what not doing yoga has done for my yoga

I’ve had a “serious” yoga practice for about nine years. By that, I mean I did asana five or six times a week, studied and read about yoga philosophy, got my teacher certification. I knew coming on the trail meant giving most of that up for half a year. And that made me nervous. I’d been doing this thing so often for so long, it felt like a major part of my identity. I also attribute a lot of my mental and physical well being to doing yoga. It’s scary to let something like that go. But it turns out this hiatus has been perfectly timed.

When I left Oregon I was starting to feel less than optimal in my yoga practice. I felt over-stretched in my hamstrings, weak in my back body, with new nagging pains in my elbows. Yoga had always been presented to me as ultimately safe, therapeutic, gentle. Apart from walking and biking around town and weekend hiking, it was the only “exercise” I did. But I began to suspect I was too flexible and not strong enough. My joints hurt. Everything felt overused.

Early in the hike, Matthew Remski launched his What Are We Actually Doing in Asana? project and I started following the updates. His questions were on my mind for hours as I hiked. Is asana therapeutic? Are some of these poses biomechanically unsound? Are yoga teachers given enough anatomy training? Are we harming ourselves through overuse and over-privileging flexibility and mobility?

I’ve also become interested, mostly through my struggle to resolve digestive issues, in evolutionary health and natural movement. “Primal” and “paleo” stuff, if you will. Hiking leaves a lot of space and time for thinking, and I’ve filled a lot of that with podcasts on these topics. I’ve learned a lot about bodies and movement that has challenged some of the ideas yoga has taught me that I’d passively accepted before.

So what has changed? I’m still very much a student in this world, and though the trail has given me hours of time now, there’s plenty more to learn. But, when I go back to asana, it will be with a lighter touch. I’ve always felt a slight pressure to have a daily asana practice. It felt like a requirement for being a “real” yogi. Before, I thought a daily practice had to look like an hour or hour and a half of traditional asana. Now, I’ll shoot for any kind of mindful movement. I can already feel the burden lifted. I’d been narrowly focused on going to the yoga studio, but I’d like to try new things, like rock climbing. I’d like to find a place to swim again. And I’d love to try MovNat sometime.

I’ve also realized I need more strength and less flexibility. My joints feel weak and unprotected, especially now, after 1,500 miles of mountains. This feels cliche, but I remember what it felt like to be a kid and climb all over the playground. I want to feel that way again, instead of achy and over stretched.

And there are some yoga poses I’ll never practice or teach, unless I get a lot more education and can decide for myself if they are safe. I’ll be very aware, when I go back to teaching yoga, of the limitations of my knowledge and the responsibility to help people stay safe. I won’t default to saying “Listen to your body” because I’m realizing–as a longtime practitioner who always thought she was listening but still managed to damage–that many people have a very hard time doing that.

So what I feared has turned into a huge blessing. Disrupting my routine opened me up to a whole new world of ideas, and I feel reenergized. By the time this is done, I’ll have done nothing but hike for half a year. I can’t wait to do something new!

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