RESTORATIVE YOGA - THE ART OF BEFRIENDING ONESELF

When I teach yoga I am my most connected self – to my students, to the teachings and my teachers, to myself. It is an extension of my practice. And as my practice has shifted considerably over the past few months, so has my teaching. I have caught myself describing this iteration as a downshift, and on the surface (physical level) this is true: restorative yoga consists of passive poses held for a time, allowing for deep relaxation and awareness. There is far less overt physical effort. But that word “downshift” implies less than, when in fact this journey has been quite profound. So how did I get here?

My Summer of Sitting

Over the spring I developed calcific tendonitis in my left shoulder: calcium deposits that form in the tendons of the shoulder, causing pain and limiting range of motion. My shoulder weakened, while other adjoining areas over-compensated (my neck and chest). By mid-June my entire left side was so bunched up that the pain was triggering chronic migraine headaches. However, I did not connect the two, and was attributing the migraines to much deeper causes – buried anger and resentment issues, stuck emotions, Covid anxiety, phone addiction, blah blah blah. Many summer days were cut short as the migraines took over – all I could was retire to bed in my darkened room. I have always experienced migraines, so while the frequency was much higher than usual, it wasn’t exactly a new place for me. There was a distinct lack of self-compassion and a lot of self-judgment (“Have I been practicing wrong all this time? Am I a fraud? What am I doing with my life?”). I was pretty morose.

restorative yoga

But then I got a call I wasn’t expecting for another few months: my number was up for arthroscopic surgery to repair a tear in my knee. This turned out to be the shift I needed in my daily routine: from active (at least in the mornings, before the pain took over) to extremely passive. No longer were the agonizing migraines the reason for my summer of sitting. Instead, it was the much more tangible reality of knee surgery. All of sudden, rather than feeling guilty for “doing nothing”, feeling like a failure for somehow not being able to overcome the migraines, I could simply sit there, be still, take some effective painkillers, and just do my physio. And slowly, something shifted.

Being confined to the bed/sofa for many hours of the day, during the best days of summer, was an exercise in acceptance and patience. I finally watched Arrested Development (next blog post: comedy as a healing modality). I started to combine my physio routine with a series of restorative yoga postures. I began seeing a cranio-sacral specialist to help release the tension in my neck and shoulder (and back and hips…). He echoed the advice my physiotherapist gave to avoid all exercises that engage my pectorals, as they were too strong, jumping into action and pulling on my weak shoulder. It has been a reckoning. No more sun salutations, vinyasa, downward dog, headstand, cobra, upward dog. No plank. No push ups. Definitely no chaturanga. Ok then. Nothing is permanent, this is simply the reality of now.

The physio routine has morphed into a gym training routine as I build my body back to a balanced state. So where has this left my yoga practice at present? Classical Hatha yoga is a path of inquiry, of self-discovery – “find your edge”. It will challenge the seeker, and has the power to transform. Its ultimate goal is self-knowledge. But lately (or perhaps for a long time…) that line between striving and acceptance (my edge) has blurred. Restorative yoga has been a revelation of sorts. Fuck my edge. On the mat at this time for me, what has become clear is the need to practice letting go, both mentally, emotionally, and physically. Allowing for uncompromising self-compassion. When I practice in this way, it feels like the art of befriending myself. I hope you can join me in this journey inwards. See you at home, on our mats <3

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