I never thought I would do yoga. To clarify, I never thought I *could* do yoga. When I thought about yoga, images came to mind of thin women in colorful spandex outfits contorting themselves into pretzels while balancing impossibly on a single limb. Many classes I teach now begin with a student mentioning that they are not “flexible.” I want to giggle when I hear this!
My yoga journey began with a class taught through Connected Warriors, an organization which offers free yoga for Veterans. With three knee surgeries under my belt, a medical retirement from the Army, a background in contact sports (like rugby) and a perfectionist mindset, I was an unlikely candidate for yoga.
Or so I thought.
I began. And that is the most vital part of any yoga journey. Begin. My form was not great (who cares) I was inflexible (oh well) and I didn’t look like the other yogis in my classes (so my mind told me.) I was focused on trying to impress, to fit in, to figure this whole yoga thing out. It was in the thinking and the conforming that I was missing the point!
Slowly, I learned to listen to my body. My orthopedic surgeon says I shouldn’t squat. So, usually, I don’t. I cannot stand from squatting or kneeling without helping myself up with my arms. I will *never* be able to sit in full lotus, because I am knock-kneed. Some stuff my body just says “no” to. I spent my life asking so much of my body: marching long distances with great weight on my back, low-crawling, tackling, running, standing, wearing heavy boots, kneeling to work on Humvees… it was finally time for me to listen to my body instead of only telling it what it must deliver to me, what it must do for me. My yoga practice taught me how to do that.
Today, I try and explain that yoga is more than just poses, more than asana. That is just the physical part. It is one of eight limbs of yoga; moving is only a part of the whole.
Today, I move slowly, and mindfully, and pay attention to my breath. I work with students who have injuries: hip replacements, knee replacements, back fusions. I teach students who come to me saying “my hamstrings are tight,” or “I don’t have great balance,” or, my favorite, “I’m not flexible.”
And I tell them all the same thing: that’s okay. You can still do yoga.
Your yoga practice is just that: yours. It is personal, it does not look like anyone else’s, because your body is unlike anyone else’s. Surrendering to the process allowed me learn to listen to my body. Listen to yours.