When you’re revved up to practice but your body is not

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Sometime yesterday evening I noticed a little pain in my left hip flexor. I figured it was from sitting down on the floor while I worked on lesson plans for a couple of hours. I rubbed the sore spot, stretched it a bit, and went to bed.

I woke up early today with big plans for a powerful, rigorous vinyasa practice. Actually, I had been looking forward to practicing all night, thinking about it in those tiny waking moments that interrupt sleep.

But this morning, that small pain in my hip flexor had grown into a more significant one that caused me to limp from my bed to my yoga mat. No amount of stretching or engaging eased the pain. It was clear that my staple poses — Warriors 1 and 2, and extended side angle — were not really happening. I did a few hamstring stretches, punctuated by rests on my back, and called it a practice. To say this was not what I wanted would be an understatement. Many days, I work to convince myself to get on the mat, and then again to try challenging poses. And today I was ready! Willing! Just not able.

I’m glad I didn’t force it. In yoga, we always talk about listening to the body. Today I was forced to admit that my body usually does what my ego and mind want. Listening to the body doesn’t actually demand that much of me until my body doesn’t cooperate in the poses I’ve grown accustomed to. This rarely happens, but when it does, that can be humbling. I am reminded that am not invincible. I am forced to remember that I am not just my body, or even just my mind, but something more. My body may falter, but that doesn’t make me a failure. Conversely, being able to do a split doesn’t make me a hero. These reminders come when I am physically at my most weak and vulnerable. At these times I must remember that though my yoga practice is mostly comprised of steady breathing, it’s still yoga, it’s still practice, and it has the potential to be transformative if I allow it. And I must remember these times when I’m at my physical peaks, glibly insisting that yoga is as simple as listening to the body. Listening is hard because sometimes you hear things you don’t want to hear.

I’m sitting at the park now, my leg achy and my spirit still frustrated by my vulnerability and my fixation on it. But peaking through that cloud of frustration is a tiny glimmer of thankfulness for this morning’s practice — for what it was, rather than what it was not. For what I am, rather than what I am not.

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