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.
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.
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.
Related Article: Beyond Pain Management: Disrupting the Pathways of Pain
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Nous n’avons pas appris à ralentir. C’est un élément très important dans une saine routine de vie. Ralentir pour être présent à soi.
Thanks for sharing your story. It is very constructive.
learning to do nothing is an art! Over time I learned that it was healthy and necessary. It is still difficult sometimes because there is so much to do, but with age, I get better and I have more kindness towards myself
Humain really need to live in their bodies to take care of their mental healt. We learn and pratice more how to work than we can know our own bodies. Thank for this testimony, it’s reassuring to know that there are great alternatives to take care of your mental and physical health with YTP and restorative yoga.
As a yoga teacher, it is important to do what we said : take time, relaxe, breathe consciously, etc. The students will learn more if we are a good example. More, our body will always give us signals when we push to far. You will certainly be a better teacher after this injury. Thank you for sharing your journey.
Wonderful post, Sierra! I really resonated with what you said about slowing down to making the conscious choice to listen rather than control. Giving myself permission to truly rest is so tricky, i have to refrain from judging my “rest” as passivity or laziness. There are deeper forms of self-relationship and ways of being that I’m hardly aware of while I internalize always being in “work” mode. Thank you for the inspiration to slow down, truly rest and restore!
Thank you so much for your transparency around the issue of constant striving. It has become an epidemic in our society. The body always tell the truth. If we don’t listen to the signals, it will eventually give us no choice. Injuries are gifts usually telling us to slow down or STOP! I love your practice of mandatory rest days and will aim to make this a monthly practice!
a lot of people have trouble to relax in this modern lift style, we constantly go to places, think about our to do list, our body and mind constantly moving, hardly stop, i am one of those people never stop, never sit down, i even feel weird if i sit on couch waiting TV without thinking or worrying anything…. let alone practice restorative yoga, no way, it is way too slow too quiet for me, but my body needs it, my mind needs it, i need to give myself permission to relax, so slow down, to restore my energy, to take care of my body and my mind so i can function better when i decide to get going again.
It can be such a difficult realization that slowing down is what is needed. Especially as movement practitioners, we want to go, go go! And then, once we’ve completed out prescribed rest, we hit the ground running to get back up to speed. I think slowing down and keeping a slower pace is opposite to most people’s nature. Thank you for sharing your story and also mentioning Shante Cofield, she’s AWESOME!
I agree with so much in this article about slowing down. What is funny is that I feel like I am in the same boat. I am on a constant go-go-go as a yoga teacher with a schedule that never quits. I will reiterate to my students to rest and slow things down. However, am I really practicing what I preach? It’s a great reflection to have and consider. I know rest is important in order to teach and reach our highest potential and I have been setting goals to achieve that before other factors pop in and “force” me to rest. Also, into the supta baddha konasana with the blocks and the yoga tune up ball – will try it out!
I truly believe, learning to slow down is what most people need today. The culture of “busyness” in our society is at an all time high. As you learned (as have I) running yourself ragged, will make you sick. As a yoga teacher, it is essential that we “walk the walk” so that we can be authentic in sharing the practices of self care and slowing down.
“Instead of pushing, I made space to listen to my instincts.” This really resonated with me. Rest and conscious relaxation are vital to get better physical and mental results. I think you can go at a certain level of activity for some time but eventually, some balance needs to be brought into the nervous system. restorative yoga and YTU practices are designed to down-regulate and elicit a relaxation response.
We often need to take a step back to take two forward. Rest and recovery are vital components to meet the demands we place on ourselves. The Tune Up balls are a great resource to help us down regulate and reclaim our ability to rest, recover, and restore our energy and focus.
Just like healing from an injury is the opportunity to hit the reset button so can taking a break from our “must does” – being mindful of why we push so hard…While on vacation, I let myself rediscover “rest”, not practicing every day but maybe taking a short walk or kayak ride to just enjoy. This allowed me to “recover” during my short break and press the reset button.
