Practical Detachment

Yoga taught me a valuable lesson: consistency neutralizes deficiency. Fact is I am not naturally flexible. I grew up bookish, timid, and my hip injury did nothing to aid in my athletic ability. This added distraction of my foot injury also inhibits my performance potential. I ought to be a wreck. When I consider the common course, the usual prescription, I shudder. If I’d had medical insurance when I broke my hip I would have undoubtably received AMA approved pain medication. Consistent use of painkillers would have neutralized their effect, requiring higher and higher doses until a hip replacement could be scheduled. Sound familiar?

Lots of people, lots of Americans I should say, have hip replacements. If you have comprehensive coverage a hip replacement is cheaper than buying a new bed, faster than physical therapy, and more invasive than a speeding locomotive. I’m not a doctor. I’m a person speaking from personal experience. Here’s what happened to me: I used yoga as physical therapy. My own yoga, no mat, no teacher, no dvd. The yoga part is not obligatory. I’m pretty sure Pilates, physical therapy, tai chi – any slow consistent mindful movement coupled with meditation, healthy eating and introspection would have yielded the same results. Which are?

Six years after my traumatic injury I’m still in better shape than I was in my teens, 20s, 30s or early 40s. Yes, despite living with chronic pain I have fantastically muscular feet, limber limbs, lithe and supple arms, wrists and shoulders. Not bad for a person who types as much as me. I’m so flexible now people assume I was born this way. Not! Flexibility occurred organically about three years into my daily practice. Why the long face? Oh, the “three” years. I know, yeah? That’s when most folks say “Pass the Vicodin!” Don’t be that way. In three years from now you’ll need twice as much Vicodin, or at least as much as you’re taking now. That’s not progress. That’s retreat.

I’m not here to tell anyone what to do. I’m really not cut out to be a drill sergeant. I’m not like that. Just sayin’ my students who’ve been with me three years all report greater flexibility. Most report increased strength. All enjoy the practice. But why aren’t they all as strong as me? I posit they could be, maybe, we’ll never know unless they do what I did: a daily practice of several hours a day. Again with the long face? I don’t make the rules, I just make wry observations on the human condition. Fact: If I do yoga one day a week it might take me 7 times longer to improve than if I practice every day.

That’s not exactly true. Not all time is equal. The younger I am the more likely I have other activities like recess, gym, sports teams, cheerleading, hiking, running etc. that would supplement my yoga practice. Once a week might be enough for a person who cross trains with gymnastics to gain proficiency in yoga in less than a year. For a person like me, however, that wasn’t enough. Pretty much since my first job out of college I held clerical positions. Forty hours a week with benefits often entails doing 38.88 hours of sitting, weekly. Enough to make a naturally stiff person positively rigid.

If you haven’t had an injury, try 15 minutes of yoga daily. Training matters. Persistence counts more than intrinsic talent. Anyone can have a daily practice. With consistent application I leveraged diligence and discipline against my diminished capacity. Don’t wait “until.” Don’t wait until you’re accomplished, strong, graceful, flexible; practice now while you’re weak, awkward, fragile and frail to create health. I’m still not as healthy as I would be without my injuries but I am far more healthy than I would have been had I succumbed.

Practical Detachment is just this: Practical. Doing yoga daily rubbed the edges off my expectations. I wasn’t used to practical detachment when I started. I was by the end of year one. Reality is a dispassionate teacher. I didn’t hit every pose perfectly every day, especially as I challenged myself to new difficult ones. Even the poses I mostly achieve, I can’t perform the same every day. I suffered a little ego adjustment in the beginning, disappointment, frustration, soon enough that eased into curiosity, interest, fascination. What was effecting my yoga? Turns out: everything. My moods, my schedule, my hormones, my stress level. Yoga became a microcosm of life, practical detachment enabled me to use my yoga workout to self diagnose.

It takes a little hutzpah to work out every day. I know for me, my family is a little dismissive, my employer thinks it’s crazy, and my commitments make it difficult – and I’m a yoga teacher . . .So yes, if it seems like a shameless audacity to set aside time AND space for a daily yoga practice, this is not all in your head. Society has unkind slang for people who value their health: Health Nut, Granola Brain, Workout Fanatic, Picky Eater. The middle class of regular health is disappearing as quickly as the socio-economic middle class. I see billboards and ads, actors and singers who are way buff (can you say “Madonna?”) Meanwhile the average person is far less fit than their 1960 counterpart. Remember Marilyn Monroe? She was pretty, but not fantastically fit.

Don’t get discouraged because you aren’t as rockin’ fit as a movie star, strive to be a better you.

The discipline of a regular practice creates results. The tangible increased range of motion, increased stamina, higher quality of life makes the benefits of yoga overt. Generally the students who take the longest to learn a pose value the benefits most. What is easy you tend to learn on autopilot. Therefore, it’s hard to explain to someone else, you struggle to understand yourself how you did that. But what was hard won? That is understood keenly, deeply, profoundly. Understood thoroughly! Understanding yoga and by extension your body, and your Self, thoroughly, is what makes yoga fun!

Finding detachment means I don’t have to take facts of life personally. I am not a bad person because I want a blanket under my knees or a prop. I am not a better person when I can do all eight headstands from Light on Yoga. Do enough yoga and not only will you find your spine, you’ll start to develop core strength. When you know yourself to the core, to the bone, you won’t have to rely on other people for interpretation. What a relief. I don’t have to react to apparent indifference from other people. Perhaps they’re just having a bad day. This is the gist of practical detachment, it enables you to hear what is being said without going weird places with it. It’s not a skill that can be created overnight. It is acquired through days and days, weeks and weeks, months and months then years and years of practice.

You can do this: pick a pose, any pose and practice it twice a day. If it is a pose with a left and right view, do it twice each side a day. How long? Long enough. Long enough to feel exhilarated on your execution. Long enough to feel disappointed with your inability. Long enough to feel bored and confused (how long am I supposed to do this?) Long enough to feel curious new strength. Long enough to create greater range of motion. Long enough to discover more than one way to do it. Long enough to find the center of the pose. And then? If you complete all that – you’ll cusp on a new stage, that of unbiased observation. You’ll pass into the zone of being able to self critique without tearing yourself down. A stage of useful observation.

This might take anywhere from a few days or a few years depending on your personality.

So what? You’ll find, bless your heart, that after you learn how to critique your own yoga that skill will spill over into the other areas of your life. I dispassionately realized my poor eating habits had a direct correlation to stress. oops. So rather than beat myself up over the second piece of pecan pie I began to reduce stress whenever I had it under my control. I made better choices. And so can you.

Now Y’all play nice!

Sat Nam