Doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors and other professionals are telling their patients and clients to seek out yoga to improve everything from mental health to physical mobility to chronic pain. The exciting thing is that yoga CAN (and often does) help with these things. Yoga can help people learn to take deep and conscious breaths in order to reset their nervous systems and help them to regain control when their brain gets hijacked by anxiety. Yoga can stretch muscles that are tight and strengthen muscles that are weak in order to reduce and even eliminate chronic pain. And yoga is amazing for helping people to gain and keep functional mobility as they age. But there's a dark side of yoga, too. Yoga classes can push people past their limits. Often students feel like they need to optimize their time in a class and want to do EVERY pose an instructor offers-- even if those poses aren't good for their bodies. Doing poses without proper alignment over and over again can cause long term issues in joints. Doing back bends without a strong core can cause damage to the spine. So what's going on here? How can yoga be so good but also potentially dangerous?
The reality is that a lot of us are running from something. We're filling our days and our minds with constant stimulus. We scroll through social media. We turn our music up really loud. We eat. We run. We drink. We lift weights. We go to yoga. And when yoga becomes another way to run from whatever it is we're running from, we stay disconnected. But ultimately, the lovely and terrible truth is that what we're running from lives inside of us. It's stored all over our bodies as chemicals and electricity. And so yoga gives us the opportunity (but does not force us) to be present with our stuff. So often we show up on our mats with this intention to sort of check out. But yoga invites us to do quite the opposite. Mindfulness isn't about disconnecting from the world and what's going on around us. It's about being present in every single moment. It's about allowing each and every feeling and thought to wash over you momentarily and then letting it pass. We aren't pushing things away or out. We're creating space for our feelings to be exactly what they are... big, wild, irrational are all welcome here. Anxiety, depression, huge highs, deep lows... all welcome here. We're going to feel the things. We come to yoga to check in and stop running. We move our bodies in order to invite the experiences, trauma and emotions that live in our bodies to move through us.
So when you come onto your mat, you're invited to start by just feeling your body in space. And sometimes this is enough. This could be your whole practice. Where is my right foot? Where is my left hand? How does my back feel? Can I tell the difference between sensation and pain? Can I lengthen my breath, sit up straighter, feel my sits bones make contact with the mat? This process takes time, especially if we're always running from our physical sensations. We innately know that our emotional pain and our hurts live in our bodies and so we often dissociate with them as much as possible. Add distorted body image/expectations, physical or sexual abuse, and chronic pain to the mix and it's so easy to understand how and why the disconnect happens. Learning to be in our bodies is something that takes time and practice. So when the instructor asks you to check in and make sure you're not doing anything that isn't right for you, they might as well be asking you to be an ambassador to a country where you don't speak the language. Most of us don't walk into our first yoga class with a clear connection to what our bodies need. So take it easy. Go slow. And just feel the places where your body makes contact with the mat. Learn to speak the language of your body.
The cool looking poses and the fast paced classes aren't going anywhere. But you might start to see more slower paced classes on the Sol Space schedule. You might notice there's more time for breath, more time for meditation, more time to learn to communicate with yourself. And it might be uncomfortable at first. Charting new territory often is. But we're doing something beyond hard bodies and long muscles. And we'd be super psyched if you wanted to do it with us. Because, after all, yoga is for everybody. And that definitely includes you, without condition or exception.