I've been a casual yogi for almost ten years. But I've never fully appreciated yoga as a practice until now. To explain why, I have to back up. Way up.
So, did I ever mention that I was a competitive swimmer for 14+ years?
That's right. Ever since the age of 5 and until the age of 19 I was a slave to repetitiously crossing bodies of water. Back and forth. Harder, faster, no breathing, keep going. Can't keep up? Then get out of the lane. Injured? Tough it out. You got a problem with that? Then reconsider your place in the sport. Suffice to say, competitive swimming cultivates, and requires of its participants, a brutal "all or nothing" mentality. And one that, I'm afraid to say, does not limit itself to your efforts in the pool.
Clearly, this mentality is not at all compatible with yoga. I took my first yoga class when I was 19. I had just retired from swimming due to yet another injury, and the thought of taking up a more "restorative" form of exercise was very appealing. My body was so beat up, and I needed to find something that would help it feel good for once.
I loved my first classes and how great I felt when I left. But truth be told, despite the best intentions of the instructor, I couldn't shake the "all or nothing" mentality and embrace what my body was requiring of my practice that day. For example, if a position or a stretch didn't feel right, I would force myself to do it anyway. I told myself, "this is nothing compared to what I used to do, of course I can do this". And after the class, I could never just stop there and appreciate the session. Instead, I was constantly plagued by what I call "retired swimmer guilt" and would force myself to squeeze in furious bouts of cardio before and/or after the class. By the time I left the gym, any of the serenely energizing effects (mentally and physically) I had just gained during yoga were almost obliterated. I hadn't added those cardio sessions because I was giving my body what it told me it needed, but was forcing it to do something that I thought I had to make it do, thanks to the immense internal pressure I felt to stay thin after stopping swimming.
And this is how it was with me and yoga for quite some time. Thankfully, over the years I've learned to tune out the noise of my retired swimmer guilt and to give my body what it needs, instead of forcing it into a routine that only leaves me beat up and feeling worse about myself. There were times when I would get really into running. And then spinning. And then dance classes. And then maybe running again. Always interspersed with yoga sessions where I could fit them in. But it was yoga that remained a tricky area for me. I still couldn't get in sync with my body and mold my practice. I really enjoyed it, and I was good at it. But there was always this nagging voice in my head, saying "don't modify!" or "do the harder option!", even "redo this pose after class because you didn't hold it long enough."
Yet all this all changed once I became pregnant (along with a lot of other things!). It wasn't just me that I was toting around in this body anymore. While I had no problem being brutal to myself, I was not going punish this innocent baby growing inside of me because of my stubborn way of thinking about my body and its capabilities. Now, instead of telling my body what to do, I listen to it, and adjust accordingly.
Being a pregnant yogi has required that I alter some poses (Child's Pose feels much better with my hips higher in the air versus down towards the ground) and edit some portions of the class to fit my changing shape (doing any sort of Inversion and going into Savasana while lying on my back is simply no longer an option). And its been surprising to discover that there are some positions that being pregnant has helped me to be better at! For example, Pigeon Pose was never something that felt even remotely good on my hips. Now, its one of my favorite poses. I chaulk it up to the relaxing of the hip bones that occurs when you're expecting. But for whatever reason, its happening, and I'm enjoying it!
So to summarize, I have my yet-to-be-born baby to thank for opening my eyes to what cultivating a true yoga practice is all about, as it has really taught me to listen to my body and to respect what it needs. Its cliché to say but it sure is true: sometimes it takes having (or expecting) a child for you to acknowledge your faults and to humble yourself enough to change them, no matter how big or small they are.
... in the experience of Katherine Hanson.