Photos c/o Tutti del Monte
Hot tears streamed down my cheeks as I recounted how my knee snapped in yoga. My physical therapist listened intently. As my tears subsided she compassionately began to respond.
The more I listened to her the more something became clear to me: I do not know how to listen to my body.
Thankfully my ACL was not torn, but there was a deep sprain in my knee and a minor tear in my IT band. But now my body had my attention. As we developed a plan for my recovery we uncovered that I have muted the warning signals of pain, and subtly been pushing my way into poses for which I am not ready.
That’s when I realized the existence of pain can be a mercy. There’s pain that says STOP, this hurts, and if you keep going it’s going to really hurt. And there’s pain that says this is annoying and uncomfortable. But if you stay with it and keep showing up it will get easier, and there will be growth.
As a collegiate tennis player I was taught to bulldoze through both types of pain. All that mattered was that I could perform throughout the season. My life before and after practice revolved around being stretched, lathered in numbing cream, heated, iced, and wrapped to get me playable.
Pain was not a tool for me to listen to, it was an annoyance for me to push through. So when the alarms of pain would start to whistle–whether on the court or in the weight room — I learned to silence them and keep moving. Pain was weakness, a pesky fly distracting me from greatness.
This was my mentality for years. Limping away from my collegiate career, my 21-year-old body felt trapped inside the bones and joints of an 80-year-old. I never thought I would be able to work out again. Anything I did felt painful, and it was like this for most of my 20s.
This changed when I started yoga. Instead of it being about winning and pushing through, it was about being present and honoring where I was at on any given day. It was about listening to my body, letting go of comparison, and letting go of my attachment to where I think I should or shouldn’t be. This has been revolutionary for me.
Over time I have grown and let go of unhealthy habits; it’s been healing both to my body and my spirit. Moving through yoga has been like peeling the layers of an onion. Moving past one layer only to discover another area of growth waiting to be peeled back.
When my knee snapped and I collapsed to the ground a few months ago, the first thing I felt was terror. My mind went to the worst case scenarios of a torn ACL, and that I’d never be able to work out again. I kept thinking, how did this happen, and why did this happen?
The thought of not being able to do yoga felt devastating. And the same old fear of never being able to work out again reared its head. The pain continued to worsen, and I made an appointment with my physical therapist.
Sitting across from my physical therapist I began to wonder if this was yet another layer being peeled back. I had an opportunity in my physical pain to dig deeper, to learn and grow.
Although I can’t say that I’ve done this well every day, I am committed to listening to my body. Taking time off completely from my practice was torture. But I used the time to listen — to really listen to my body. And as I started to bring yoga back into my life I became keenly aware of how I push it in little ways. I discovered that if I want to be healthy and able to practice yoga for a lifetime, I need to slow down, and bring other forms of exercise back into my life.
This process has been humbling as I’ve had to modify some of the most basic postures and slow down in my day to day life. It’s been frustrating at times when I want to run outside and play in the park, and have to be content with reading and being still.
It left me in tears when I realized I couldn’t attempt one of my favorite poses because the warning bells of pain were ringing in my ears. Instead I sat quietly and waited for the next sequence to begin.
Another layer is being peeled back. My injury truly was a mercy. I’m thankful it wasn’t worse, and I thank God that this has allowed me to see how I ignored my body for so long. Pain is my friend, my ally — not an enemy to stomp on or shoo away. The days I get to practice and sweat have become even sweeter than before.
Slowly, I am learning to listen to my body. I’m learning to listen for and feel the signals that have been there all along. My body is always saying things to me. The invitation is for me to have the humility and willingness to not only listen, but respond.