What Is Your Yoga?

I am sitting in an overstuffed chair, icing my leg. My knee is achy and filled with fluid—I’ve been pushing it lately. Doesn’t take much to trigger an old injury.

I was 19, skiing at Killington with my boyfriend (who I thought was the love of my life), racing down a hill that was far too advanced for my skill. I had bought new skis at UNH’s annual Ski and Skate Sale and I had to break them in. Can you guess what happened? Hit an ice patch (it was Vermont, you know—if it were Vail I could have claimed it was a mogul). I went into too deep a flexion for what even a 19-year-old knee could take. It hurt for days afterward. Never went to the doctor—but I also didn’t realize that 20 years later I’d be limping around like an old lady.

I am a bit intense about everything I do. I exercise and play sports like I am 22. Not that you can’t do those things when you are 40—you absolutely can—but if you try to do them like you did when you were 22, you may find yourself lilting around the field and icing your joints.

This pain was triggered by last week’s indoor soccer game—I play in an over 30 women’s rec league. You would think such a league would be benign, soccer moms trying to play themselves, but recreational doesn’t mean dead.

Last year the same injury flared up due to this league and I ended up in PT for three months. My therapist determined that my mix of quadricep, hamstring, and hip flexor strength was not as it should be. I was out of whack, and my kneecap was being pulled laterally. But nothing that a rainbow of therabands couldn’t cure. She gave me exercises to strengthen my weaker muscles and after about six months, my knee got better.

But of course, once it improved, I stopped doing the exercises. This worked for a while—until I added tennis to my weekly sport mix. All those stops and starts and lateral movements—my knee revolted. Shocker.

My newest athletic endeavor is Bikram Yoga—the original hot yoga. I have found Bikram to be an amazing experience. I have been practicing yoga fairly regularly for over 10 years now—started with Kundalini, then Kripalu, and settled on Astanga, which was my favorite. I tried Bikram Yoga because I had heard great things about it. I found that it not only improves flexibility and strength, but it is a tremendous cardio workout as well.

There’s something about practicing yoga in a 105 degree heated room—you would never think you could sweat so much. One of the instructors says, “Did you know before now that calves can actually sweat?” It’s like doing yoga in a sauna. Bikram consists of a specific series of postures—like Astanga Yoga—so once your body develops muscle memory, you don’t need to actually concentrate so hard on what the instructor wants you to do. You can just move your body into the next posture and listen to the instructor’s recommendations for small adjustments and go deeper.

This week, one of the teachers said, “Figure out what your yoga is. Do you tend to want to wipe your face in between every posture? That’s your yoga. Are you constantly fixing your hair or straightening your clothes when you practice? That’s your yoga. Are you always looking around the room to see who is deeper in the posture than you are? That’s your yoga. Work with what is your yoga.”

I know part of my yoga is lightening up in everything I do. I don’t have to attack everything I do with fire energy. I can allow myself to just “play” when I am at soccer, or do an “easy” yoga practice where I don’t push myself into pain. I am a Leo, granted, but do I always have to lead? My yoga is also around time—I am always telling my son to move “quick like a bunny” and “we only have five minutes” and “we can play Battleship if we have time.” But then I hear him use the same language and ask me, “how much time do we have before we have to leave?” and I think, “What am I teaching him?”

You know that phrase “Easy Does It?” This concept comes from Alcoholics Anonymous. I remember seeing it on a bumper sticker once and thinking, “I just don’t get it—what does that mean?” The concept “Easy Does It” literally did not compute in my tiny little brain.

But then one day someone told me that her husband really likes icicle lights. He likes icicle lights so much that he leaves them up on their house year round. And when she was about to blast him out for the tenth time because it was March and the lights were still pinned up, she thought, “Easy Does It.” And she let him have his lights. She let it go.

So what is my real yoga? Live in the moment. Play hard. Let it go. Kneesy does it.