There was a time when I could stick my head between my legs, wrap my arms around my back, and basically look up my butt.
Charming. For sure.
I was a yogini. I devoted time and time and time and then more time in the yoga studio, my toes gripping the rubbery mat and sweat pouring off my furrowed brow.
I was a Bikram devotee. One, maybe two classes a day. Every. Day. For (not one or two or three) but a good five and a half years of my life.
I was a devotee. I owned five different Gaiam mats and three different grippy-yoga towels.
In fact, I still remember the first time I went to a yoga class. I first stepped into the heated room, ten minutes before the class started, and there was a guy in the middle of the studio in a full scorpion posture.
Uh. Yeah. I knew I couldn’t do that, but the perfectionist, acheivement-oriented person I am said to myself, “Well, there’s no way I can ever get that strong. Instead, I am going to be THE MOST LIMBER AND FLEXIBLE PERSON I CAN POSSIBLY BE.”
So that’s what I set out to do.
There’s something to be said about having a focused, almost OCD mind. My obsessive mind helped me get through AP Chem (I must memorize the periodic table!) and other challenging high school courses. Yoga was no different. I practiced postures in my living room. I read all of Bikram’s books. Within a month or so I could do standing head to knee without problem. In standing backward bend, I could actually graze the floor with my pointer fingers.
I was flexible. FLEX. I. BLE.
But I was also getting sore.
After every straight-legged posture where I was told to “push my knee back”, I was getting pain behind the knee. Pretty soon, the minor ache turned into a major swelling. Every standing bow posture left me gritting my teeth in agony. I asked instructors what was going on, and they told me that it was my body reaching a postural plateau, and I’d eventually grow out of it.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
Besides the pain, other weird changes were also taking place in my body. One was that I couldn’t sit still without my back starting to cramp and my legs starting to twitch. It was the oddest feeling. I literally had to stretch every moment of the day to feel “limber” and “loose.”
I didn’t believe it when a strength and conditioning specialist I was seeing to “get stronger” (which meant put some meat on my lithe body) said, “Stop stretching. Just stop.” Why? Well, apparently being tooooo flexible is a thing. Since I am a naturally flexible person, pushing my body too far into a yoga position was doing a number to my joints and collagen. I didn’t know it at the time, but there is this handy-dandy thing called fascia encasing the human body. The Anatomy Trains site details fascia as “…the biological fabric that holds us together, the connective tissue network. You are about 70 trillion cells — neurons, muscle cells, epithelia — all humming in relative harmony; fascia is the 3D spider web of fibrous, gluey, and Fasciawet proteins that binds them together in their proper placement.” Basically, fascia holds all of our insides in one place, and so overly lengthening and stretching out the fascia in one part of the body will cause said area to lose that strength and tension.
The fascia around the human body is also fluid and dynamic–there is continual pushing and pulling and relaxing and contracting going on. This concept is known as tensegrity, and where there is the most strain, the most constraints in a structure, that is where a break in the chain can occur.
And that was what happened to me and yoga. I was doing too much yoga, too often, and given my genetic propensity to be uber-flexible, I was damaging the very part of my body (my knees and legs) that I thought I was “working out.” I was pushing beyond what my fascia could handle, and low and behold, once I stopped all forms of yoga, I no longer felt the aches and pains.
What’s the take-away here? Should I never do yoga again?
No, that would be a misnomer. There are certain tenants of yoga apart from stretching that are incredibly important. Breathing. Balance. Calming the mind. Yoga helps with all of these things. Now when I take a yoga class (which happens about once or twice a year), I focus in on those ideas, but I also am sure to balance out my extreme flexibility with some strength. Just like the fasica concept of tensegrity, I need to balance my body. Push here, pull there. Stretch a little, but don’t forget to strengthen.
Balance. That is the answer.
But isn’t that life? Isn’t life all about balance?
Where in your life do you need more balance? What do you do to find balance? Comment and share your thoughts below!