*photo credit: David Finch
I wouldn't send most people to a yoga class to address shoulder issues, but that's exactly what brought me to my mat over five years ago. As climbing became a bigger part of my life, I started to feel weakness and signs that often precede a shoulder injury. I thought pressing actions might help balance all the pulling I was doing while climbing, so I started going to yoga classes at a local rec center.
Building strength and stability were certainly part of my intentions. Primarily, yoga was my time during the week to mindfully connect with my body and cue into what was going on. Around this time, I had an amazing mentor, Emma Maaranen, who taught me a lot about assessing range of motion in others and recognizing common "cheats." When I came to my mat with this in mind, I could be brutally honest about how I was actually moving at the shoulder joints. Much of my initial focus was "simply" on how my arms were sweeping overhead during sun salutations. Learning to stabilize well in downward-facing dog and plank took precedence over arm balances or intense stretching.
My knowledge of compensatory patterns may have been basic, but it armed me with the ability to decide whether it was safe for me to advance in - or even attempt - certain postures. Knowing how to modify poses to suit my body and current goals meant awkwardly turning down offers from teachers who wanted to help me "get deeper." I disregarded certain cues**. Honestly, this initially came with judgement, but eventually I coaxed myself to only focus on what my body needed to heal and strengthen (as well as admit I couldn't possibly know the teachers' intentions or backgrounds).
My practice didn't look like most I came across, but it helped me avoid shoulder injuries and heal my wrists. I had been plagued by carpel tunnel syndrome in the past. Though I didn't know this is what I was doing at the time, progressively loading my wrists in plank helped rid me of this pain and increase my wrist extension over the years. Yoga made me stronger everywhere, connected me with my breath, and taught me to move with greater control and ease. Many of these benefits came about simply because of preferences I had. I enjoyed holding poses for longer and with intentional muscle engagement because it was challenging. I tried to move slowly and with control because graceful strength is one of the aspects I find most beautiful in movement arts. Other benefits derived from a basic understanding of anatomy, my own body awareness, and trusting my instinct on poses and postures that just didn't make sense (for my body at that time).
When I set out to pursue physical therapy as my future profession, I knew yoga could be integrated into a therapeutic setting. A mindful practice like yoga can create all manner of change, help people heal, and encourage them to better inhabit their bodies. As I met more and more people with yoga-related injuries and physical therapists who "hated" yoga, I felt less confident expressing my ideas. I lacked adequate knowledge to fully explain my experience on a physiological level. Recently this shifted as I began to better understand the science and mechanisms to back up some of the intuitive practices I had originally brought to my mat.
I've noticed a disconnect between the movement sciences and movement modalities, whether in a yoga class or within the fitness world in general. It ranges from the language used, to common misconceptions, to the flexibility bias, to a hyper-focus on alignment without a better understanding of biomechanics.
Are we actually doing what we think we are doing?
A need to explore questions and concerns, flesh out my own ideas, and deepen my understanding lead me to experts who are doing exciting work in the bodywork and movement realm: Jules Mitchell, Jill Miller, Matthew Remski, Katy Bowman, Brooke Thomas... Learning from innovative individuals is helping me develop my personal practice and clarify my future goals as a therapist. I'm filling in the gaps of my own understanding and learning to better explain and apply "the science." Scientific research isn't without its shortcomings. I'm not claiming it to be the end-all-be-all, but it's an important perspective from which to expand.
Ultimately I want to help people feel better in their bodies. The path my yoga practice has taken isn't better or worse than any other. It's just another way to approach this movement modality.
Turns out, I'm a _____________*** nerd. This is the angle that fires up my passion and makes me excited to continue working.
*Dave took these photos of me back in 2012!
** some of the most common: "tuck/lengthen tailbone," "lift the chest," "let go/relax fully" (in pigeon), creating a "double chin"
***insert any or all of the following: body, movement, science...