I have runner’s legs.
That’s not necessarily a good thing.
My hamstrings, hips and IT bands are perpetually tight, pulled taut from a combination of balled muscle and stuck fascia. Not only does it hinder my ability to touch my toes, it also leads to biomechanical issues and pain, especially as I get older.
Prior to this fall and its associated craziness, I was making good progress on my legs. I had committed to 30 minutes or more of yoga daily, with an emphasis on loosening the lower body. I was looser. Freer. My body learned to work together as the binds began to unravel.
And then the move happened.
And yoga didn’t.
So now I have runner’s legs.
And mover’s back.
The tension spread when I wasn’t watching, migrating up from the hips, along the spine to settle between the shoulder blades and around the neck.
It’s all connected. I turn my head to the side and I feel the pull all the way down to my hip.
So back to yoga I go.
Hamstring work has always been a challenge for me. They resist. They struggle. When we engage in a battle of wills, they always win.
The harder I push, the more they grip, the golgi bodies responding out of fear to protect the delicate tendons beneath.
There are tricks in hamstring work, techniques to encourage the muscle to relax and lengthen.
These same tricks work for our minds.
Much like the golgi bodies buried within our muscles send signals to protect the surrounding tissue from overstretching, our minds respond to too much pressure by sending out panic signals that encourage gripping. Holding on to whatever is causing the pain.
We can stay there or we can learn how to outsmart those signals and encourage letting go.
Any effective hamstring work has to start with the breath. When your breath is restricted, tight, your body receives a signal to hold on. To everything. When the breath is full and complete, the body and mind relax and feel safe releasing a bit more with each exhale, trusting that the next inhale will come. Everything is connected. You can soften your hamstrings or calm your mind with nothing more than a few moments of mindful breath.
Face, But Don’t Force
When I first started doing yoga, I couldn’t find the right balance to use. I would either back off in difficult poses, afraid of facing the pain or I would meet it head on and engage in a game of chicken.
In order to let go of the pain, you have to face it. Acknowledge it. Greet it. But greet it gently. Just like you don’t respond well to a stranger running up to you, your discomfort won’t like a harsh welcome.
It will hide.
Instead, recognize it. Accept that it is there in whatever form it takes today. And then allow it to soften.
My hamstrings and I have a different perception of time. To me, a few seconds in a forward fold is plenty. To my legs, however, that’s just the first note of an entire concert. I’ve had to learn to operate on their schedule in order to see any progress.
Even when that means holding a single pose for 10+ minutes.
It’s amazing what the mind will kick up when I’m holding a pose.
It throws up excuses.
Reasons to hold onto the pain.
The trick is not to listen.
Releasing mental anguish is no different. We want it to be pulled from our lives in one great swoop, a magician drawing a scarf from a hat.
It takes time. Instead of the magician, picture playing Operation, a steady and careful hand patiently removing each offending piece, careful not to trigger the alarms.
It seems crazy that our minds and bodies want to hold on to what is causing us harm.
But they do.
You see, that’s a known pain. It becomes comfortable.
Whereas letting go risks the unknown.
And that is the scary part.
This one hamstrung me this month. I stopped my daily practice and the pain crept back in. It’s subtle, so you don’t notice at first as you acclimate to the ever-increasing amplitude.
Until you do notice.
It’s so easy to think we’re done. Healed. All offending tissues have been softened and all issues resolved. But much as AA teaches that an addict is an addict for life, we are all healers for life.
It’s a daily process to remind ourselves to let go.
That it’s okay to feel suffering and it’s okay to release it.
It’s alright if you forget. Just acknowledge where you are today and breathe.
And begin again.