Pain isn’t a teacher I particularly like, but it is one I’ve learned to listen to and respect.
I was living in Mexico, where the pace of life allowed me to up my yoga practice to a full 90 minutes/session.
Though my mind and spirit loved this commitment to deep, stretchy, near-daily asanas, parts of my body did not. My psoas, in particular, was not one bit happy about my increased devotion, and before too long, it got to where I could hardly sit in a chair for more than a minute or two without extreme discomfort. The only way I was able to (temporarily) relieve the pain, was to lie on the ground, bent into an “L” shape with my legs in the air against the wall.
My instinct? Stretch more. Go deeper. So I searched for YouTube videos that focused on psoas stretches, and got back on my mat.
After I’d tried just about every yoga routine YouTube had to offer at the time, I finally reached out to a yoga instructor friend (my hyper-individualism was still a pretty constant saboteur for me during those days)..
Her: “Stop doing yoga.”
Me: “You mean so much of it?”
Her: “No, all of it.”
Me: “You mean all of it that may be related to my psoas?”
Her: “Nope, I mean take a break. Don’t do any yoga at all for a couple weeks, then let’s talk again and see how you feel.”
I stopped, reluctantly and frustrated. I’d been trying to do good things for myself! I knew I needed movement in order to feel good, my kids were finally all in school, so I had the time, and I was proud of the progress I’d made.
Sure enough, within a few days, the pain began to subside. By the end of a couple weeks, I was able to sit and write for hours without any discomfort at all.
We talked again. “From what you’re describing, it seems you’re hyper-flexible. You need to build strength or your flexibility is going to keep hurting you.
Insert mind-exploding emoji.
As soon as she said it, I realized my body was yelling for my attention on behalf of the rest of me. Hyper-flexibility was, in fact, hurting me in almost every aspect of my life. It was my coping strategy of choice, and the consequences of the imbalance it created were finally catching up with me.
Kids home sick again? I’d set aside my business building and center their needs.
Kid schedules encroaching on my precious little “me” time? I’d flex, bending my schedule to accommodate theirs.
Someone disrespects my boundaries? I’d assume I hadn’t stated them clearly enough and work even harder to find a way to more effectively communicate them.
Someone takes up all the air in the room, barely allowing for my voice? I’d immediately tie their behavior to a childhood wound they’d told me about and feel compassion for their lack of awareness, then give them even more airtime.
Suddenly, everywhere I looked, there was more evidence of my hyper-flexibility and the wounds it was causing me.
Those wounds were no less painful than my jacked psoas:
The resentment, the overfunctioning, the keeping small and quiet, the centering of others’ needs and desires at my own expense.
The tough thing was that it was also immediately clear to me that the solution to my hyper-flexibility in my life (off the yoga mat), was likely to be much more complex than the twenty minutes per day of strengthening exercises prescribed to me by a yoga therapist.
I was going to have to look at all kinds of realities I hadn’t wanted to face up to that point.
Like the unconscious agreement I’d made with my family to put them first, always.
Like the unconscious agreement I’d made to avoid triggering fragile male egos.
Like the unconscious agreement I’d made to being the perpetual peacemaker, emotions manager, need tracker, and slack picker-upper within my home.
Like the false sense of safety I found through keeping my truths inside rather than daring to speak them in the presence of those who’d proven incapable of honoring or even attempting to understand them.
Like my utterly codependent need for everyone else to be okay in order to be able to feel okay in my own skin.
And I wasn’t wrong. Building strength in my body was WAY easier than building it in my spirit, in my voice, and in my heart.
But I’ve done it. My life today looks and feels radically different than it did a decade ago. One of the primary differences is that, just as I now start making tweaks as soon as my psoas starts talking to me, I pay attention and respond lovingly when the rest of me speaks up…
I now slow down and take stock of what’s most essential within days–even hours–of feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
A fierceness wells up in me within seconds when someone crosses a boundary, and I’m able to tolerate the discomfort in my body as I contemplate what I want to do about it.
Saying “yes” when my insides are screaming “no!!” happens rarely now, because self-abandoning goes against my integrity.
I now include my own needs and desires in every assessment I make because I truly care as much about my own wellbeing as the wellbeing of others I love deeply.
Flexibility is important. But it must be balanced with strength or harm is likely to occur. Strength is essential, but it’s likely to cause us or others harm if it isn’t balanced with flexibility.
This is as true in a mind, a spirit, and a heart, as it is in a body.
Where in your own life do you see the need for greater strength/flexibility balance?
How has an orientation toward one vs. the other harmed you or those you love?
Stretchy and strong,