“What distracts us?” my yoga teacher asked last week as we sat on our mats waiting for class to begin.
“People’s cell phones going off in class,” I thought darkly, wishing I could throw a few punches at the perpetrators as if I were in sparring class. What’s really been distracting me lately is physical pain. Usually when I’m distracted it’s more of the emotional or mental type—anxiety, anger, sadness, or simply my brain wheels clicking as I solve problems. But right now it’s good old-fashioned pain, that pain in my right hamstring that’s been bothering me for a few weeks now. I don’t know if it’s a tear, a pull, or just irritation from over-use but it’s starting to be a real pain in the…well, you know. Literally and figuratively.

The pain isn’t THAT bad—I can walk and run just fine, and if I have enough adrenaline pumping I can hop around in taekwondo class without feeling a thing. Sitting for a long time such as in a meeting at work or in the car makes it feel irritated and crampy, which makes standing up after prolonged sitting a bit of a chore, and after the feel-good chemicals of a hard workout subside then I feel the pain shooting through my leg. It makes me miss my old hip pain. I use my legs a LOT in taekwondo so it’s not like I can completely avoid aggravating the injury in class.

Sometimes we can simply ignore distractions, and they will die down. A fleeting thought, an unnecessary worry—those are things that don’t need to be given more power or recognition than they deserve. The point my yoga teacher was making was that through our practice we can discipline our minds and bodies to focus and be present rather than be pulled in a million different directions by unnecessary distractions.

Other things, though, will poke and pry and vie for our attention until we can no longer ignore them—a gut feeling that something is very wrong, a pattern of behavior from someone who isn’t treating us right, an illness or pain that refuse to be ignored.

Pain in any form, physical or emotional, is a warning sign telling us that we need to listen. Distractions might be more than just mental clutter; they might be trying to tell us something. Maybe it’s time to leave a draining relationship or job. Maybe it’s time to take it easy with your body. Maybe it’s time to simplify your life and say ‘no’ to all those obligations while you focus on what’s really important. A sign of emotional maturity is having enough self-awareness to listen to what’s calling us and carefully deciding whether it should be addressed or not.

A sign of emotional maturity in an athlete is having enough self-awareness to listen to what our body tells us and carefully deciding whether it should be addressed or not. I could keep brushing aside my pain and sit on ice packs every night, but my body is no longer letting me ignore it. I can still do a front snap kick even though now it comes with a wince and a sharp inhale. I don’t want to get to the point where I can’t do one at all without searing pain, especially as my black belt test looms nearer and nearer.

So what am I going to do? Am I going to heed this distraction or ignore it? My hip pain became so bad several years ago—as in so distracting that I could barely function—that I ended up going to physical therapy, which turned out to be the best thing I could have done for it. Now is the time to be a smart athlete and a responsible future black belt. As much as I don’t want to I will probably sit out of some of the more vigorous classes and use that time to heal so I don’t end up back in a clinic.

The only thing that bums me out more than having to miss out on the fun I have in class is how I should probably cut down on how much I eat during these upcoming low activity days. I won’t be able to indulge in my normal “if Michael Phelps were a martial artist” diet if I want to stay my same petite ladylike size. Damn.

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