By: Danielle Wilson
I’ve experienced issues with my back all my life. Growing up as a dancer, my body was not trained from a place of healthy mobility. Instead, the ever-so-popular “dancer mentality” of pushing the body past whatever limit to achieve the end goal of a certain look or ability, took residence in my mind, and therefore a beating on my body. I was never considered a dancer with a flexible back, so when it came to skills that required back flexibility, I would push and push my muscles to try and force my body to morph into a shape that was not organic or healthy for me. Aside from my back taking direct impact, I also had tight hips and a pelvis that constantly found its way out of alignment—leading to more disfunction of my spine. As a kid, I don’t remember feeling the repercussions of my over-exertion or lack of awareness around healthy mobility, or at the least, if I did experience pain or discomfort, it was fairly dull, and I became a master at ignoring it.
So many of these mindsets and behaviors have tumble-weeded into patterns I see in my life, today. Fortunately, yoga (and yogic culture/philosophy) has taught me not to push my body outside of the call it cries out to me. I always strive for more, yes, but I’m tactful about when and how I push my limits. I do, however, maintain the concept, in my every day life, of “pushing through the pain,” after a lifetime of dance teachers, coaches, and choreographers essentially telling me to suck it up—something I happily did to please them. Now, as an adult, I often pretend that any discomfort or pain I feel is just a fluke thing. I’ll convince myself that it will go away by tomorrow, or after yoga, or once I get a chance to roll out. The issues, like my back, that fail to escape me I, eventually, just learn to live with—I learn to live with them! It’s actually insane, how quickly I can allow unsolicited pain to become my norm with almost no questions asked.
The past two months, or so, I’ve been experiencing discomfort in my back pretty much 90% of the time. It’s not excruciating or alarming, but it is undoubtedly noticeable. The beating my back has taken over my 2+ decades as a dancer has left it so strong that, once in a while, my muscles don’t want to stop working. These seized muscles become exhausted, induce swelling, and cause me to feel tight and uncomfortable. Rolling out helps, as do massages and chiropractic adjustments, but, surprisingly enough, the tool I haven’t turned to, until now, is yoga.
Yoga, with all its twisting and backbends, became a place that made me uneasy in regard to my back. Not in the sense that it caused pain, actually, most times my back would experience a few hours of freedom after a yoga class, but rather, that mental pattern of pushing my body to attain the “goal posture” would squirm its way to the forefront of my mind and battle with my new found yogic thought of simply arriving in a pose that works for my body. I would feel resistant towards anything that had to do with my back because I knew I was so tight, I could barely do it. I would roll my eyes as the words “revolved,” or “twisted,” whirled around the room. I felt embarrassed. There I was, the instructor taking class, and I was scoffing every time I exhaled to prayer twist. The postures didn’t bring me pain of the body, but they were definite cause for a bruised ego. I pretended my resistance was born of an intuitive call to protect my body from over-exerting my back, but in reality, I was protecting my pride, all the while doing less than what I could to allow my practice to heal my discomfort.
I enjoy choosing a focus for my yoga classes each month, and as I do allow the flow to evolve week after week, I remain consistent in my intention towards a specific portion of the body. In realizing how much I’ve been holding myself back—pun kind of intended—by succumbing to my ego’s resistance, I’ve decided to dive into all of the postures I’ve despised for so long. For the first time, I’m acknowledging that many of the things I feel resistant towards are the thingsI should probably be doing. I’m beginning to work in a state of mind that leans intoresistance, challenges it, works through it, and peels back its layers until it evolves into comfort. My theory is that the many years I’ve allowed this notion of being limited by my back to rule my practice (and my life) caused me to neglect it entirely, leaving me, now, with unnecessary strength, a lack of flexibility/space, and excessive discomfort. By empowering myself to step into the postures I’ve avoided for far too long, I aim to ease my physical pain, and completely transform the way I’ve always perceived this part of my body.
It’s important that we choose to step outside of our comfort zone, beyond the way in which we’ve identified ourselves, and lean deeply into the resistance we feel when doing so. It’s the only way we grow, the only way to maintain balance, and the only way to know we’re doing everything in our power to manifest the divinity of mind, body, and spirit that has always been available to us.