differently (which is really all pain signals are).
- If it hurts, don’t do it. Modify. Full plank is putting too much pressure on my wrists? Try knee plank. Still no good? Skip it and come into Turbo Dog.
- Repeat for the ENTIRE class
It quickly became apparent that wrist guards weren’t going to be enough - a LOT of modifications were going to be needed:
- No plank (full or knees)
- No handstand
- No down dog
- No turbo dog
Well, so be it I decided. I was sick of being in pain. Even if I couldn’t keep up with the rest of the class, I could still breathe and be present. I could still enjoy lots of other juicy moves like Shoulder Shrugs, standing poses, twists and hip openers. So that’s what I did. For 90 minutes of an advanced class, I down-leveled all the way to square one. The reward – absolutely no pain! It felt great!
Then came our peak pose – Dragonfly.
I laughed – good one Universe – here I am unable to hold Downward Dog and now you’re throwing an arm balance at me. Something that, even on a strong day, is completely outside of my comfort zone. My stories started screaming “I CAN’T! Why would you ask me to do this?!”
Then the teacher said something that snapped me out of pity party. “You can’t think yourself into this pose. Just try.”
“Well, hmm. I guess I could try. What part of this can I do? Most likely I won’t even get a foot off the floor but I can try.“
But I did get my foot off the floor. For the first time in my yoga life, I got into this pose. It wasn’t Instagram worthy and it lasted for about 3 seconds but I did it! Not by overthinking, not by forcing it, but by simply being willing to set my stories down and try. And my wrists? No pain. 90 minutes of down-leveling and self-care was exactly what they needed.
Ultimately our “weak,” “bad,” or injured areas can be our greatest teachers – if we’re willing to listen. They show us how to move and live differently, with more care and connection to our bodies. By ignoring and pushing through the pain or oppositely, diving into our stories about how broken we are, we stay stuck, robbing ourselves of the opportunity to grow, to learn and to move vibrantly and easefully through life.
Healing is possible. It requires learning how to think and move differently, to question the sometimes long held beliefs we hold, and to believe that there’s another way. It may take longer than we’d like but by approaching our tender areas with a fresh mind and a willingness to feel and adapt, breakthrough and healing is possible.