Strength Through The Range

I love teaching the esoteric parts of yoga… We are our bodies, but we are MORE than our bodies. Being embodied is like a little microcosm of your life; the lessons you learn in your body can be taken into your attitudes, your perspective and even your relationships.

This has been a lifelong learning for me, and much to my surprise I learned recently that it’s a lesson I haven’t fully assimilated. Diagnosed at age 13 with an autoimmune disorder and being in and out of hospital as a teenager, my response had been to try to ‘control’ my body through a rigorous physical regimen. I’ve always been a ‘mover’, but in my early twenties as I tried to come to terms with yet another flare-up that landed me in hospital for weeks and very nearly cost me the life of my unborn baby, I made a conscious decision to use the movement I loved as a sort of punishment for a body that was letting me down, that wasn’t ‘normal’, that made my life different and harder than the lives of my friends and family.

It worked, until it didn’t. After 12 years in full remission, my symptoms came back with a vengeance in my late thirties. Treatments that had worked in the past failed, and after 9 months of trying everything, I had emergency heart surgery, followed by the complete removal of my colon just 5 weeks later. I was under 100 lbs and decimated, but fiercely determined to rebuild both my body and my life. Enter yoga.

The movement was different, but the motivation was the same. When I first started practicing yoga, I chose a style that lined up with my past paradigm of beating my body into submission. I remember being in a workshop with my then teacher at a Yoga Journal conference, 6 weeks after I nearly died from an intestinal blockage caused by scar tissue from my previous surgeries. Because of sepsis, the incision had to heal from the inside out, and I was practicing at that workshop with gauze that was packing the surgical incision sticking out of the top of my yoga pants. I thought I was being heroic. It was absurd.

It wasn’t until I found Anusara Yoga that I began to understand that I needed to re-think my approach to not just movement, but my body and my life.

Anusara Yoga has been fraught with controversy, but it was the right thing for me at that time of my life and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that. I remember a conversation I had with John Friend, where I was complaining about my lack of ability to access my core muscles (they had been cut and restitched several times, remember). I was angry and frustrated about being ‘limited’. He said to me, “Your body is amazing – look what it’s seen you through. You should be congratulating yourself, not beating yourself up.” I had honestly never thought of it like that. After that conversation I began to re-think how I was approaching not just yoga, but how I was treating myself.

Fast forward to late last year when I had surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in my foot. I had successfully avoided the surgery for 10 years, but it was starting to damage my foot and knee, so it was time. The surgery was a complex procedure that involved cutting off part of my heel bone and transferring a tendon to take the place of the ruptured one. I was in a cast, non weight bearing for the better part of 4 months, and in addition to needing to re-train my foot and associated weakness in that leg, the additional load on my ‘good’ leg frayed the abductor tendon on that side, resulting in severe hip pain. Even after the foot healed and began to regain some strength, The hip kept me from moving in the ways I was used to moving. The yoga I loved became a source of frustration and pain, and even my beloved long walks with Winnie left me limping and reaching for ibuprofen.

I found myself back in an old pattern of thinking. How can I be a yoga teacher if I can’t practice yoga? If I’m completely transparent, looking at all the stunning yoga pictures on Instagram only added to that feeling. I know on an intellectual level that this is bullshit. I teach this all the time. “It’s not about the poses, the most important yoga is the yoga you do OFF the mat”. And the thing is that I really do believe that! But for some reason, I had decided that I am exempt from all of that and I need to be perfect. In the absence of what I have identified SO strongly with (my ability to move), I have become obsessed with ‘the look’. Looking good on the outside, ‘looking like a real yoga teacher’ , ‘having it all together’. You know what? I don’t. Does anyone? Really?

In my pursuit of ‘the look’ in the absence of my ability to perform tricks, I scheduled a session with my mobility and strength trainer, Jackson Lennan of Lennan Fitness. I really respect Jackson’s knowledge and approach, but I went in to our session with both barrels loaded and guns blazing. I wanted him to tell me how to get ‘the look’. I told him that he needed to understand a few things about ME. I wanted immediate gratification. I wanted to go from A to Z skipping over the stuff in the middle, primarily because I think that if I’m not at Z then I’m not good enough. Not good enough to teach yoga, a failure at the very thing I love the most. But I’m here at A, unable to do many of the things I used to be able to do, with a hip and a foot that need to be strengthened and re-trained in order to move forward. I have to begin again, again.

But I can do this. So back I go to the beginning, the place where possibilities are endless.

Going back to the beginning is not an indication of weakness, it’s an mark of mastery. There’s beauty in the basics, and I’m learning that to create and maintain strength as I transition through my range of motion in the most basic movement is the key to getting where I want to go.

Life gives us plenty of chances to build strength. But strength is more than just the short, sudden bursts of power that we often associate with the word. Just like on my mat right now, the most potent form of strength is the kind is maintained and even fortified through the full range of life’s smorgasbord of situations. And sometimes that means going back to the beginning and learning to enjoy the journey.

You’ll find Jackson at www.lennanfitness.com.au

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