A young yogi injures herself and then learns to listen to her body instead of her head by taking the word "should" out of her practice.
“Should” is a precarious word with even more threatening consequences. I was reminded of this again recently. My yoga practice has increased greatly over the past months, and I want to maintain it. But a few weeks ago, I noticed my knees felt strange. I felt unbalanced on top of them, as if they weren't quite aligned or in sync with the rest of my body.
I was perplexed. Yoga is supposed to be good for you, supposed to make you strong both physically and mentally, and up until then that's what I'd experienced. But I knew the day that my knees couldn’t quite support me in Warrior I that something was wrong.
Did I tweak them in an off moment? Do I just have weak knees and never knew it? I asked around and got some good advice, such as sitting on a blanket in Sukasana (Easy Pose) to elevate my hips, which did alleviate some pressure. But something was still missing. Why could everybody else do these poses without knee pain but me? It didn’t add up; I am a 25-year-old healthy, active woman. I should be able to yoga without incident.
During one class, my knees felt so tender that I grabbed a block instead of straining to stretch into Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), and stayed in resting positions when before I would have opted for the more aggressive pose. My knees simply wouldn’t allow it. This troubled me. I shouldn't be regressing in my yoga practice, I thought. I shouldn’t need to use blocks and blankets and skip more difficult poses. I should push through this, right?
As class ended, the instructor, obviously having noticed my struggle, said something to me that completely shifted my experience: “You are probably pushing too hard. Your body needs time to develop the strength.”
Suddenly it became as clear as my mind in Savasana. Should. That word had been driving me to push too hard too soon and ignore my body's signals. Again. You see, "should" has always confounded me. Like when I wanted to travel abroad, my heart longed to go to India, but I thought I should study a practical language like Spanish, and so went to Argentina instead. Or in school, pushing myself to the point of over-competitiveness in sports, because, I told myself, I should be the best.
And here again should had reared its head, as I tried to keep up with the more experienced yogis in class even though my body and my practice weren't yet ready. My knees were screaming for me to slow down and to approach yoga with ease and balance—but I wasn't listening to my body, just to the voice in my head.
Of course, there really are things that I, that we all, should do, like go to the dentist (I do need to do that). But when I start using “should” to compare myself to others—I should look like that, or I should be able to do that pose just like her—is when "should" is no longer my friend.
Since I stopped pushing myself so hard in yoga, my knees feel better. I now use blocks and blankets liberally and without embarrassment. I'm actually proud, because I know that I found the voice of my body, and that I am strong enough to mute the “should” and to actually listen to what's right for me.
About Our Writer
After graduating from Tufts University, Jessica Abelson returned to the San Francisco Bay Area where she grew up and has embarked upon a regular yoga practice.