Lately, I've been giving some thought to a quote I remember from Robert Frost's poem "The Oven Bird": "What to make of a diminished thing?"
Until this past year, I had been practicing yoga regularly (about 4-6 times a week) for about seven years. Four or five years ago my wrist started hurting me quite a bit. As someone who spent a lot of years in competitive sports drinking the kool-aid of mantras like "pain is weakness leaving the body", I basically ignored the pain, listened to every yoga teacher offer a different theory as to how to diminish the pain, and pressed on, convinced that grinning and bearing it was the right strategy.
Turns out, it probably wasn't. My wrist started hurting enough about a year ago that I stopped doing yoga and started seeing some doctors. After seeing several doctors, doing some physical therapy and having an MRI done, I found out that I have torn cartilage in my wrist (TFCC) and need to have surgery to fix it. I'm not a huge fan of surgery - I believe in western medicine, but general anesthesia kind of freaks me out - so I haven't scheduled the surgery yet.
After essentially doing no yoga for about six months, I've started exploring a path back into my yoga practice. While I did a fair bit of Bikram yoga when I first started going to yoga classes, it was when I started practicing Ashtanga yoga that I really connected and started getting the more mental benefits of yoga - more peaceful, more centered, etc. I definitely think different styles are right for different people, Ashtanga was what resonated with me. Unfortunately, it's probably the practice that's most stressful for the wrists.
A few months ago, I tried going back to some Bikram classes (less stressful on the wrist), but, for me, I might as well just go to the gym or go for a run. I just don't get unique benefits from a Bikram class. So, I've started going back to ashtanga and power yoga classes. And my ego is taking a beating. I never thought I'd gotten to such an evolved place that I didn't value how my skill had developed over the years; I knew I was a little too attached to whether or not I could do a hand stand in the middle of the room or various other arm balancing poses. I didn't know just how attached I was until going back to the practice with the recognition that at least until I do the surgery, and perhaps not even then, it's just not responsible for me to do these poses.
It is an incredibly hard realization. It also makes me realize that I need to find a new way to approach yoga and acknowledge that it will be somewhat different and require a different mentality. Whereas before I would always push myself as hard as possible, now I need to find a more honest and deeper awareness of what is appropriate for my body. To honor my limitations and find a new relationship with the practice. To deal with the fact that it is really hard for me to watch other people do poses that I simply can't let myself do anymore.
It makes me understand why I stayed away from yoga classes for so long. It is so much harder for me to go to a class and not be able to do everything than it was to sit on my couch eating bonbons, lamenting my lost yoga practice.
All of this got me thinking of how I think we too often walk away from something when it's no longer exactly the same thing we knew and loved - whether it's an activity or a relationship. The former college sport star becoming a couch potato because they can no longer perform at the same level is a cliche, as is the "let's be friends" talk that rarely pans out after the end of a romantic relationship. It's so much easier to walk away from these things rather than re-negotiate them and find a different, but still valuable, relationship. It just seems like too often we have such a binary idea of things - we have a fairly narrow idea of an experience and if we can't have it like that, then we decide want it at all and simply walk away. As I'm starting to realize as I develop a new relationship with yoga, I think this all-or-nothing mentality is an unfortunate approach and that a lot is lost when this choice is made. I do think it's the easier approach, I just don't think it's the most rewarding.