Knowing When Your Body Needs a Day

I’ve written about this before (here, for example), but I think it’s a topic worth coming back to.  I know that I continue to struggle with it on a daily basis, and judging from things like this post from my wonderful Ironwoman friend Maria, I’m not alone.

Photo: ButterflySha

Sometimes, it’s just not easy to tell what it is your body needs.  I woke up this morning with the same stomach ache that I’ve had for almost three weeks (due to iron supplements – long story – I’ve been living on crackers and the occasional toast).  My left hip was killing me and I hadn’t slept well.  My right shoulder is also being screwy and started giving me pain as soon as I got out of bed and gravity hit.  And, for a little extra woohoo, my head hurts.  Yeah, I’m a pathetic mess.  But, here is the catch, I’m trying to go to yoga on Saturday mornings.  I used to be able to go on Friday mornings, but this semester I teach too early to do that.  Friday night is an option, but last night I had an event to attend until 11.  That leaves Saturday morning.  So, I got out the yoga clothes and went downstairs and made a cup of tea and some toast.  And then I sat down at my desk to check email and work on convincing myself to go to class.  That went on for about an hour.  And then I gave it up.  I admitted to myself that going to class was not the best choice, and that my body was in no shape to complete a full vinyasa class in any manner that would really bring me closer to peace and union.  But, I can’t lie, I was still (am still) not happy about it.  A bit later, when I napped for a short period, my dreams were full of what a horrible yogi I am.  Clearly, I still have some things to work out.

In some ways, I wonder why this respecting the needs of the body is so hard.  But, in other ways, I know.  We are taught, so early, to ignore the body.  We eat and sleep at prescribed times and not according to the body clock.  We feed the body food that has been processed so much that it is without nutrient instead of the foods it naturally needs.  We spray it with chemicals to prevent it from smelling even remotely like a human mammal body.  We push it to be a certain size because that is socially acceptable, regardless of where the body’s natural set point for size might be.  We shut the body up and shut it down in so many ways; it’s no wonder that we have trouble hearing it even when we want to.

Photo: Andrea Parrish - Geyer

My challenge is, and perhaps will always be, to practice ahimsa with my body.  To hear what my body has to say without judging it.  To take its needs and requests seriously.  To give my body a “day off” when it needs it.  And to let myself be if my body doesn’t always match up to what I want it to be and do.  As I sit here at my desk writing this post, noticing that my work schedule is going to prevent yoga on Monday and trying to avoid letting that put me back into a bad place about not going today, I know that this is likely to be a lifelong practice.  Perhaps this journey is my destination.

Tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Knowing When Your Body Needs a Day

  1. Maria Simone says:

    What can I say other than, I completely understand. Funny that we went through similar experience at almost the same time. I think my body may have needed another day today (stupid cold that I am NOT getting). But, I pushed anyway. Now I’m drained and feel like crap. (stupid cold that I will probably be getting…).


  2. You seriously described my morning. My whole household has been sick for a week, and I’m frankly sick of being sick. I so wanted to be well enough for my yoga class this morning, and up until about 30 minutes before class I was still trying halfheartedly to get ready before I admitted defeat. I’m between half marathons right now and I want so badly to get back into my training schedule, but I know that the more I push myself, the longer it will take me to recover.
    Sometimes listening to your body is a whole lot of no fun. But undoubtedly necessary.

  3. Kate Musselman says:

    I’ve been struggling with this same issue. I have a mild hip injury and while I know, intellectually, that I need to rest it and take it easier in my practice, I have a hard time doing that. I’ve learned to listen to my body only after years of NOT listening and suffering the consequences, but sometimes it’s still so hard to hear it when you just don’t want to. Even injured I find myself feeling guilty and beating myself up if I skip a day and don’t practice; I think, as you said, it will be a lifelong process of acknowledging that you might not always like what it has to tell you, but listening to your body is crucial.

  4. theveganasana says:

    Maria, Jenn, and Kate – Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Sometimes it really does help to hear others say that they understand and are having the same experiences. What a wonder that we can be so much harder on ourselves than we would ever tell/want anyone else to be!

  5. Kate says:

    This article speaks completely to me. Sometimes I wake up barely able to walk (due to injuries) and think I am going to make it to yoga class. When I inevitably don’t make it, there is still that voice in my head that says I failed, I’m not good enough, I should be ashamed, etc. It has gotten better through practice, but it seems like for so many of us the hardest practice of all is that of compassion toward ourselves. Thank you for putting this out there.

  6. I think the beauty of yoga is that even if your body isn’t up to a 90-minute sweaty vinyasa class, there is still the option to roll out your mat at home at do 30 minutes of something more gentle.

    Of course, this is difficult when you’re committed to a class, rather than just a home practice. The notion of you being absent from the studio and people wondering about your whereabouts probably adds more guilt.

    But the self-imposed guilt trip happens for a home practice, too. Sometimes on my drive home from work I’m mentally prepping myself for a 90-minute power yoga home practice, but my shoulders, still sore from swimming the day before, do not like that idea. Trying to talk myself into a more gentle practice feels like defeat. So, I compromise with my body. I’ll do yoga, but I’ll only do 30-45 minutes. And a gentle practice–no chaturangas. I have a few gentle yoga CDs on hand especially for days like these. Most of the time, when those 30-45 minutes are up, I feel great and the guilt is long gone. But yes, that initial decision to take my practice down a notch is the hardest step!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.