Anyone who has been to one of my classes lately has probably seen the bandages on my feet and heard the tale of woe... blisters. It's getting to the point where it's almost embarrassing to talk about now as I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing about it. For weeks I've suffered from these annoying things and it's all because I committed myself to training for a half marathon in April.
Today as I look outside at the pouring rain, I'm actually thankful for it. It's less tempting to run on feet that need healing time when the weather isn't gorgeous as it has been this past week. It can rain for the next two weeks for all I care, because that's about how long it's going to take to heal.
Yet there's a bigger lesson here I realize than just learning to back off of my running when my feet hurt. How often have I said in class "Listen to your body, honor its boundaries"? More importantly, what does it mean to listen to your body? What are body boundaries? These are the questions every yoga student has to answer at some point if they wish to have an effective practice.
The boundaries of your body aren't just the things you can and can't do. Too often students look at a pose and without even trying it say, "Oh, I don't think I'll ever be able to do that." The fact is we don't know what our boundaries are until we bump up against them. (The operative word here is bump, not slam through them.)
In my case, I didn't know that I would get severe blisters from running until I pushed my mileage past 10k. It doesn't mean that I plan to drop out of the race because of them. But it does mean that I need to take time to heal and then take more precautions in the future.
In yoga practice, it often means using props to get into challenging poses and coming out of a pose when it hurts or your body begins to shake with fatigue. This is the art of listening to your body. It means paying attention, being present. You especially don't want to be thinking about your grocery list when you attempt something difficult.
Boundaries aren't always permanent either. Little by little you can extend the boundaries of your body. If you can't touch your toes in a forward bend, use a strap to make up the distance instead struggling to reach. After some time and practice you'll notice that you are getting closer to reaching your toes. However, if you ignore those pain signals and try to compete with the person next you who can touch their toes, you are liable to tear a hamstring.
It's been said that trauma is the disease of the inability to be present and that those suffering from traumatic events are often outside there bodies. They view their bodies as the enemy and so withdraw from them. Often they are so disconnected from their bodies that they aren't even fully aware when they are moving their bodies. Yoga helps create that awareness because it asks you to tune into your body specifically and feel the sensations of your body in the poses.
People suffering from anxiety also view their bodies as the enemy and tend to be hyper-vigilant toward any uncomfortable sensations. Yoga teaches us to endure things that are uncomfortable and gives us the ability to tell the difference between discomfort and the actual potential for injury. For instance, triangle pose might be uncomfortable for the hamstrings but with a block and some deep breathing it can be endured. Without the block and the breath it can be dangerous. This is how boundaries are honored.
Living in a body with boundaries, and we all have boundaries, is a dance of balance. It's pushing forward and pulling back, working and resting, engaging and releasing. Listening is asking if your body can do more but respecting a response of "no." Listen to your body as you would a friend and your body will become your friend. This is the body you've been given in this life so you might as well make the best of it and enjoy it while you have it.