The devil is in the details

I practice every day. Sometimes I miss a day, because life happens, but other times I’ll do a double, also because life happens, so it evens out to “I practice every day”. The benefits of a daily practice are numerous, as so many other blogs will tell you, and just when I think I know them all I go and stumble across more, or discover that some of the ones I’d previously been skeptical of (like having fewer, if any, post-surgical pain or complications) are actually kind of valid.

That said, though, one of the things that’s usually listed as a huge benefit has actually turned into my biggest challenge since coming back into the room after surgery. When you practice every day, or even just a few times a week for a long time, you build up muscle memory, which is the thing that lets you turn off your brain when you come into the room, trust that your body knows what to do at any given moment, and genuinely experience a 90-minute moving meditation. It’s an amazing phenomenon, and one I’ve been cruising along not even appreciating for the past few months. When you’re dealing with a serious injury though, you can’t rely on that anymore, and when the injury is abdominal it affects every single posture, and by extension your entire practice. All of a sudden, my practice is no longer a 90-minute meditation in my head, but a 90-minute meditation in my body, 90 minutes of trying to find the balance between being aware of what’s going on in my body and overthinking the whole thing.

In a way, it’s been great. Having that muscle memory as a base to work from made it a lot less scary to come back after what, for me, was a lot of time away. At the same time, not being able to rely on it even half as much as usual has forced me to really, really listen to the dialogue, so much more than usual, as I try to figure out what works for me today and what is not an option just yet. All of those factors together are really helping me clean up my practice, especially in the tiny details like making sure my weight is in the correct part of my foot in each posture, and making sure that I’m using all the muscles I’m supposed to and not just overworking one. Also, having to check in with myself between each posture and see how things are feeling is forcing me to stand absolutely still between postures, rather than fidgeting with my top or water bottle. Even the floor series requires a lot more attention to detail – I never fully understood what it means to put my weight in my hands in cobra until I was lying on a bunch of fresh abdominal incisions, trying not to pull at any stitches.

Overall, I’m moving a lot more slowly, and not going nearly as deep as I normally would in most postures, but just cleaning up those little details and feeling the difference in my body and my practice has left me (ironically) feeling stronger than before, and certainly much more confident in my practice and in my ability to both trust and listen to my body. It’s also reminded me very vividly of what it is to be a newcomer to the practice and to go into the room not knowing what to expect and having to just trust that you’ll make it through, even if you need to take a million breaks. It’s both humbling and motivating, and I’m beyond grateful to be having such a positive experience. I just wish it hadn’t taken something as extreme as an invasive medical procedure to remind me to be a little more compassionate towards newcomers and attentive both to the dialogue and to my practice.

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