“Use it or lose it” is a common phrase that means that if you do not continue to use a part of the body, mind, or certain skills, overtime you will lose the abilities you previously had. In the yoga community we tend to use this phrase when talking about strength or flexibility in a certain part of the body. For example, if you work on wheel pose every day it will become easier and more consistent over time. But if you stop practicing yoga and don’t do a single wheel pose for a few years, you will likely not be able to do it anymore or at the very least it will be much harder for you. Consistency in a physical yoga practice is extremely important. Building a strong foundation will enable you to practice with less risk of an injury. That being said, what if you have already experienced an injury? Do you avoid putting stress on a part of your body that was injured previously? It is human nature to practice self-preservation by avoiding things that have caused us pain in the past. Our mind tells us that avoiding dangerous situations is in our best interest. For the most part this is true. If you touch a hot stove and burn your hand, you want your brain to file that away as something to avoid. However, sometimes our brains are a little too cautious and steer us away from doing things that may actually benefit us in the long run.
Let me use my own body as an example. I’ve always had weak wrists and when I was seventeen I went to the doctor with especially bad pain in my wrists and they diagnosed me with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Since there was pain in my wrist when I moved it I wore a brace for a while that immobilized the area. Even when I wasn’t wearing the brace I tried to avoid moving my wrist too much to avoid the feeling of pain and discomfort. It made sense to me at the time that you shouldn’t put pressure on a weak part of your body. The problem with this is that I still had to live my life and sometimes moving your wrist is just something that has to happen. Avoiding movement in my wrist for so much of the time made the infrequent movements more painful than they had been before.
When I started doing yoga I was very wary of all of the poses where you had your hands on the ground. If you think about any yoga class you’ve ever been to there are A LOT of poses with your hands on the ground. Downward dogs and chaturangas tend to show up frequently. One thing that I found was different in doing these yoga poses as compared to just doing push-ups at the gym, was that the teacher would explain exactly how to spread the weight throughout the entire hand to keep the wrist safe. This got me thinking, maybe avoiding movement in weak areas is not the best way to avoid a reoccurring injury. Maybe it is important to work the weaker parts of your body SAFELY to strengthen them and therefore be less likely to injure them.
I no longer avoid moving my wrists. In fact, I move them more now than ever before. If I ever have to move my wrists it is important that they are prepared to handle that movement. In a safe practice, you should be moving every part of your body and not avoiding certain areas out of fear. As always, you should be avoiding pain but embracing discomfort. It is important to understand this distinction. There should never be pain in your body during your practice, but discomfort is often required for growth. Stop thinking of your weaknesses as weaknesses and start thinking of them as areas for growth!