Balancing Our Compensations

Find freedom in your wounds

One of the key components in a yoga practice is learning how to balance your compensations. Very often this involves repeatedly confronting what most frustrates you: the pose you hope the teacher never calls, the person you pray to never run into, the emotion you attempt to suppress. It is only by working through it, and not running away at every chance, that you grow.

I’ve taught that for years in my asana classes, and yet recently came to understand how I’ve been running myself — we teach so we can learn. In August I injured my right hip while jogging. Considering it never healed properly (I’m terrible at giving myself pause), last week I finally sought out physical therapy. After my initial evaluation, it turns out that I probably strained and definitely have a tight tensor fascia latae (TFL), as well as weak vastus medialis obliques (VMOs), tight piriformis muscles, and the kicker: bursitis in my right hip. And of course, the exercises I was given included the exact movements and rotations I have long avoided.

I came into the physical aspect of yoga after being frustrated with the healthcare system, predominantly the chiropractic and orthopedic specialties, that I had been receiving for nearly a decade, which all stemmed from youthful injuries: broken right femur, twice broken right ankle, broken right clavicle. Without tracing the lineage of compensations I have faced, let’s just say that it makes sense that my TFL is tight and VMOs are weak. What doesn’t make sense is how long I avoided understanding the knowledge of my compensations.

Alas, we learn at slow paces sometimes, and the knowledge of the underlying factors of my current predicament can only strengthen me. In fact, in just over a week of doing the prescribed exercises and stretches — some of them mere minor adjustments and adaptations of movements I do practically every day — I already feel like I’m operating with a new body. My legs are evening out; I’m no longer leaning so much to the left to adjust a weak and tight right leg. Everything is feeling more centered than before.

Without irony, it turns out that some of the strengthening exercises I was doing regularly were serving to tighten muscles that were already too tight. Instead of stretching and massaging, I was aggravating; what was weak, I was stretching instead of strengthening; and so on. Lacking the knowledge of my ailments, I was actually feeding instead of overcoming them.

We can easily understand how this can affect not only our physical dimension: how we avoid touching our emotional scars; how we become afraid of challenging ourselves intellectually, spiritually, and physically. Our perceptions of the world are also formed by our compensations, and if we are not in balance, our thoughts and actions will be skewed. Bringing our afflictions, our scars — Joseph Campbell would always say that our freedom is in our wounds — to light is the first and essential step in balancing what we compensate for.

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