As a yoga practitioner and instructor, I’ve spent lots of time telling others about the joy of yoga, its health benefits and its transformational properties. I’ve coerced my friends and family to practice with me and I’ve had so much fun in the process. But despite all this, I quit yoga. I stopped practicing this summer and I didn’t feel bad about it at all. Of course, I didn’t forget how good yoga is for us, but it didn’t matter. I quit. I didn’t want to do it, so I didn’t. Well, that’s not completely accurate. I stopped practicing asanas (the physical postures), but I did continue my pranayama (energetic breathing techniques) and meditation practices. But getting on the floor or standing to stretch just wasn’t going to happen.
You see, for much of July I was in pain. An old knee injury had been terribly aggravated by no fault of my own, something weird in my ankle flared up and deep muscle pain in my neck and shoulder refused to go away. All in all, I felt like a little, old lady with spectacles, gray hair and nothing to talk about but my pain.
In the previous months, I had been going deeper in my yoga practice and gaining more strength and flexibility. And it felt good to be at a “new” level of practice. Physically, I was feeling stronger and more powerful and I wanted my yoga practice to reflect that. But here I was at the beginning of July in so much pain that I felt sidelined from the practice. I was elevating and icing my knee, doing compression and resting it; but for two days I limped so hard I probably could have used a pair of crutches.
Because of these ailments, I knew a strong, more athletic yoga practice was beyond my reach. But that was what I yearned for, a strong practice to keep driving to new heights. Not being able to practice the way I wanted to, I didn’t want to practice yoga at all. Besides, I hurt too much. So I let my body rest and before I knew it, the days I didn’t do yoga just added up.
Then one day, I received a text message from a fellow yoga teacher. She needed someone to teach her yoga classes so she could handle some family business out of town. I looked at the text and sighed. "I haven’t done yoga in weeks," I thought. "I’m certainly not ready or the ideal person to take over her classes. Yogis need yoga teachers with strong bodies and strong practices. And me, well, I’m feeling like a little, old lady with aches and pains and besides, by my lack of practice, it’s apparent that I’ve quit yoga."
I studied her words on my phone, tapping my fingers on its case. She needed help and I was available. So, I sighed and replied: “I can teach your classes.” The text zipped through into the ether. And that was it. The little, old lady was out of retirement.
Before teaching that first class, I practiced yoga. It had been 21 days since my last practice. I was tight, but things slowly started to loosen and I was in much less pain.
The good thing about my friend’s classes was that I could teach whatever I wanted. So for the first class, I decided to teach restorative yoga. The practice involves using props (bolsters, blankets, blocks) to support the body, allowing it to completely relax in poses that are held for several minutes. Restorative yoga was just my speed that day and I was delighted to find out everyone in that Tuesday afternoon class was also in need of a restorative class to melt away the tension and stress.
I ended up teaching four classes that week - two restorative, one gentle and one partner yoga class. And I enjoyed every bit of it. And better yet, the yogis in those classes really enjoyed themselves. They told me how refreshed and relaxed they were after the classes and how much they liked them. I was honored to lead them in yoga that week and it felt good to help them feel better when they left than when they arrived.
I often tell yogis in my classes to just do the best they can, that it isn’t necessary to do a pose so that they look like the person next to them or like that “perfect” model they saw on the cover of "Yoga Journal" magazine. I tell them that yoga looks different on every body. That we can’t compare ourselves to others or even judge our yoga practice today based on what we did last year, last month or even yesterday. Our bodies are constantly changing from year to year, day to day and moment to moment. And we must appreciate and accept where we are today.
Despite knowing and encouraging this, I realized that I had failed to do it myself in the three weeks prior. Instead of accepting where I was physically and adjusting my practice to suit my body, I let my asana practice go. I didn’t want to modify and slow down, I wanted to keep my same pace. But, of course, we know life doesn’t work that way. And things will happen to urge us to slow down, take notice and take time to heal.
Coming back to yoga and teaching those classes gave me a renewed appreciation for restorative yoga. It reminded me that the yoga journey isn’t about getting a stronger, more powerful body. It’s about healing, balance, deeper insights into who we are and powerful spiritual transformations.
Since that week, I’ve practiced a lot more restorative yoga, taken it slow and begun to work on healing my body through various modalities. The journey of healing and self-realization is a long one. But it’s one we are destined to finish no matter how many times we feel like we’ve quit.
So, no, I haven't quit yoga. Ever a student, I am beginning once again.