Originally posted on the Yoga Tune Up® Fitness Blog on March 6, 2019.
For two years I was a workaholic yoga instructor, teaching classes seven days a week, forcing my body into extreme amounts of daily activity. Every night I’d collapse on my bed in exhaustion. I was asking students to slow down and take time for themselves, but I was not walking my own talk.
A sudden snowstorm right before Thanksgiving turned my life upside down. I slipped on subway stairs and suffered a trimalleolar fracture (I broke my ankle in three places).
After undergoing surgery to put my bones back together, I was not allowed to put any weight on my right ankle for six weeks. Resting was not a choice–it was required for recovery. Without the option to push my hard-working agenda forward for what felt like a significant amount of time, I regrouped.
At the advice of a wonderful mentor and Yoga Tune Up practitioner, I decided to get really good at resting. I surrendered to the circumstances and attended to all things quiet.
The Practice of Getting Quiet
I practiced listening instead of controlling. Rather than feeling lonely and pressuring friends to come visit, I waited for those who wanted to care for me to come over. Instead of trying to force my career forward despite my injury, I focused on my family and friends (and a lot of books and TV).
Interestingly, I was supported 42 days in a row by my wonderful community of family, friends and neighbors. Even more surprisingly, a new career opportunity just fell into my lap.
Was this magic? Maybe ;). But more likely it was that instead of pushing, I made space to listen to my instincts. I intuitively aligned with what was in front of me in more skillful ways. Opportunities were more plentiful when I widened my lens and simply listened in.
Yoga teacher Sierra Alea learning to rest
How We Benefit From Stress
Humans thrive on stress. The body is designed to respond to various stressors: exercise, gravity and small amounts of psychological stress. When the body and mind experiences appropriate doses of stress, it builds resistance and becomes more resilient.
However, rest is also essential for this process. Yet somehow rest has become synonymous with indulgence. Rest is not a necessary evil, as many Type-A people tend to think. Nor is it an extravagance, as many in the wellness industry tend to tout.
Rest and conscious relaxation are vital to get better physical and mental results. As YTU founder Jill Miller says, we must “tune down to tune up.”
Dealing With Unfinished (Healing) Business
The chance to re-learn the habit of slowing down to access my power came back around when I was cleared to bear weight on my foot again. Immediately I jumped back into overdrive.
I was determined to push my body to walk, run, jump and return to the 100% my physician and physical therapist promised I’d get back to… although our timelines were very different about when I’d get to that 100%.
I pushed my ankle to undergo three 8-hour days in a row of walking/standing/sitting within the first four weeks of weight bearing–something my atrophied calf muscles could not sustain.
My ankle swelled to the size of a grapefruit each afternoon with excruciating pain. This felt like humiliating failure so I took an analgesic to try to numb to my circumstances and continue to push my body. But my body overrode my plans once again, and I ended up crumpled and crying in my PT’s office.
My physical therapist reminded me that an atrophied muscle, being forced to work for eight hours straight in a way it is not used to, is a muscle that is not able to rest adequately.
As Shante Cofield, DPT states on her podcast Maestro on the Mic, “There is no corrective exercise for inadequate rest.” When the muscle cannot rest to repair, it will not get better. If I wanted to get back to 100% efficiently, rest days were mandatory.
So, I started taking mandatory rest days, and I progressed faster. My injury recovery was a clear physical manifestation of how slowing down was necessary in order to power up once again.
Giving Your Mind a Break Too
In the book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert M. Sapolsky writes that psychological and physical stress are handled the same way from a physiological standpoint. The stress response begins with our perception of how we feel, physical or emotional.
Conscious relaxation, or the intentional production of the relaxation response (measured breathing, relaxation of the body and mind), allows the mind to shift from grasping, controlling, pushing…to allowing, processing, being open to what is.
When we allow what is, we make room for all the flavors of our emotions, and feelings. We can digest what’s happening and make more intelligent decisions. As I engaged in relaxation, I understood that I needed to shift my mindset too.
Restorative yoga and Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls are practices designed to turn on the relaxation response. And what we practice, we get good at. The brain is wired to get better at what we do most often. Repetition and habit are very powerful.
Self-massage on tissues near the site of an injury can help maintain mobility while healing
Small, Significant Steps for Efficient Recovery
Instead of rushing to that 100% recovery, I learned to measure my sense of success by setting smaller goals. Reaching those small goals sooner allowed me to regularly celebrate what I could accomplish.
A daily practice of conscious relaxation will produce physical and psychological results. You might even learn to relax under conditions where you unnecessarily tighten or contract…which is a big deal.
I’ve outlined a wonderful practice below to integrate into your life and inspire your own conscious relaxation to help you learn how to slow down. It’ll work great as-is, but feel free to embellish: extra props, crystals, candles and lavender oil are amazing add-ons!
Try this for 20 minutes a day:
Restorative Bound Angle Pose with a YTU twist
2-3 yoga blocks or 2 rolled up blankets and 1 block
Classic set of YTU therapy balls
Lie on your back with the soles of the feet together and knees wide. Place one block (or rolled up blanket) under each knee. Note: you aren’t going for a stretch sensation, so place the blocks in a position where your knees and thighs feel completely supported by your props.
Place the toted YTU therapy ball set under the base of your skull (at the occipital ridge). You can add 1 block under the therapy ball set if that’s more comfortable.
Take gentle deep breaths. As you breathe, scan your body for sensation. What do you notice?
Begin to nod your head “no” and “yes”. Move slowly, allowing the nodding of your head to soothe you.
Repeat each day, experimenting with both movement and stillness.