When is pushing destructive and allowing beneficial in sport?

Back in 2007 when I started out in college studying yoga, my focus was on developing my yoga and me.  Even back then I instinctively knew the benefits of yoga and so I chose to do this for me and I poured all my energy into something I loved which gave me huge satisfaction.  Yoga.

I placed my focus squarely on developing my personal yoga journey.  My emphasis back then was on doing (to keep my mind occupied), pushing through (kept me moving forward), evolving into a fitter leaner machine.

As part of our college course we had to attend various different types of yoga classes so we had first-hand experience of what they felt like. It made logical sense plus at all the workshops I had gained valuable pieces of insights and information which I had been able to apply to my own personal practice.

I loved it, every single moment of it. I just loved it.  I loved how my muscles sometimes ached and shook, how sweat would form on my brow, the challenge to see if I could stay with the pace of the class.  I had set a challenge to myself to do better and to become more flexible.  My aim was to master difficult poses and contort myself basically inside out.  Everything I desired was everything that is NOT yoga.  Back then I knew no wiser.

I remember one particular workshop we were required to attend was on Yin Yoga.  I was all geared up, enthusiastic and ready to soak up more knowledge, ideas and hints and tips.  What unfolded was like a dose of slow Chinese torture.  We were encouraged to slow down, allow the body settle, breathe, and relax, and practice santosha (contentment) and ahimsa (non-violence) in the pose. WHAT???!!!!   Omg!  Two poses in I wanted to run from the room with yoga mat flying in the wind.  I thought I was going to combust on my mat as everything in me resisted to great reverance.  I hated every second of it and made a pledge that no matter what I did in the future Yin Yoga wasn’t going to be in the picture.

Why?  What happened?  It was simple.  I had been so used to pushing my body to extremes, under various different disguises, varying levels that I was unable to slow down.  I was unable to give my body the one thing it needed most -rest and recovery to repair, heal and strengthen.  In my head I needed to get fit, I needed to get stronger, I needed to succeed, I needed to hold for longer…. When in actual fact all I really needed to do was be, and allow.  This turned out to be even more powerful a challenge than any power yoga workout.

In slowing down I was being shown by my body just exactly what my body needed, where exactly it needed attention as to strengthening, lengthening, release.  The care the nurturing it craved so badly.  Yet I continued to induce a gentle kind of violent damage to it by not listening and instead ploughing ahead at full speed.  Instead of sitting and relaxing and just being with myself I was doing everything and anything bar that.  I would amp up the workout.  Force myself to push through rather than stop. Suppress and basically avoid.  Elements of that still exist in me today and I would up the anti in a bid to flush out issues I chose not to deal with.  It seemed like a great coping mechanism except out bodies can only endure so much from us before eventually, saying – woah! Hold on just one minute, I’ve had ENOUGH!

I was afraid, stupid I know, but I was afraid to stop in case life caught up with me. Afraid that if I did stop I would be unable to pick up and take off again. I still carry those same fears in me but now I am a little bit more aware of my actions and I try to allow.  TRY being the operative word here.

Age is an amazing educator.   Here I am now 11 years down the road.  My whole life changed for the better because of yoga and my whole yoga practice has completely evolved.  The drive and stamina of constantly pushing and forcing of my younger days has started to subside and give way to true yoga.  I now do yoga with the intention of being non-violent towards myself.  I never thought that would happen but it has as my own personal yoga is becoming more and more yin.  I am beginning to allow rather than force, soften rather than harden, sit with rather than run.  Who would ever have guessed that that would be possible, back then I would have laughed the idea would be so ludicrous.  I would see it as being weak.

Youth, drive, stamina.  Brilliant aspects in their own right if we listen to our bodies and give it time, but it also has a shadow disastrous consequences in later life if we don’t listen to our bodies.  Arthritis, bursitis, frozen / tight shoulders, discs & back ache, inflammation all start to kick in if we fail to listen to our bodies.

I maintained I was invincible. I would have an endless supply of energy and drive to keep me moving, driving forward.    That is the beauty of youth you feel invincible.  Dreams are for realising and goals are to be reached.  It never enters our head that as we age so does our body.  Our bodies get tired of the constant draw we put on its resources and it lets us know by ailments, the silent consequence that slowly creeps up on us.  So silently that we don’t pay them any great heed.  A gentle ache which we swallow a pill for, suddenly it doesn’t go away and then slowly becomes a steady constant pain.  A joint which used to move so freely becomes inflamed and angry and suddenly always appears to be sore.  A back with used to be strong and supportive now cripples us and sometimes floors us quite literally.  It may even be a tightened or thorn muscles in the legs which seems to now become a recurring ordeal at the slightest stretch.  Body pains are the awards for the dynamic stamina which herald us relentlessly forward constantly pushing our bodies to extreme.

How much further do we plan to push before our bodies eventually say, ENOUGH!

Yoga has always been a journey and it will continue to be so. I am discovering right now the joy and bliss in just simply allowing, not forcing but simply allowing.  What I am noticing is that by doing so my body responds in a much greater capacity than it ever did by being forced or presurised.

Yoga, it is like a flower slowly opening into the magnificent crescendo of full bloom.  The work is slow, but steady, creating strength but with softness that allows flexibility in both poses and life.  It turns furiousness and haste into a pleasant acceptance of slowing down and enjoying.

Slowing down has an added benefit also, especially in sports yoga.  Slowing down allows the muscles to lengthen and eases the tension that severe training can cause.  Where it is important at times to push ourselves to do better and to succeed it is also vitally important to recognise when to ease up and allow the muscles time to gain flexibility.

If you are into sports, be it GAA, Soccer, Rugby, Running whatever your sport, tightening muscles are going to hold you back both in performance and sustainability.  This is where yoga has enormous benefits it brings strength with flexibility, it brings durability to your performance on the pitch or the road.  It brings clarity to your mind so that your focused attention is exactly where it needs to be and not holding you back through fear of injury or renewed injury.

If you have been injured you need to protect the wound, you need to build strength around it to help prevent it from reoccurring.  It is all very fine pushing yourself endeavouring to reach goals, but what is you back up plan if your body lets you down and suddenly says… I’ve had ENOUGH!

I provide a back-up plan, learn to stretch your muscles, help prevent injuries, help strengthen old injuries and ensure your sports performance has a long and rewarding time span.

If any of this resonates with you, come along to our yoga class.  Monday night at 7pm you will stretch, you will release but you will also ensure your body endures.

Om shanti