It was while lying in savasana (relaxing posture) towards the end of yoga class this afternoon that the notion of accommodation surfaced in my mind. Not as regards to lodging; but as in modification, adaptation and flexibility.
This, my year of healing slowly, has not only been about gently easing my body back into movement, activity or strength. It has, thus far, also been about recognizing its limits, pushing it only so far and no more. It has been about listening to what my body and spirit need, the new levels of physical activity I might be capable of attaining, and the sleep and rest that I crave as well.
I began attending Michael’s restorative yoga class in the early days of summer. It was Anna, my physiotherapist, upon hearing the envy creeping into my voice as I described the runners and cyclists I’d seen out in full force, who realized I was ready to take on more. So she sent me off to Michael’s low-impact yoga class – the perfect antidote for a downward-dog-challenged athlete-on-hold like me.
From the very first day that I hobbled into the studio, cane in hand, Michael’s inquiries bore all the signs of professionalism and concern. Under his watchful gaze, I kneeled longer and stretched further than I thought possible; I curled over the bolster, holding the child pose for so long, only reluctantly did I release myself into a new position. Often, before switching poses, Michael would kneel beside me and suggest a modified way I could try to hold the next stance – or try a different posture altogether.
At one point today, Michael asked us to sit in lotus position and lean over with our foreheads touching the chair in front of us. The sitting itself was challenging. But, even as I shifted and cringed to find the least-painful sitting position, and then crossed my legs in front, I instinctively reached for my wool socks on the floor nearby and placed them under the side of my foot – to cushion the tender skin and bone from the hardwood floor. Placing a bolster instead of a wood block under my sacrum was another accommodation that I intuitively devised, as well as doubling up the mats and puffing up my pillow for additional support and comfort.
At home, often unthinkingly, I conjure up accommodations all the time. For example, since I rarely sit (except for meals, to drive and sometimes for treatment), I’ve learned to work on my computer while kneeling by the side of my bed; I lie on my bed or a couch if I’m on the phone; and I carry small bits of things up and down the stairs instead of a heavy load.
Essentially, without doing further harm to one’s body (which is entirely possible in yoga, with a lesser-trained or watchful instructor), I think that accommodation is about striving and achieving without fear, but with some forethought and caution. It is about being gentle with one’s body and mind; it’s about recognizing one’s – and others’ – innate or temporary limits, and adjusting to them. It’s about placing value on what a person is able do and achieve, without diminishing, without (self) criticism, without judgment.
I have seen how other women in this yoga class struggle, each in their own way, to hold a pose that is difficult, uncomfortable or just plain new. It takes a certain gentleness, acceptance and encouragement to allow people to test their own boundaries, physical capacities and power. It takes love, patience and perseverance to accept one’s own limitations and yet to strive beyond what one thought possible.
It is, after all, a restorative yoga class… restoring the balance to one’s body and mind, restoring one’s breath, restoring calm.
Not just from others’ comments do I realize how far I’ve come and that I can now attempt most yoga poses – even if I don’t hold them as long and even if I modify. I do what I can, I try harder every time and I know that my body is thankful for my pretty consistent belief in its ability to heal itself.