I can relate so much to what you wrote. I just realized in the past month that I need to stop going full speed/working full force all the time. Last month, I was even saying that I felt like a fraud because I was teaching a Restorative class but couldn’t relax in my own practice. It has been my intention for this month to take the time to slow down and just breathe. I’m going to be incorporating the Sankalpa, “I have all the time in the world” into my practice. Just saying that sentence brings some ease to my mind. I love how YTU goes hand in hand with relaxing and tapping into our parasympathetic state. Thanks for sharing your story!
It’s awesome that a great lesson is learned when we have a curve ball thrown at us! A great reminder that we yoga teachers follow the advice we give our students, to find balance in our lives. Our world is always on the go and time off and rest should be scheduled in just like any other task in our day. We will always be a better teacher, friend, spouse, parent when we take the time to care for ourselves!
I love the balance of giving both body and mind a break. Self-care is really so important and something I truly believe everybody needs, but oftentimes forget, or sometimes feel guilty of. This is a great reminder, thank you!
OMG I can so relate to this!! Type A personality, go go go go, but what happens when your body needs a break? Well, this happened to me after my car accident in 2005. 2 shoulder surgeries, 2 titanium discs, one in my neck and one in my low back and knee surgery, I know Crazy!! But, it forced me, as it did Sierra, to slow down and revisit my goals and my life. I am forever grateful, this changed my Dharma.
It took me a long time to learn to slow down.
Learning about neuroplasticity has been hugely helpful in my own journey of learning and evolution – starting with ashtanga as my favourite practice to having restorative be my favourite!
As Ms. Alea notes, “…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.” Those are such good reminders for whenever we feel stuck, or like we are not doing enough. Every bit counts, and doing it is the most important part.
Also, I learned reading this that I’ve been practicing a YTU version of supra badha konasana since I got my pair of therapy balls a few years ago. I instinctively put them under my occipital ridge, and also moved them as I moved my head side to side and up and down. I look forward to continuing to integrate YTU principles into my own practice and to share them with others.
Very interesting as an exercise I will include it in my relaxation routines
It will be good for me who as trouble ton slow down! Thanks for sharing tour experience!
Wow! This text arrives perfectly at the right moment in my life. I realize that I have a lot of patience with my children and others, but not with myself. By being honest with myself, I realize that I push too much in training and work. I really like what you mention to let go of what you can not control and trust in life. It often brings us surprising things. Thank you very much for this text.
Before getting physically injured or burned out, note our priority list of things to do in the day – Break Am and Break PM. Good suggestion to incorporate yoga postures tune up to rest physically and mentally in everyday life.
Now that I have moved into the next phase of life, I came to understand, quiet abruptly, that my practice needs to change also. I still love flowing through Vinaysa, but now, I love sitting in Yin even more because it gives me the nourishment and self care that my body needs.
Thanks for sharing your learning experience. Sometimes it takes an injury, illness or just an unexpected event to force us to slow down. It can be so hard. But it also teaches us to be more gentle with ourselves and reminds us to be grateful toward our bodies as they heal.
It’s never easy to slow down for New Yorkers and this is actually what we need to release stress and restore full power. I used to like most of people living in the city, pushing myself to work out seven days a week and mistakenly thinking that was the best way to maintain my fitness level. However, I do find practicing restorative yoga and recovery exercises, or even just resting, helps me come back to the full energy mode quicker.
Listening to your inner voice is the key! In order to do so, we need to sit down, take moments,relax,and go slow down.
It is so difficult once you get into that faced-paced, always-moving routine to actually take a day off. However, despite doing so and facing its corresponding guilt that day, the subsequent restored strength and refreshed feeling are always a strong reminder that this is needed now and again. Your story of having no other choice but to rest after your injury is a level that I haven’t personally had to relate to, but you seem to have handled your situation incredibly well. Very inspirational!
