The continued fitness manifesto (and knowing when you overdid it)

I want to tell you I had an over-ambitious day.

But the truth is, even in saying that, I want to kick my own ass – because I have so many amazing friends that do triple what I do in a day, and still are as strong and radiant as always.

I am going out of town in a few days, and so was trying to fit a whole lot of activity into one day – and in the course of the last 10 or so hours, I packed for my trip, did laundry, did pre-Passover shopping (when I come back from Austin, Passover is just a few days later), and capped it off with a 90-minute intermediate level Vinyasa Yoga class at my local gym.

Am I qualified enough to call myself Intermediate? Probably not. Can I handle a 90-minute class? Well, I thought I could…I’ve done hour classes many times and left feeling great.

(Then again, I remember once being convinced against my better judgement to go to yoga following a Jillian Michaels Body Shred class, and also, feeling as if I would perish — same also happened that time I had the bright idea to do Pilates and Zumba in the same day) – but today, post-yoga, I am so sore that all I want to do is take a bath and go to bed – and pop a giant Ibuprofen along the way. Hours later, my back is killing me. (And the rest of me don’t feel so hot either!)

The irony? I started to go to yoga for exercise  — yes – obviously — but also for destressing, relaxation, and pain relief — in the wake of all my health issues this past year I’ve had often debilitating back pain. Stretching and yoga have helped in a way medication never did.

And yoga always helped – except today. Today, I went in with no pain, and in a whole other case – and it was important to remind myself that the same “medicine” that can make us feel better it is practiced incorrectly can cause muscle strain and other injuries.

I will NEVER say the rewards of yoga don’t outweigh the potential physical risks — what I will say is that you should always take caution and perform your practice  in moderation, according to your individual flexibility level. You do that, you will have improved strength, balance, and flexibility, as well as improved sense of well-being. And you know what, you will be able to handle more and more and maybe, ultimately that super long advanced class. Don’t let the successes of others make you feel badly about yourself and your practice — I was feeling badly about myself because my friends are so much more successful in their own fitness journeys and decided to push myself to a further limit than I was ready to quite yet, ignoring that I have a very distinct set of individual circumstances.

I guess I’m not there yet. And that is a PAIN IN THE ASANA.

But what I will say is that I feel like today’s teacher didn’t give a whole lot of guidance in the way I’ve been lucky enough to be used to.

During class, when I was feeling extreme fatigue and struggling on some poses, she would call out “hey new girl!” from the front of the room to correct me, not coming by to check on me or adjust me like other teachers had done. And because I got frustrated and annoyed, I forgot the basics. Basics I know right now as I am home writing this — and if you are reading this at home, don’t let me disuade you – it’s easy to take care of yourself.

One thing I’ve discovered that is often a great savior — When in doubt, spread ‘em. In any pose where is placed on the hands (such as down dog), distribute the body’s weight through both hands by spreading them wide and pressing through the fingers. In down dog, push the hips back to decrease the angle of the wrists to the floor. In arm balances, such as crow pose, look to see that the elbows are stacked directly over the wrists.

Lower back pain is a super common yoga injury – making it ironic that I’ve used yoga to HELP with my back issues.  Before bending, imagine lengthening the spine up and away from the hips to avoid rounding. Still struggling to stay on the straight and narrow? Try bending the knees in poses like forward folds and down dog, since the culprit could be tight muscles. During seated forward folds, try sitting on a blanket or block to take pressure off the lower back.

The goal for a great practice is to turn ouch into OMMM (not the other way around) – and that means to shoot for proper alignment in poses, of course, but also to leave ego outside. It can be tempting to be an asshole like myself and rush into more advanced poses, but pushing our bodies before they’re ready is a recipe for injury. Yoga is about finding where you are – that’s what everyone always tells me — not trying to push to a place where your body may never be able to go.

Communication is everything, get to know the teacher and be sure to share any pre-existing issues that might require modifications in certain poses, and if you don’t know how to modify or use props, ask. And if a pose just isn’t working, don’t be embarrassed to simply… not do it. That’s what corpse and child’s pose is for! I knew this when I went to yoga classes 2 weeks after surgery – and felt great – why don’t I know that now? And if you tweak, pull, or tear something during a pose, don’t be afraid to step out of class early.

Rest assured, soreness will come and go, and I will pick myself up and go to another class (albeit a different one) as soon as possible. Ultimately, I didn’t injure anything other than my pride — and the knowledge that’s always so hard for me to accept that over and over, things I want to be good at, I’m not good at – or not at the level to be good at. I want to be fit and strong and limber and have an ass you can bounce quarters off of – but Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? There’s always tomorrow!

(I hear that Crunch has a Virgin Yoga class on Sunday nights…and it’s a more respectable 45 minutes also. Baby steps, right?)


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