Here I am doing my yoga practice. Most of you wouldn’t think that this is yoga because you don't see me doing downward facing dog or tree pose.
But it is.
How? Because yoga is all about moving mindfully and being present. Yoga doesn’t just happen in a yoga class. You can become aware of ALL movements. Movement in sports or activities, as well as everyday movements such as walking, running, how you stand in line at the grocery store, how you walk up the stairs, how you bend down to garden, etc.
When you really pay attention, your habitual way of doing things will become evident. During a physical activity, notice your effort - are you pushing too hard? Is there added tension? Are you getting sloppy and losing form because you're fatigued? Notice any compensations (things working that shouldn’t be).
Pain means something is wrong
During previous rowing workouts I noticed irritation and tightness in my hip flexors. Curious, I decided to slow down and tune in. I took great care in noticing how I was moving during the workout and realized that I was over-using my hip flexors - they were compensating. Once I realized this, I focused on what should be working - my legs - and put my attention on pushing through my feet.
This change helped me gain greater function which led to better form which led to reduced pain and tightness. And when you're more efficient with you movement, it will improve your performance. Win!
The same goes during yoga class. Don’t move by rote. Pay attention. How do things feel as you’re doing them? This can be hard when moving quickly, so be sure to slow things down. You'll be able to catch more subtle messages which if missed can lead to strain or pain. This can be humbling, doing less, but if you're consistent, will lead to better results and deeper poses.
We have a great feedback system - our central nervous system - which lets us know when we’re pushing too far. Listen to you body! There’s great wisdom there that will only serve you and help you function better.
Three steps to help you build your awareness
- Notice how things feel just before doing an activity.
You can do this standing and notice how your arms hang, how your back feels, if your head is jutting forward, and where the weight is in your feet. Or better, lie down on your back and notice how the body rests against floor. What parts yield to the floor (feel soft and supple) and what parts resist (feel stiff and rigid).
- Notice how things feel during the activity.
This will be different for each activity/movement but basically be aware of:
- Is there any gripping? Notice jaw, breathe, shoulders, hands, hip flexors, feet
- What happens when you increase effort/power. Do things fall apart? Does tension come into the picture?
- If both legs work at same time, are they equally putting out same effort? What about two arms? If it’s an alternating movement like running or cycling then focus on one leg at a time. If it’s a rotating movement (tennis, golf, hockey, baseball) notice your weight transfer and follow through and see if it’s momentum or force that’s primarily making this happen (hint: too much force is a compensation).
3. Notice how things feel after the activity.
There may be obvious changes such as feeling tired, being out of breath etc. but just notice right away while standing any changes from how things felt before your activity. You can also lie on floor. What do you notice? Any pain or irritation? If lying down, what parts of the body yield to the floor and what parts resist? Notice any changes, either good or bad.
The other piece of this is how things feel hours later (or a couple days after). There may be delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which is normal stiffness or soreness from using muscles that you’re unaccustomed to using, normally appearing 24-72 hours later. Look for anything unusual here: pain or irritation that doesn’t make sense or lasts past this period.
Improve your function by slowing down
If you're always feeling the same irritation or pain after the activity, in a specific area, then it’s time to focus on that area during the activity. Likely there is some compensation happening that you’re not aware of. Try slowing down the movement so you're better able to pay attention.
Developing and building your awareness can take time and practice, but is one of the best ways you can improve your performance and reduce pain, whether it's in sports, yoga or walking up and down the stairs. The more you listen to your body, the more it will serve you.
If you are interested in learning how to become more aware, I teach this throughout all my yoga and Somatics classes.