Life · Yoga

shoveling snow

This winter, it seems like we’ve been hit by one storm after another. Snow days are the best as kids, but this year I’ve realized that as an adult who is still expected to drive to work, it can be a totally different story. Last night in yoga class, Alexis spoke to an interesting point – that getting stuck at home during a snowstorm can bring up just as much anxiety as having to endure the elements and get somewhere during a blizzard. Especially for some of us “doers”, accustomed to being constantly on the go, taking a whole day off from our busy lives and being stuck inside can leave us feeling terrified and overwhelmed.

That definitely used to be me. Constantly planning, I felt safest in my filled-to-the-brim schedule. Then something shifted. I started not only appreciating, but actually loving space. I no longer feel scared or bored spending a whole day by myself. I want to share my story with you, not to show you how far I’ve come or how zen I am, but because I know I’m not alone in my fear of slowing down. I also 100% believe that slowing down is exactly what our overstimulated, inbox-managing society needs. In a book I’m reading, Proof of Heaven, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander writes, “A story — a true story — can heal as much as medicine can.” Now that I no longer fear giving myself space, I’ve noticed another, deeply-hidden fear of sharing my personal stories. So this is me facing that fear head-on, by putting my story into words and hitting that little blue “publish post” button at the bottom of this page. 

Sometime last fall, one weekend I was feeling kind of bummed. I had gone on a date with a guy who I really liked, and thought we had hit it off. Then he didn’t call. Deciding that feeling down over someone who wasn’t interested was a waste of my time, I turned to my go-to distraction – my friends. I sent around some texts, hoping to go out and take my mind off whatever I was feeling. That day no one was available. All of my friends were busy with their own lives. 

My initial reaction was self-pity. Thinking “I’ve got to get new friends,” like it was actually my friends’ fault that I didn’t know what to do with my free time. I got home from a hike with the dog I was sitting around 5, sat in my car for a minute or two, and realized that self-pity was a waste of energy. I changed my mindset from focusing on what in my life I wanted to change, and asked myself a new question: “what now?”

Suddenly I was hit with inspiration. To craft. It came out of nowhere – up till then, other than decorating my condo, I had never considered myself the artsy type. I google-searched an art supplies store (I didn’t even know where one was), and went to get materials. Walking around the store, more and more ideas kept popping into my mind. It was exciting and fun. I ended up crafting most of my Christmas presents this year, and discovered I get so much joy from sharing the things I’ve made with others. What started out a boring, lonely Saturday night actually allowed me to uncover something new that I love to do. 

Because my life off the mat tends to mirror my practice on it, I had a similar experience with yoga. So many people come to yoga because of some kind of an injury or situation that they’re hoping to “fix”. My story was a little different. I was already in yoga teacher training and had been practicing for years when I uncovered my “injury”. Every person’s makeup is so unique, and we never know how our individual little quirks and tendencies will show up. In my experience, yoga has a way of bringing the things I need to work through to the surface. 

Two years ago, I was immersed in teacher training, while also doing crossfit around 3x a week and training for a half marathon. I had recently started a full-time job, and kept an insane spreadsheet where I tracked my morning yoga practice, lunchtime runs, and evening WODs, on top of logging everything I ate. I was very nearly driving myself crazy with all the tracking. Despite all that I was doing, I still felt like it wasn’t enough. And then my knee started to hurt. Telling myself it wasn’t a big deal, that I should work through it, I kept moving, until my coach at CrossFit Tyson’s, John, finally convinced me to see a physical therapist. I am so grateful to him for that simple piece of advice. Dr. Morris told me that my spine is curved and one hip is lower than the other, thus causing me to put more pressure on my left knee. He instructed me to stop any high-impact activities while going through treatment. 

Now, I’m no doctor, but I have a feeling back issues like my own are relatively common. Having a perfect spine (if there even is such a thing) probably isn’t the norm – again, just my guess. At the time, though, I was in physical pain, so my situation seemed like a pretty big deal. Cutting out crossfit and giving up on the half (for the time being) really wasn’t easy. However, I saw it as an opportunity to fully commit to yoga practice. I began getting on my mat as often as I could, and have never looked back. 

For awhile, I had a tendency of hyper-fixating on my left hip/hamstring region while on my mat. My muscles on that side were incredibly tight, and all too often I struggled, trying to find some release. I remember feeling frustrated for months, believing that the pain would never go away. After over a year of frustration that my left side would never feel like my right, finally, there was a change. It didn’t happen all at once, and there isn’t any one moment that stands out in my memory as some kind of revelation. I do remember realizing that perfect symmetry does not exist, and so I shifted from wanting to “fix” my left hip, to accepting that it may never feel 100% better, and that was okay. I grew to appreciate the physical sensation – rather than a painful nuisance, my pesky left hip was like an old familiar friend. I would take half pigeon on the left side and think, “oh there you are again”. I learned to actually let go of my upper body and sink in, rather than trying to force myself down into a deeper pose because I craved a further release.

As soon as I accepted my left hip and gave up the constant effort, something miraculous happened. It opened up! I can’t tell you exactly when or how. It was a gradual shift.  All I know is now my left side no longer feels continuous pain. Just like when I discovered my crafting passion, all it took was me giving up the desire for things to be different and deciding to flow with the moment to enable myself to open up in ways I never imagined possible.

I’m not saying that if you’re injured, you have to be like me and get on your yoga mat every day for the practice to work. I’m also not offering any guarantees. I just want to share my experience, so that you know that if there is something you’re working through, either physical or not, you are not alone. I get that it can take a really long time for freedom from pain to occur. It requires a lot of patience and trust, of which I do not always realize that I have. When things start to feel hard or unbearable for me, it’s usually a good indication that I need to return to a place of recognizing faith in the process. 

A few weeks ago, I ran into that guy who never asked me out on a second date. I really wanted to thank him. By not calling, he gave me the space I needed to discover my creative side.

Today, it may feel as though the snow outside is a major inconvenience, and that this winter is dragging on for way too long. After we do get through it and the snow clears away, who knows what might pop up? I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to find out. 

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