Know your limits

How far is too far? Where do you draw the line between challenging yourself and injury? 

(Photo credit: mohamedhassan)
I’m not sure which is worse sometimes when it comes to trying poses or classes that simply are not meant for your particular body; being a yoga teacher, or a yoga student.

It’s not uncommon to hear teachers encourage their students not to bend the knees, or to work through the pain, to give just a couple of examples. This is especially true depending on the type of yoga that you’re practicing.

I am registered to teach Hatha, restorative and chair yoga, as well as Yin yoga in the very near future.  I currently teach a chair yoga class to people fifty and over with some mobility issues.  I also teach Hatha to friends and family in one on one or small group settings and am fortunate enough to play around with whatever I feel like teaching or experimenting with.

The most important things I always say, regardless of what type of class I’m teaching, is to only do what feels good for the body and not to exceed any comfort levels. One side might be better than the other, and what they could do last time, they might not be able to do today and vice versa.

It’s ok to challenge yourself a little, but we’re not in a competition, and the goal isn’t to get the perfect “pose”.  The goal is to move the body in a way that is safe, so that we can continue moving the body and getting the benefits from that movement.

Most importantly, the ultimate goal is to connect the body, mind and breath. You don’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel to do that! 


(Photo credit: StuartMiles)
Unfortunately, when a yoga teacher is a student in someone else’s class, we don’t always listen to our own advice!  The pressure is on to be able to do all sorts of crazy poses and to be perfect in every pose.  What’s worse is when the pressure is self-imposed.

How many teachers are guilty of thinking “I should be able to do that” or have goals for asanas that are unrealistic? I’ve felt bad about myself for poses I could not do that others, who aren’t teachers, are capable of doing. 

On the flip side, I’ve critiqued other teachers, thinking to myself that they should be able to do crow or a headstand, or basically anything I can do because, well, if I can do it, why can’t they?

Yes, I am still a work in progress when it comes to practicing non-judgement. 

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t set goals; all I’m saying is to make sure the particular goal is safe for you.

Using myself as an example, I love hot yoga. Where I go, it’s not quite as hot as real hot yoga, but it is definitely heated and challenging.  When I started, it kicked my ass! But I loved it. I left the class wilted, sweating, and grinning from ear to ear.  After about three weeks, when I recovered from the various muscle aches and pains, I returned. I eventually got to the point where I was starting to go weekly and it didn’t quite kick my ass so much.  

A bout of colitis prevented me from attending public classes for about six weeks.  When I thought I’d recuperated, I returned to my beloved hot yoga classes and immediately noticed how my body had weakened in such a short time. It kicked my ass even more than my first class ever had, probably because I thought “I should be able to do this”, and pushed myself too hard.

Later that same week, I attended a regular class, thinking it would be good to stretch things out. Feeling energetic,  I then foolishly stuck around to attend the next class, Kundalini.

For those that aren’t familiar with Kundalini, there’s some crazy moves. A lot of it, though, often takes place in easy pose or with the legs straight out or wide apart. It can take its toll on you if you have tight hips and if you’re already suffering from sore muscles.

Almost two months later, I still can’t say that I’m healed and I’m questioning if it might be unwise for me to continue hot yoga and Kundalini.  Would I be challenging myself, or harming myself? If I return, can I trust myself to not push too far?

For a myriad of reasons, one of which is being 50 years old, my body takes longer to heal and I have to be extra careful not to injure my bones.  So, is it safe for me or will I be doing my body a disservice?

Enter restorative, Yin and chair yoga. I love all of these for being gentler on the body and find myself increasingly drawn to these type of classes. I am thankful that my body has now almost healed and I am learning to listen to it more carefully, to push Ego aside and practice what I preach. 


Photo credit: JamesStewart
This is not me!

Yes, there are people in the world that can effortlessly do a side or flying crow and whip their feet behind their heads. It’s unlikely that I ever will, nor are any of those my goals. This is not to say that I haven’t set goals, it just means that I’m recognizing and honouring my body’s limitations. The asanas that I will one day achieve are ones that I know, with time, my body can safely accomplish. 

Even as I myself continue to grapple with it, the message that I’m hoping to get across is that not every BODY is meant to do every pose. Many of the pictures on social media upset and frustrate me; they are one reason why people think of yoga as something they can’t do, because many of us are not meant to do them.

Do let go of the ego. Do try different types of yoga, meditation and breath work.  Do what feels right for you.  If you get injured, take the time to heal, then ease back into your practice. It’s not a competition. 

Deepen you breath, silence your mind, and listen to your body tell you what it needs and what it can do. Be kind to yourself.

Namaste.

Judy Volhart
CYA-RYT 200
Author, Cancer Warrior




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