How your greatest restrictions can become your greatest teachers

This is a guest post from our new team member Kirsten. She's only 25, but wow, she's lived. Read her inspiring story, and you can connect with her at her personal website too.

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4 years ago at 21, I was blessed with a spinal tumor, which I had removed 2 years ago in a full spinal resection. That’s right, I am now half titanium and you may call me the bionic woman! You may think I am being sarcastic when I say I was blessed by this but it truly was one of the most transformative events of my life.

We all have limitations, be they physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. They can make our yoga practice and daily ‘off the mat’ activities even more challenging. But they can also be our greatest teachers.

7 things I learned from my restrictions:

Humility:

I used to believe that if I could just perform a headstand, I would be somehow crowned a real yogi. Well, after my spinal surgery, when it was difficult enough to stand on my feet! My idea of ‘yoga’ was forced to change to suit my personal limitations. I suddenly had to pay attention to how my body wanted to move and what would be most conducive to healing. For about 6 months this was simply meditation and gentle wrist and ankle rolls, a little different from the power flow I had been used to. And that was OK. Which brings me to:

Faith: 

It’s okay to slow down… and even better to stop! Most of us are so busy that we've forgotten how to enjoy the moment, and what is life but a bunch of weird and wonderful moments all smooshed together?

If your restriction forces you to take time out and recover, be okay with that. You are not wasting time! You are investing time into your health and wellbeing and there is nothing more important than that. Stop fighting and wrestling with life and take the time you need to heal and repair. Have faith that the universe will take care of you. That is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

Gratitude:

Gratitude is the single most important lesson I learned. We berate ourselves so often for not being ‘good’ enough: not smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough or flexible enough.

We look at what we don’t have rather than all we do have.

Taking time each day for gratitude will change the way you practice yoga and the way you live your life. No matter how awful your day has been, sit down at the end of it and list everything that you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just close your eyes and create a list in your head before you go to sleep. Even if you have had the day from hell you can be grateful that you are snuggled up in a warm bed, have a full belly and maybe you were even lucky enough today that someone else took the bins out and fed the cat! It doesn’t matter how trivial it seems, gratitude is a powerful healer.

Awareness:

Having a physical restriction forces you to become aware of your body and listen to it. This is a gift that many people cannot access, so embrace it! When you can tune in to sensations in your body (perceived as good or bad) you are honoring the connection of body and mind.
Deepak Chopra say this is the first step toward happiness. Awesome!

When you establish this connection you will also become more aware of unuseful tension and unhelpful pain, which will help you adapt your practice to your individual needs. So don’t fear uncomfortable sensations; don’t judge them or try to change them. Simply spend time listening to and observing them to increase your deeper awareness

Sanity:

Honestly, most of the yogis I know are a little bonkers, (in the best possible way of course)! A lot of us have found the road to yoga through our search for clarity and stillness. For many of us, moments of peace or stillness can get shrouded with the screaming physical pain or uncomfortable thoughts.

The best part here is that the remedy is within you already.

Breath.

Let your breath be a guide for your practice. If you are holding your breath or breathing rapidly, that is an indication you are straining in a pose. Connecting with the gentle ebb and flow of breath will help to quiet your mind throughout your practice and can be used as a simple meditation or focus point through your life. It is particularly useful during times of stress or anxiety (like sitting in traffic when you are running late)! The more often you connect to your breath, the more connected you will become to your body-mind, a side effect of which is more inner clarity, peace and maybe, just maybe, a little more sanity.

Compassion:

Often when we are feeling insecure in a class our ego can creep up and take hold. There are two ways the ego will respond, either by berating you or by judging others. This is a protective mechanism and quite normal but not particularly conducive to a relaxing or empowering practice. When you acknowledge and accept the limitations within your own practice, it becomes easier to accept them in others. Every single person in the class will be at a different point in their own practice and lives and that is okay. In fact, it is brilliant! It is what makes us unique and simply human.

Yoga is for every single body:

Overall this is what I’m getting at. You don’t have to be beautiful, flexible, physically fit, a dancer in a past life, injury free or even sane to practice yoga! If you are, that's fine too, of course.

You can be completely off your tree with half your body in a cast and you will still be able to practice to some degree. You may not look like the poster-girl (or guy) for yoga that you’ve seen on instagram but you will be honouring your body, mind and spirit in all its guts and glory!

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PS: have you seen our 'Word' board on Pinterest? It's full of inspiring stuff.