By Kristina Harris
One day, when I was going about my business, my friend invited me to a yoga class. We both thought it could be interesting, but we were really sold on the price: free. At the beginning of the class, they packed us into a room, making space for latecomers, smiled and walked us through what would happen at this particular event. The yoga instructor ushered us into child’s pose and set an intention for the class: ‘what does your body need?’ She asked us this when things were challenging, when we were in unfamiliar poses, and when we were back in shavasana. The question was interesting to me, because she wasn’t telling us to push past everything our body was telling us so as to pull our leg behind our ears. She was asking us to ask ourselves when we can push and when do we back off. When do we need to rest for some water, and when do we need to reset in child’s pose?
I found this message interesting, because I realized I wasn’t frequently checking-in and asking, what is it that I need? For example, a few years ago, my knee was bothering me. I was running track and I always loathed seeing the trainers. I always felt like something hurt before I went, but they always gave me exercises that seemed to hurt more than my original ailment. But this time, it turned out I tore my meniscus, ACL and broke a weird bone in my knee. The whole ordeal was not ideal, and I was not a hero about the process – I was quite possibly the worst patient the kind people at NYU Langone had seen that day. My friends came by, offering their well wishes. Then they went back to their lives and I just sat there with my recently spliced open joint. Once the pain kind of subsided, I just sat with my thoughts. I was annoyed that my knee kept throbbing, and I just wanted it to be better. I had no idea how or what I needed to do – I just didn’t want to watch any more TV, and I had read everything I could read. My trainer said if I promised to try yoga, I could reduce my PT schedule. That was an easy trade. Which is why, when my friend had told me she had found a free yoga studio, I was all in.
So, in the middle of stretching and pulling my limbs every which way, I realized there was some healing happening. At first, I noticed I was breathing deeper, which helped me focus. But then I realized I could breathe, and I mean really breathe, before a test, a race, a date, anywhere! It felt like I was putting my body and brain together for the first time. I was also running faster than ever.
Yoga was the first time someone told me to listen to my body and give it what it needs. To not push and push, but to take note of how you are actually showing up that day. Maybe one leg is more flexible than the other. Perhaps you are more sore today than you were yesterday. Maybe you are more distracted with all you have to do later, and you are a little off balance and need to focus on staying focused. But one thing was consistent: you are never the same you who shows up on the mat. But even with that obvious fact in mind, I do not always treat myself kindly for not being as flexible as I was before, or as productive as I was the day before.
Although it is innately human to know instinctively what you need, people hardly take what they need. It is brushed aside as selfish and indulgent to listen to your body if you need to rest. People don’t often treat themselves with the simple kindnesses they give so easily to others. They don’t take a walk, or get ice cream, or understand when their body is demanding a nap.
Yoga to the People brought a little slice of humanity back to me. I got a little bit more patient with myself, my body and my emotions. I am working on being kinder when I feel like comparing myself to the old me. This free yoga class was making a space for me to realize what I needed. People need something like that, something that costs nothing but heals just the same. Once while I was sitting in child’s pose at the beginning of class, a student on the mat next to me just started bawling. Not polite tears. Body wracking sobs. The teacher came over and just placed her hand on her back, and when she began to stop crying, she just looked up and said, ‘thank you, I really needed that.’ It’s odd to say, but sometimes being a human simply means you know what you need, and you act on it.
This small place in New York probably trained thousands of people from all corners of the world, but they gave each and every person something different to take back with them. They set an intention, gave people space to get some peace, and then sent them off into the world to pass it on.
So, set your own intention. Take note of what your body is telling you. And take what you need, when you need it. Show yourself a little humanity and compassion. You’re not crazy for listening to your body when it tells you to rest. It would be crazier not to.