A Yoga For All Seasons

twistSeven years of nonstop yoga, several days a week, had beaten me up pretty hard. My hamstrings hurt, my knees wobbled, and barely a week went by without a hot shooting pain in my sacrum. Sometimes it got so bad that I walked crooked for days. Occasionally, I couldn’t get out of bed. Yoga is supposed to clear out your toxins, but I felt heavy and phlegmatic, almost radioactive. When I’d started, the practice felt fresh and special. But now I was old and broken. I needed a break.

The problem was, when I stopped practicing, I felt even worse. My joints and muscles were strained, but at least they were moving. So I changed tacks. I’d moved to a new city, and had no yoga reputation there. Not that I had a reputation in my old city, but I felt like I did. Regardless, my yoga tabula was rasa. No one cared who I was or what I did.

So for two years, I relaxed. I did three yin yoga classes a week, and one or two very light evening classes a month where I was more or less the only person in the room under the age of 50. Once in a while I’d do an active class, just to keep the synovial fluids moving, but most of the time I actually felt better when I didn’t.

Gradually, my body began to heal. The injuries, other than the sacral problem–which appears to be a lifelong curse at this point–became tolerable or dissipated altogether. Life had become one long yoga nap, and I felt better.

One day, my beloved yin teacher Dido pulled me aside and said, “you know, I think you’re ready for an active practice again. You’ve got potential.” She specialized in broken bodies, so I was flattered that she thought I could be rebuilt, like Steve Austin, but at a reasonable cost.

Nonetheless, I ignored her advice, because I was feeling lazy. Sure enough, I got fat. And bored. As Ayurveda practitioners say, I had too much kapha, not enough vata. Or is it pitta? I don’t know, but I was out of balance. My muscles and brain began to atrophy. My formerly active practice was calling me home.

So I started jumping around a little, doing a led Primary Series here, a little Sunday morning vinyasa flow there, and practicing inversions at home when the mood struck and my stomach was relatively empty. It’s been great, and I’ve really started to blossom, thus far injury-free. If I start to feel a little heavy or injured, I mellow out, and lie down, take a few days off, meditate, or do something else entirely.

Yoga practice, I’ve learned, doesn’t have to be any one thing. It can energize you when you need energy, chill you when you need chilling, heal you when you’re hurt, and focus your mind when you’re scattered. Like life, it’s constantly changing, and infinitely adaptable. There will be times when it’s hard, and times when it’s easy. But it’s always there for you, and it never judges. That’s why we like it so much and talk about it constantly. I’ll have to keep that all in mind the next time my hamstring attachment pops.

Neal Pollack is the author of Downward-Facing Death, a serialized Kindle yoga murder mystery, the memoir Stretch: The Unlikely Making Of A Yoga Dude, and the self-published novel Jewball. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and son. You can find out more about him at nealpollack.com or follow him on Twitter.