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Point Break - what I learned about yoga when injury forced me to stop



A picture of woman's head with a tear strip down the middle, impressing a torn photograph
Point Break | Samara Living


Everyone has fears. Our phobias are one of the odd occurrences binding us mere mortals together.


Mine just so happens to be getting hurt. While avoiding injury is a natural inclination (for most of us, anyway), my avoidance of pain is rooted deeper and paves way for a disorder against deep discomfort – especially when it's out of my control.


Growing up, I could deal with the physical misfortunes accompanying nominal childhood pursuits. The wrenched, broken ballet toes. The rough and tumble of scraps with siblings. It was all in good, clean, prelapsarian fun. No fear, all frolic and frisson.


But once a horse bolted with me floundering in a gravity-defying blur above its saddle, things changed, and the fear became really rather real.


Thrown on to the bonnet of a passing car, I suffered a broken, dislocated shoulder and elbow. My bones weren't all that displaced. That day, things changed - I found yoga. Partly to facilitate rehabilitation, partly because it felt safe, I thought yoga would remedy my shattered bones and give me the challenge and physical outlet I needed. But I'd be safe in the four walls of my home – and of my own volition.


Twenty-five years on, I was right. Yoga kept me safe and even paved a route into a side-hustle when I eventually started teaching. But, once that conduit of comfort caused an injury, my perspective of the pursuit of enlightenment completely changed.


At the point where my body broke and forced me to stop my practice, here’s exactly what I learned about myself.


My relationship with my body just wasn’t working


This is a feeling most of us can relate to. Once my injury suspended the physical portion of my yoga practice, I realised just how fractured my relationship with my body had become.


Regimented routines of complex and advanced asana certainly provided continuous challenge and focus points. But they were masking a hidden inner desire to punish and push my body when it might not have been ready – or willing.


Once I was granted the opportunity to step away from these borderline institutionalised practices, I realised how much more valuable it was to use my body in a loving and intelligent way.


As a postgrad of anatomy and physiology, I’m naturally curious about the inner workings and outer compositions of our physical forms. But this break gave me even more qualification to uncover and understand the intricacies of how our body functions. By focusing on a small selection of postures, rather than cramming a thousand into a single practice, I quantified how exactly to use my body to safely achieve them – and ultimately master things I previously struggled to fathom.


Once I'd established a deeper sense of respect for my body, I no longer felt the need to keep punishing it.

A picture of a woman curled up on a bed.

I’d been underestimating the power of my breath


Controversial confessional: throughout my career as a yoga practitioner and a teacher, I’ve severely neglected my breath. I’ve made a continuous conscious effort to remedy that, but it isn’t an aspect of the practice that comes easily to me.


But breath is a fundamental part of yoga, so, once I stopped committing so much time to seeking perfection in physical practice, I sat down and took a big exhale. And an even bigger inhale. Then another bigger exhale still.


There it was. The joy of breathing, for the very first time in my life.


Slowly, I began to align it with my asanas. Flowing from one posture to the next, seemingly transcendental, often left with no recollection of the postures I’d embodied, the power of my breath was found. And it was everything everyone had always said it would be.


It gave me clarity. Focus, drive, determination, and direction. It released stagnant emotions and elicited salty tears that needed to seep through the cracks. It eliminated pain and diluted fear. I’d avoided headstands for twenty-five years (there’s that Algophobia again), but could now at least get into a half iteration.


While I understand the biological effects of increased oxygen intake through proper breathing, nothing could ever truly explain the sensations I experienced when my breath began to punctuate my practice.


I had to take yoga off my mat


The misconceived notion that yoga glorifies the body means we miss the actual point of yoga: union. Isolating in a home-practice inhibits that union. Even practicing at a studio can create a silo. Seldom do teachers promote the concept of community. Entering a class can be a frightening prospect and a segregating space.


But that sense of union doesn’t have to just be for the purpose of an asana practice. It can be out in the local community, supporting a friend or family member through a difficult time, or helping a neighbour. Simply being more present and conscious to others and the world around you will evoke the true nature of what it is to live as a true yogi.


And it even made me rethink my career. While I taught yoga at night, my day job had left me unfulfilled. Working in the fashion industry, people always wanted something from me, they had no interest in getting to know me.


I’d been depleted. The opportunity to recognise this was a blessing in disguise; endowing me with the power to change the course of my future, and establish myself in a career that, each day, feels in itself an act of yoga.



A black and white photograph of raindrops falling on puddles.


To have fun


As a driven individual with chronically perfectionist tendencies, I used to place prize in the fact I could stand in vrksasana for 30 minutes at a time. Even though this instilled a smug sense of satisfaction, it was never enough. I was always striving to stand on one leg for longer. It wasn’t emblematic of achievement; it was a concealed cachet of self-flagellation.


Surreptitiously self-immolating as a consequence of my ego, I'd abandoned all derisions of fun from my practice. Seeing things in retrospect; from the moment I started yoga, to the point I broke, I could only count a handful of times where my practice felt like fun.


Perhaps it’s age and maturity but, looking back, I wonder how I let myself show up to my practice with such a totalitarian mindset.


Prosaic and stoic, only investing for a result and not focusing on the purpose, I'd robbed myself of joy of movement. The freedom of expression. The glory of weaving and winding the fabric of the body in the name of artistic medium and utter abandon - for the sake of simply being. Something I was able to do when fused with a horse. Two souls aligning in the name of spirited frivolity.


It might feel like I lost years of enjoyment with my practice, but my injury segued for the process to start over. And this time, I didn’t allow old habits to die hard. I tumbled out of headstand, I wobbled in eagle, and I let my cats crawl all over me in downward facing dog.

I stopped being so stubbornly serious.


Lessons learned

 

In complete candour, the most important thing I learned was just how much more I am than this physical form of mine. Whilst I’d always believed it, I’d never truly accepted it – until I had to. As the ancient yogi adage says,


"One might see the body as having a soul. But the yogi would say, I am a soul that has chosen to taken a body."


Even though it’s not all about the body, the physical component of who I am is protecting and carrying forward everything else that makes up who I am – so I now treat it with a lot more respect.

I misconstrued rigorous, lengthy practices as honouring my physical health. They have their place but I came to realise that forcing my body to do things it didn’t want to do wasn’t conducive to a healthful experience: and just because it’s under the veil of a yoga practice doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a healthy approach.


Or that you’re treating your body with consideration and kindness – which is a prominent point of yoga: non-violence and non-harm. And that starts with exactly how we treat ourselves.  


Where introspection is heralded as the key to unlocking intuitive notions of what your body needs, I don’t believe it’s the magic wand we wave to enigmatically irradiate all that is ‘yoga’. Introspection actually just paves an avenue for us to take our first steps on a long journey of learning about those parts of ourselves concealed or that we have become numb to. Introspection is like a first-date conversation.


A black and white photograph of tall flowers blowing in the wind.


The more we show up for ourselves on those dates, the more we uncover and the more attuned we become to all the layers comprising our existences. Eventually, our heads and hearts separate, and we become witnesses over our physical selves and our emotional selves. The soul becomes a partner to the body and thinks for itself, rather than in a way saturated by the oddities that our emotions and superficial fragments that repeat in our psyches.


But part of the evolution of our thoughts is the regard held for our bodies and exactly the part it plays in existence.


For someone like me, terrified of any physical infliction on my fragile form, this changing and expanding of how I conceive my body completely transformed. By allowing myself to step outside my three dimensions, permitting my soul to take the drivers seat, my fears evaporated and, for the first time in four decades, I’m free from phobia and allowing my body to carry me forward on my own path in an unabandoned, ecstatic yogic dance.

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