Thank you for sharing! I can totally relate, it is way too easy to try to jump right back into things when we feel we are “healed”, but can quickly realize that we need to take things much more slowly than we wish to. For me, it has been very important to accept that healing is not necessarily linear, that if we push ourselves too hard or don’t take the time to slow down and restore, our bodies and minds will scream until we listen. This post has been a great reminder for me!
Living in New York, I find myself rushing up and down subway steps all the time. Your post resonated with me. I need to find time for conscious relaxation before i am forced to relax for reason ‘s out of my control.
“There is no corrective exercise for inadequate rest.” Loved this! One thing i miss living in Florida is a ‘snow day’.. mandatory pjs, hot cocoa and nowhere to be.. hurricanes just don’t cut it!!
My trainer once told me that relying on caffeine for energy was like borrowing time from your future.. time that you WILL have to pay back in one way or another. I try to think of this same idea with more extreme physical and emotional activities. Sometimes it is worth it… to borrow that energy from your future, but if you don’t keep making payments on that debt, it will force you into bankruptcy!!
This article resonates with me deeply. Lately ive been feeling that all i need is just to slow down, stop running around like crazy doing all these so-called important things. There is nothing more important than your state of mind! One of my favorite quotes by amazing Jon Kabat-Zinn “We became human doings, not beings”. Its such an important lesson for all of us. Slow down. Just slow down.
A great reminder to slow down before we get hurt. If we do get hurt we do have the tools to heal well.
This blog really resonates with me. I am a type A person who own her own business, teaches yoga and has a family. Last after living with chronic pain in both hips I had them replaced. Following my surgeries, I thought I would return to my yoga practice and life with no more pain. I was wrong, I never took the time to properly rehab. Now I am taking YTU level 1 to give myself the proper self care.
I wonder why and how as humans alive today in Western cultures we came to believe that we can and should dominate or control our bodies into submission when we would likely be much better served by trying to cooperate with and understand our physical manifestations?
Wow. You had me at “I practiced listening instead of controlling.“ Thank you for sharing with us, Sierra!
This is so timely! I’m here in the Netherlands, teaching the Hips Immersion and the issue of not being able to slow down and not listening to our bodies has already come up several times – and it’s only day 1. I will repost this as tonight’s recommended reading for our fellow teachers. Great job.
I love your honesty; it’s difficult to admit we are not ‘walking the talk’. Happy to see that you’ve turned this around for yourself and in the process used it as a way to educate others on how to relax and recover. thank you Sierra.
Such a wonderful lesson in patience, rest, and listening. The body needs time to learn, absorb, integrate new information and it’s so important to listen to our bodies holistically and to work with where we’re at, not where we want to go. An important reminder to take self care seriously whether recovering from an injury or otherwise.
Going to try this position for my next meditation practice. My occipital ridge can use the release magic of the yoga therapy balls while I tune in. Appreciate your willingness to share your story
“A daily practice of conscious relaxation will produce physical and psychological results.” This is now on my bathroom mirror to reflect upon when first waking. Awareness of what I am doing and its affect on me psychologically and physically are of paramount importance, as I have a chronic lung problem that sometimes brings me to my knees. Powering through is the last thing I should do. Thank you, Sierra Alea.
Thank you for sharing your story. A great reminder that you can’t rush healing.
Thank you for the sage advice and great techniques to aid the process!
Amazing! Thank you for walking us through your journey and allowing us to see how conscious relaxation is absolutely a must in order to restore ourselves. There is a Chinese proverb that says “resting is for the longer road ahead” and while that’s something I’ve grew up with, it’s hard for me to walk my talk which has flared up all sort so of chronic stress symptoms in my body up until restorative yoga landing on my path. I am very excited to try the restorative bound angel pose with ytu twist! 😀 Thank you again and wishing you a speedy recovery!! (*side note how amazing to start the day with this article and heading into Jill’s breath and Bliss training in a few hours!! ✌?✌?✌?)