I am Here. My Open Relationship to Yoga.
September 8, 2016
Shannon Cluff ~ Yoga has been my teacher, my lover, my best friend and my employer for the last twenty years. I passed through the years and styles of practice with such a keen exuberance for yoga, reaping it’s psychological and physical benefits with gratitude and inquiring deeply into it as both a science and as an expression of art. I happily bowed to it’s benefits by recruiting others to classes, by becoming a teacher in 2004, by opening a studio in 2006 and by leading teachers and students in 1000’s of hours of instruction. I recall several debates with my soccer playing, weight lifting and yoga doing partner about my belief that yoga was the complete and perfect mental, physical and spiritual package for me and possibly for everyone. How my vinyasa practice had enough cardio vascular, strength and flexibility benefits to be the superfood of fitness. My conviction was deeply rooted in yoga’s healing powers because after only 3 years of practice it had healed my old dance injuries, improved the symptoms of my scoliosis, it helped me to quit smoking and relieved me of a chronic eating disorder. I was convinced. So, by the age of 28 I had quit my day job and become a full time yoga teacher and by the age of 30 I owned a yoga studio. In order to succeed, yoga had to be my everything and it certainly was.
Over time, we change. It’s not always obvious how much we are changing but there are signs if we choose to see them. Six years ago I started to feel subtle pain all down the left side of my body through almost every joint including my shoulder, my lower back, my hip, and my knee. It progressed to almost every joint in my body feeling dry and crunchy, some clicked and others popped. I could also take a deep breath into my mid-spine and get a “good crack”. I remember a few days where I would be in the middle of teaching a yoga class and the pain was so intense that I almost started crying. The pain in my joints would also wake me up in the night and I would start each day feeling achy and tired. But I kept up my yoga practice, 4 days on the mat of personal practice and teaching 7-10 hours of classes per week. During that same year of particularly deep Ashtanga and Hatha based practice, I tore my meniscus twice in an eight month span of time. After my knee joint healed I was left with a constant burning sensation up the back of my left leg and into my hip. So I stopped doing yoga, or to be clear I changed the way that I was approaching my yoga practice. I added Core Therapy classes to my yoga studio class schedule and started getting great feedback from my students with chronic pain. It was helping. To my personal practice I added a ton of lower body, core and upper body mobility work and I backed way off from any passive flexibility stretching. And it was helping. I had no idea that adding more strength to my practice would be so beneficial but within just a few months, I was pain free and within a year I was feeling fantastic. I started researching biomechanics, Pilates, functional movement and locomotion. I began to sit in meditation to stay clear and focussed on this new path and to help process all of the new information I was absorbing. I added running, light weights, jumping, hopping, rolling and body weight conditioning exercises to my practice. I shared my experience with physiotherapists and chiropractors, asked them questions about injuries and chronic pain and they helped to guide me in the right directions. I started working privately with other teachers and students with chronic pain and injury. I started teaching new yoga teachers in my trainings about the effects of over-stretching and the benefits of mobility work, how the body functions mechanically and how we can help our students out of their chronic pain and rehab injuries. This passion for inquiry brought me to other experienced yoga teachers in places all over the world that had come to similar places in their yoga practice, that after 5-10 years of yoga being their only form of exercise that they were seeing their bodies start to break down. They had also felt weak, tired, in pain or “over-stretched” with clicking, achy joints. A community of teachers was forming that encouraged yoga teachers to develop a new relationship to their yoga practice, to take a a more discerning approach, to maintain a diversity of movement in their practice including strength training and to stay up to date on the latest education and research into physical therapies and biomechanics.
Fast forward to today. I am here. I have an “open relationship” to my yoga practice. I teach yoga, Core Therapy, FreeForm Movement and Pilates. Yoga may still be my primary practice but it is now balanced with my secondary relationships to running, Pilates and Functional Movement. My body is pain-free. My mind is more clear and calm then it has ever been. I am stronger and more physical now in my practice at the age of 41 then I was in those first few years of practising yoga at 25. And the positive changes keep coming. The potential of what I can learn and train to do feels endless.
I now believe that there is magic and medicine in the diversity of our physical endeavours. I now understand that expecting yoga to give me everything that I needed was what I needed to believe at that time. But it was also a romantic, micro-view of the big picture. What I am happiest about is that at the hardest, most painful time in my practice and my career that I found the right resources and people to help me to understand, change and grow. If this is where you are at as well, come visit me at Dharma Movement Company or Yoga at the Church. The possibilities for all of us are endless. Thanks for reading my story.