I taught vinyasa yoga for 5 years, and I was an extremely conservative yoga teacher. My priority was to keep students safe, and make them feel successful. That trumped showcasing elaborate sequences or advanced arm balances.
Remember Coyote Ugly’s trademark, Do we serve water in this bar?! HELL NO H2O! Mine was: Do we do inversions in this class? Let me check, protect ya neck!
“Safety first” was my policy. Above all the glitz and the glam. And I prided myself on that. I took my yoga VERY seriously.
The safety police really kicked up when I was handed a diagnosis of Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. (Essentially, my joints are unstable, which requires ligaments and muscles to kick in to stabilize, leading to pain.)
In a way, getting this diagnosis was a relief. Up until that point, I had thought my chronic joint pain was due to my autoimmune disease, so every time something hurt, I would think “oh great, my body is attacking itself again”. It was a true sigh of relief to know this wasn’t the case.
But in other ways it was really overwhelming and confusing. I felt that I had to relearn how to use my body. It didn’t help that the activities I enjoyed the most - like yoga - made my pain worse.
Exercise stopped feeling safe to me.
My conservative tendencies reinforced themselves. I’d go to a yoga class and I’d be frustrated with a teacher leading “unsafe” sequences. I gave myself a laundry list of postures and exercises that I “couldn’t do”. I eventually stopped practicing vinyasa because I told myself it was too dangerous for me.
We see this often in the wellness world. We get an MRI finding, or a diagnosis, and then fear kicks in hard. We stop doing the things we enjoy, because we tell ourselves they’re no longer safe. But are we just unnecessarily robbing ourselves of joy?
Jamie Morse, PT, DPT, CIDN of Altitude Physical Therapy in Nashua, NH gives the following advice:
I started seeing a PT with a similar philosophy, Dr. Cristin Zaimes from Oceanside Physical Therapy in Stratham, NH. Cristin encouraged me to push myself - to figure out ways to move my body that didn’t feel painful.
Honestly, I was too nervous to try it at first: planks and burpees weren’t good for my unstable shoulder, elbow and wrist joints — the places that bothered me the most when I was sick.
At the same time, my left brain was piqued. Pilates focuses on building strength in many of the areas that are weak in my body: specifically core and glutes. Logically, this made sense. Correcting imbalance in the body is serious business, after all.
So I tried it. Cuz my left brain almost always wins out.
Within 5 minutes of the class, I realized that my fear was being overridden by another F word: FUN.
I had shoved fun out of movement a long time ago. Grit, challenge, hard, struggle, pain, gain…and even fear. These are the words that typically accompany exercise for many of us. But fun?! Just like Wutang, fun is for the children (RIP ODB).
I kept going back to hot pilates. It was a HARD workout, but I ENJOYED every minute of it.
I was so excited to tell Cristin. Here I was, doing lots of movements that I had deemed “off limits” to my body. But I was pain free! I thought I had found a loop hole. Turns out, I was right. Cristin explained that the loop hole was fun - muscles actually fire differently when you’re having fun.
In other words, you're less apt to get injured when you're enjoying the movement that you're doing.
By living in fear of injury, I was actually setting myself up for MORE injury. My concern for safety had spiraled a bit out of control; ironically, it was no longer keeping me safe. I had to teach myself that my body was resilient. And the way I did was by having fun.
Something Cristin often asks her patients is “What do you do for fun?” When we first started working together, I sadly couldn’t answer this question for myself.
I started asking my own clients a similar question and was met with the same deer-in-headlights look that I probably gave Cristin. Fun? FUN?! What is this word you speak of?
This past winter my daughter got on skis for the first time. I watched her coast down the bunny hill with such unbridled glee that it made me happy and sad all at once.
At what point do we lose that shameless joy? At what point do we stop having fun? And once we lose it…is it too late to get it back?
I found the answer to that question through hot pilates.
I work my ASS off in class. But I do it with lots of smiles and laughs. With lots of high fives to the people sweating next to me. With elation that carries me through the rest of my day.
For an hour, I put my body fear on hold and silence the safety police. For 60 glorious minutes, I get to stop taking myself so goddamn seriously.
Hot Pilates taught me to bring fun back into my movement. Doing so on a regular basis also pushed me to start seeking fun in other areas of my life.
This week on Episode 33 of the Funk'tional Nutrition Podcast, I talked about ways I've decided to break through my fear. This summer has been marked with more adventure and exploration and playtime than I can remember having in a long, long time.
As it turns out, on the other side of fear, there's a whole lot of fun.
We’re coming up on our annual Commit to 90 Whole Life Challenge.
Unlimited hot yoga and pilates. Weekly nutrition education. Your choice of workshops and enrichment activities. And a chance to win a fatty prize at the end.
Remember when Joseph Campbell told us to follow our bliss?
It’s hard to chase bliss when we’re stuck in the paradigm of fear.
What fear is holding you back?
What happened to your joy?
Are you ready to get it back?
Let’s have some freaking fun this fall.