How not to wreck your body
Next month I will be heading to the island of Kaua’i with my family for a week of playing in the water. I am planning to have an adventure, and I confess I am also a bit nervous about going bodysurfing again. It has been a long time since my first tumultuous introduction.
This fear about hurting my body through an unfamiliar physical activity reminds me of two things:
- The controversy raised by an article that appeared recently in the NY Times, titled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.
- The uncertainty expressed by clients who ask me for advice about how to safely explore a new activity (such as yoga).
For all these concerns, I have the same fundamental response or remedy. But first a story to illustrate it:
Twenty-something and feeling adventurous
Years ago, I had my first experience of “playing” in the Hawai’ian surf, and man, did I get pummeled!! After five minutes, I was exhausted from the waves crashing down upon me. It was like taking an underwater ride in a sandy washing machine–I had sand in every orifice! I was almost ready to quit and was thinking, How is this supposed to be fun??!
Then an experienced bystander explained to me that when you see a big wave coming, and it is about to break over the top of you, you have to dive directly into the wall of water. If you do that, you will pop up neatly on the other side of the wave, bypassing all the drama of the wave crashing into the sand. Simple. WOW, it worked! It helps to understand the physics involved.
With a little practice, I learned that I could play for hours in the waves at this particular beach. I had been told where the submerged rocks were. I had experienced the thrill of riding a few waves all the way in, and I felt pretty safe.
What does this have to do with yoga?
Knowledge and prudence lead to survival
There are three rules to staying safe when you are exploring any potentially risky activity:
- Seek and receive good instruction. If some pose isn’t working for you, ask for help. Pay attention to your teacher’s suggestions for modifying the pose. Ask questions after class if something is still a struggle for you.
- Attend to your own practice, and also look out for one another. It is natural when we are learning something to be curious about what our neighbors are doing, but our egos can get us into trouble, especially if we try to emulate fancy variations that we are not ready for yet. If you practice in class, remember that you are part of a community, and yet this practice is your own. Feel the strength that comes from choosing what feels right to your body. Remind yourself that when you choose a simpler modification, you will be offering support to others for them to do the same. If you practice with a friend and you see them doing something that seems unsafe, do talk with them about it.
- Listen to your body’s messages of warning. Does your knee hurt in pigeon pose? Is the pressure in your head increasing when you go into plow pose? Do you have sharp pain somewhere? Do you find yourself feeling angry or distressed about the sequence of poses? All of these messages indicate that you should back off, reestablish core support, modify the pose, and probably not go so far into that pose.
Life’s important lessons will come around again
Each time we go to yoga practice, we get to visit the same lessons, over and over.
Twenty years ago in learning to bodysurf, I managed to bumble through these three rules or steps. Now during my next learning experience, I will be a little more cautiously adult about it.
I’ll consult some local guides about the best places for a beginner to bodysurf and snorkel. When I get to the beach I’ll look for someone experienced who can orient me to its unique features (i.e. submerged rocks and undertows). My family and I will use “the buddy system” to look out for one another. And I will be alert for signs of danger, listening to my body’s own inner guidance. If it doesn’t seem to be the right water for me to be playing in, then I’ll wade, walk, or run on the beach, and later try a different location for bodysurfing.
Many beaches to choose from
This last strategy you can also apply to yoga. If it just doesn’t feel right, consider trying a different beach.
There are many styles of yoga offered in Portland, and each yoga teacher has a different approach. You will need to listen to your own inner guide about which class to choose. If you do get in over your head and find that you have to modify everything, or if it seems like yoga is just not any fun, then I recommend you ask around and try to find a teacher or class that is a better match for you.
For those of you interested in exploring William Broad’s cautionary book about yoga (on which his recent controversial NY Times article is based), it is titled The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards.
You can find a list of some highly recommended guidebooks to the practice of yoga at this yoga studio’s website: http://livewellstudio.com/books.
Enjoy your exploration!