Falling in love with yoga, again.

It happened like this:

I was warming up, doing very gentle yoga, trying to fill up with breath and drop my consciousness down into my body. I was planning to do a sweaty, core-intensive, arm balancing and hip opening kind of practice–I needed to let go and push my limits and detox. But the universe had other plans that day.

It was one of the sharpest pains I had ever consciously felt, it started in one poignant spot and eventually fanned out in a few different directions. My entire body contracted, especially my core, and for a few seconds I was paralyzed with pain. When what had happened actually registered, I started crying automatically, not because it hurt, but because I, a person who practices yoga almost every day, knew what had just happened.

I frickin’ pulled something.

That something I later realized was levator scapulae, a muscle in the back of the neck.

The tears stopped as quickly as they started. Then, anger. Swearing. FuckWHYthefuckdidthishappentomeWHYfuckfuckfuckshitWHYthisfuckingsucksWHYthisdidnotjustfuckinghappen. Or something like that. Panic. NO. WHY. WHY NOW. WHY EVER. WHY ME.

Fuck.

I wish I could say it happened when I was doing some awesome arm balance or coming down from a handstand into chatturanga or dropping back into a backbend.

But no. A few days ago, I got injured doing frickin’ cat/cow. That’s just how injuries go, they usually don’t happen in a way that seems “worth it”.

I just reread my last post about stress, and now it feels like I should have seen an injury coming. Neck and back muscles are the ones that tighten up the most from stress, at least that’s how it is for my body. Actually, it may seem weird, but in the moments right before the muscle was pulled, I remember my internal dialogue going something like, my neck feels weird today, what if when I move my head again I pull something…and then right there, it happened. Many people experience this same thing right before an injury happens.

This was the first time I’ve gotten hurt in a while where I’ve actually been conscious of it. Sounds weird, but it’s true. Climbing has taught me to how to mentally block out pain, and I’ve gotten pretty damn good at it. As one could imagine, climbing hurts. Holding on to tiny features in the rock is painful, and this is something I forget all of the time because I’m so used to it. Even the smallest, razor-like indentations in the rock don’t hurt for me to cling on to. In fact, I prefer sharper, grittier holds to smooth ones because they bite back at me. I don’t have to hold on as tight because, well, the rock is holding on to me.

It isn’t uncommon after a day of climbing to look down at my knuckles, knees, or elbows and see blood trickling out of a gash. Who knows when or how these cuts happened, I had been too focused on climbing to even realize that I was hurt.

If you are consciously aware of pain, climbing just isn’t going to work for you. So we learn how to push it aside. This goes for other sports as well. While I was mountain biking a few years back, I took a nasty fall but picked myself up really quickly because I knew someone was coming down fast right behind me. When we got down the mountain, my friend said, “Uh, George, you’ve got a stick in your leg.” Low and behold, I looked down to see a twig (with leaves on it) lodged into my lower leg, sticking straight out like a dart in a dartboard. I pulled it out and we went on with the day.

I never even realized how weird all of this sounds until just now.

To be honest, if I had pulled my muscle doing anything but something as mindful as yoga, I probably wouldn’t even have realized that it happened. Climbing is mindful, but in much, much different way.

My asana practice has been very, very limited. I didn’t do anything for the first two days after I pulled the muscle, and I’m just now starting to move slowly again.

At first, not being able to move really pissed me off. When someone hurts themselves climbing and it’s more than just a gash or bruise, it pisses them off too. Alex twisted his ankle from a fall while bouldering last summer and the same slew of swearing and anger and irritation followed. Not being able to do something that we usually can do, something that we love and do often, makes us mad. Limits suck.

I was mad at yoga for the first few days too. But then today, when I got on my mat, and did my fifteen minute super gentle barely moving practice, I fell in love with it all over again.

Yoga, climbing, any sport or activity that you absolutely adore will take you in whatever state you’re in. Yoga doesn’t care if you’re hurt–physically, emotionally, spiritually, or all of the above. It doesn’t care if you’re tired, hyped up, feeling like a million bucks or feeling like you just lost a million bucks. It doesn’t matter if last night you had shots of tequila or shots of wheatgrass, yoga will take you. It will work with you, despite how beat down you may be. It accepts you wholeheartedly–your good, your bad, your ugly.

Climbing is the same for me–it doesn’t care if I’m climbing my very hardest or my very shittiest, it’s just glad I showed up.

Yoga doesn’t mind if you sit out a few poses or add in a handstand between every transition, if you take it slow or rev it up, feel full of love or full of hate. It doesn’t judge. Every time we do yoga (or anything you love) it says, “Alright kid, this is what we’re workin’ with today. So glad you made it to the mat, always nice to see you. I’m okay with whatever you’ve got goin’ on.”

Now, it is time for US to be okay with what we’ve got going on.

I was a head full of judgements when I was stressed out a few weeks ago. Georgie, you’re a frickin’ yoga teacher, you shouldn’t feel like this, come on, toughen up. And when I got hurt, the same happened. See George, look, now you’ve gone and stressed yourself out so much that you got hurt and can’t even do your yoga anymore. Congrats. Great example you must be to your students. Judgement, judgement, judgement.

So today, I am trying to be more like yoga. It always accepts what has happened, welcomes us with open arms, doesn’t care if we do an amazing, full of energy practice, or just curl up on our mat and take a nap. Yoga likes hanging out with us no matter what.

