Last month, I did 108 Sun Salutations As (and Sun Salutation Bs) in about an hour and a half. If you know what a Sun Salutation is, you may have gasped a little. If you don't know what that is, look at the videos I linked to first and then come back to this post.
Okay, so that is a pretty intense workout, right? I thought my arms would be completely useless after my 50th Chaturanga. And they were. I was modifying my Sun Salutations by plopping onto the ground with a sweaty grunt and doing a half hearted Cobra instead of an Upward Facing Dog. I was prepared to have ridiculously sore arms and shoulders for at least a week.
Surprisingly, my arms were barely sore at all. It was as if I had a moderate weight lifting day at the gym.
The muscle group that was the most sore surprised me: my hamstrings.
I have never had a sore muscle like this in my entire life. Seriously. I grunted in pain every time I sat down or moved a little. Walking up and down stairs was wincingly painful. The thought of stretching my hamstrings in a yoga pose made me want to throw up. My hamstrings were insanely sore for almost a full week and a half.
Several weeks later, I could still feel the soreness, deep in the tissues of my hamstrings. I had a yoga teacher training class while my hamstrings were still sore and while we didn't focus on the hamstrings specifically, it was seriously painful. It was a full weekend of yoga, with lots of stretching. I thought that might be good for my hamstrings. It might give them a bit of a stretch after a full week of avoiding anything that might pull those tortured muscles. Then, later as I fought the urge to throw up in Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose, I realized I was probably doing more harm than good by stretching them, even gently, even by modifying my usual poses.
Why is it so hard for us to give our bodies the necessary time to heal? The thoughts floating around in my head were silly, if not outright ridiculous. "I'll lose all the work I've put into limbering up my hamstrings!" "Your practice will suffer!" etc, etc. I actually had to argue with my own mind to give my body the rest it needs to repair itself. The hamstrings are notoriously slow to heal. I needed to give my legs at least three weeks ("Three weeks! You'll forget how to do Standing Forward Bend!") and then I need to strengthen them with weightlifting. It'll be a long process, but it was clear my muscles were over stretched and maybe even ripped. I needed to let them heal.
I know a lot of people, besides myself, probably fight with themselves over this same issue. We don't want to take the time to heal ourselves for fear that we'll lose the work that we've put into our chosen activity. Our minds scream that we don't need to take a break, it'll be alright, you're strong. But it's that gut feeling (you know, the throw-up reflex) that lets us know that we must let ourselves heal. We can't continue to grow as a yogi or a runner or a cyclist if we don't let our bodies rest. The poses I'm so worried about losing flexibility in have suffered tremendously because of this injury. I can't get myself in a full Standing Forward Bend if I wanted to. My hamstrings literally won't let me. Even the half Standing Forward Bend has my face scrunched up in pain.
It's time to let myself heal and ignore the voice in my head that wants me to bend a little deeper. My hamstrings will thank me.