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Competitive and endurance sports encourage us to override the internal voice that says, “Slow down, stop, I can’t, it hurts, I’m not good enough.” Sometimes overcoming this voice is the key to a breakthrough performance: we achieve things we never realized we were capable of because we ignore the voice of self-doubt. Sometimes overcoming this voice is a direct path to injury: we do damage to ourselves because we ignore the voice of self-protection. It takes time and experience to get to know the subtle variations in tone between the internal complaint that should be ignored and the one that should be heeded.
Approached mindfully, your time on the mat can be like a language lab, giving you opportunity to listen, to make mistakes, and to correct them compassionately. Yoga offers us a forum for learning to listen to our bodies—not just to the words, but to the tone; not just to the content, but to the delivery. In a Forward Bend, how does the voice that says “Go further!” sound? Like an enthusiastic coach who knows what you’re capable of? Or like a self-doubting striver with something to prove? Following the first might open you to new, beneficial experience, while following the second might cause a long-term injury. When you consider kicking up to Handstand, is the voice that says “Not today” coming from fear or from self-protection? Overcoming your fear can be exhilarating, but damaging your wrists, shoulders, or back can keep you away from your favorite activities.
When you’re physically active off the mat, and particularly when you are in rigorous, focused training, multiple factors will affect the tone of this internal voice, and the wisdom of heeding it. If you’re in a cycle of workouts where you are pushing yourself, you may be tempted to apply the same approach on the mat, to your detriment. Engage your inner voice in a dialog. Ask: How close are you to peak competition? How fatigued are you? What is the point of your practice in any given day? Keep these questions in mind as you determine how you’ll respond to the things your body has to tell you. When take all these factors into account, you’re better able to recognize the tone of voice, and you’re able to discern between a hearty, game “Sure, one more round” and a tight, constricted, “I guess one more round would be OK.”