It’s just glad to see us.

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Stress, Ice Pick Headaches, and other things I like to think I play off well.

I know, I haven’t written a post in a while. Truth is, I haven’t really felt like it. I’ve been…ya know…that thing that yoga instructors aren’t ever supposed to be–stressed. True story.

This past weekend, I got to see my family. They flew in from California to Atlanta because my little sister, Cass, had a volleyball tournament (the junior Olympics–yeah, she’s a badass). It was so incredibly good to see them. I have been missing them a lot more than I let on–usually, I play it off pretty well. But, this post is going to be full of things that I (like to think) play off pretty well, so get used to it. Here goes.

I guess I’ll just start you off with something that practically no one knows about me (only my family and boyfriend, and even to them, I don’t talk about it much). I suffer from ice pick headaches, a pretty rare and, for the most part, poorly researched disorder. This kind of headache is different from other kinds: it isn’t a dull ache or throbbing sensation, but an intense sharp pain (usually in my right temple) that feels like its name would suggest–having an ice pick stabbed into your head unexpectedly. Yep…really no other way to describe it. Thankfully, it only lasts about 45 seconds, and it’s sometimes accompanied by a burning sensation after the stabbing goes away. To be blunt–they really, really suck. The pain is so intense that I have to stop what I’m doing, clench my jaw, close my eyes and press into my temple where the headache is happening. I’ve been getting these for as long as I remember. Neurologists haven’t found an underlying cause of ice pick headaches, but I know, without doubt, what mine are from–stress.

Being a yoga instructor and practitioner comes along with certain stereotypes, and being stressed sure as hell ain’t one of them. But I always strive, in my classes and through this blog, to let everyone know that teaching yoga doesn’t mean I’m not just as f-ed up as the rest of the world. I am flawed. And if you ever go to a yoga class where the instructor just seems like he/she is just so perfect, so amazing, so calm all the time, so together–don’t let them fool you. It’s usually the ones who pretend to be perfect who are the most messed up. Yeah, I’m being judgmental. See? Flawed.

My stress recently has stemmed from being torn–between California and Savannah. I really love Savannah, my friends here, my dream job, my Alex, and the yoga community. I am living a lovely life. But a part of me is very, very homesick. I miss my family, my dogs, my home, rock climbing, being able to go outside and explore. I miss mountains (hills even), poppies, the way the Bay looks on a clear day, the smell of eucalyptus trees, rocks. I miss laughing with my sisters, talking with my Mama, going on afternoon hikes with my Dad before dinner. Savannah is beautiful and I love it here, but it’s not very conducive to the whole of who I am–a very adventurous person who wants to spend her life outside.

So, one night when I was feeling especially homesick and about to fall asleep, the question came up: should I go home?

And then, the stress started. A constant stream of weighing my options, trying to figure it all out. One minute I’d be set on going home, the next, I had decided I was going to stay here another year or two. Back and forth. Pros and cons. Yes or no. West or East.

Georgia or California.

This went on until just the other day while practicing Ashtanga. I can’t remember the last time I had an ah-ha! moment while I wasn’t on my yoga mat, covered in sweat and listening to only the sound of my breath. Actually, the last time I had one of these moments while I wasn’t doing yoga was when I was running–and if you’ve been following this blog you know I haven’t done that in a long, long time.

It was during savasana. I had done the primary series, or at least, the parts of it that I can do without my knees hurting (which, by the way, have felt a LOT better recently…I can do janu sirsana again!). So really, I had done the Georgie-style primary series. I was laying on my mat, breath was soft again, and as I started listening in, I literally started talking to myself in my head (glad I didn’t say anything out loud).

I heard myself say: George, you don’t have to choose. 

That’s all I said. But that was all I needed to hear. I remembered back to about a year ago, when I started this blog (yeah, I can’t believe it’s been that long either) and I was faced with the very stressful question of what the hell I was going to do with my life. And as soon as I let go of the worrying, the weighing of options, the having to decide, the stress–everything fell into place. I came here, I started teacher training. Best decision of my life, probably because I let it come organically.

As I came out of savasana, I felt lighter. I was smiling. I knew, and still know, that when I’m supposed to go home, it will happen. I don’t have to choose.

And then, when I was talking with my friend Meredith about all of this, she said something that I’ll probably tell myself for years to come: you’ll be okay no matter what you do. Isn’t she the best?

I find that many of the times when I am stressed it is because I feel like I need to control the situation–either by making a decision, somehow forcing the traffic to go faster, being sure that I get something done by a certain time. Letting go of this desire to control has been the greatest tool I’ve learned to reduce stress and anxiety. Yoga taught me how to do this, how to let go.

Stress is, in my opinion, the most unhealthy thing we can have in our bodies (obviously, I mean come on, I feel I’m being stabbed with a frickin’ ice pick every time I’m stressed out). And yes, I still get stressed and anxious sometimes, but yoga has helped me understand why, and just that understanding helps it reduce . Now when I’m stressed I can actually use it as a tool for self-discovery, a way to learn something about myself that I didn’t know before.

So for me, I learned that when I am faced with a choice, and that if I don’t know the answer within two seconds, I get stressed. Maybe your stress comes from something else. It’s important to know what that something is.

Stop fighting yourself. Every answer you need is coming, is some form or another. Just listen.