When Excess is Too Much: redefining balance in everything including how we practice yoga


I remember an expression from the 70s that I used to find amusing: “Excess is not enough.” But carried to an extreme it is overkill, especially when applied to working or eating or even working out.

For many of us we think that if a little of something is good for us, than a lot of it must be great. But the problem is that this idea leads us to overworking, overeating and over exercising, which can lead us to having no life, becoming too fat and/or injuring ourselves.

I see this from people of all ages and stages—we are a culture that constantly pushes ourselves too far and too much. How do we find balance? Part of the solution is to redefine and reframe the question, which is something that I have had to do as I recover from past injuries or just deal with my aging body. The following inspirational blog post also addresses this issue.

Too Much Yoga? Or Just the Wrong Kind?
by Nina Zolotow

Yesterday I read a powerful post Surprise, Surprise! You need a Total Hip Replacement! by Jill Miller, in which she wrote about discovering that her hip joint was “decimated.” She described it this way: 

“It looks like someone went in with an ice pick and chipped, flaked, abraded and destroyed my coxal (hip) joint.  Inflammation, check. Osteoarthritis, check. Bone cysts, check. Chondromalacia, check. Bone spurs, check.” 

Jill is a relatively young woman—the mother of two very young children—so being a candidate for a hip replacement already is rather unusual. As a person who is very currently knowledgeable about anatomy, she blames her condition on her hyper-mobility combined with years of stretching on a daily basis.  

I thought this important for a couple of reasons. The first is that ever since I’ve been doing yoga, I noticed my teachers talking about people (most often women) who are hyper-mobile, saying that these people should be working more on strength than stretching. So for those of you who have this body type, please take the warnings from your teachers about this issue seriously! And if you’ve never heard this warning, well, you’re hearing it now from me (who heard it from both Rodney Yee and Donald Moyer) and from Jill Miller. 

But I’ve also noticed that it’s often very hard for overly flexible people to hear the message that they should back off from stretching, and some ignore it entirely. I had assumed this was due to an ego problem because being able to do super bendy, showy yoga poses gets you lots of positive attention (not to mention for those who are teaching more students and photo opportunities). And that might be part of it. But what I hadn’t really thought about until I read Jill’s post was that that for some people just the experience of stretching can feel very rewarding. Jill put it this way:  

“My pre-existing genetic condition was to move and stretch myself compulsively to stifle the emotional stresses I felt as a constant in my body. I’m not enough, not perfect enough, not smart enough, not nice enough, not pretty enough, not worthy. My yoga and stretching could quiet me like a quart of bourbon could silence my ancestors. It could take off just enough of the edge to get by.”

In fact, Jill referred to it as an “addiction to stretching.” For those of us who love to practice asana, there is definitely a physical pleasure in the sensations of moving and stretching. However, it really concerned me that Jill had been—at least back before she had her epiphany regarding the way she was practicing—somehow equating this “stretching” with “yoga.” She wrote:  

“My dependency on my yoga practice was shackling me to the mat and consuming up to 2 hours every morning, if I didn’t practice, I didn’t feel right in my skin. Going without my ritual left me feeling unhinged, irritable and anxious. My need to stretch was no longer expanding my mind, it had trapped it.”
So today I just want to remind everyone it’s always possible to practice yoga safely and still “expand” your mind. If it’s right for your body, you can give up stretching entirely, working only on strength, balance, and agility, and you will still be practicing yoga. And if you have other physical issues (or even certain poses that don’t agree with your body—yes, that happens!), you can give up the physical practices that don’t work for you, and you will still be practicing yoga. And if all you can do is Savasana, you still be practicing yoga. And if you have to give up your asana practice entirely to recover from an injury or illness, you can continue to practice meditation and pranayama and study yoga philosophy, which are always safe.

Jill said, “My pre-existing condition was a belief that I could do more, be more and accomplish more if only I did more. More was more and I needed to move constantly upon that moor in order to survive my life.” She didn’t state it, but I assume Jill realizes now that this addiction to what she was calling “yoga” was in fact the opposite of yoga. It reminds me of [something} Beth [Gibbs’ wrote.] Beth said it was sutra 2.42 of the Yoga Sutras that helped her with her my feelings of “not being enough.” 

“It is necessary for the aspirant for the Yogic life to cultivate contentment of the highest order because without it there is no possibility of keeping the mind in a condition of equilibrium.” 

So working with the body you have—and doing the practice that’s right for you—is not only the safest way to practice, it’s the yogic way. And if you’re addicted to stretching, please try some other practices, such as meditation, pranayama, or yoga studies, to find another way to quiet yourself.

Here’s how Beth describes her practice now:

“Of, course, the physical practice does not look like it did in 2002. Pranayama and meditation make up a larger percentage. My physical practice varies depending upon my needs for the day. Sometimes it’s stronger—I love Plank poses! And sometimes it’s slow, flowing Sun Salutations or 10 minutes in Legs-Up-the-Chair pose. I rejoice in the fact that underneath the “African,” underneath the “American,” and underneath the “woman,” is a being who can occasionally and surprisingly “be here now” and be content. In those moments, I can rest amid chaos and be present in the midst of my life with all its joys and problems. I can experience this and me at the same time. I am competent, capable, connected, and a credit to universal consciousness in all its forms. And that is enough.”

As Jivana [Heyman, the founder of Accessible Yoga] says, “There is no correlation between physical ability and peace of mind.” 

Nina Zolotow
NINA ZOLOTOW, RYT500. Editor in Chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, Nina is a yoga writer as well as a certified yoga teacher and a long-time yoga practitioner. Her special area of expertise is yoga for emotional well-being (including yoga for stress, insomnia, depression, and anxiety). She completed the three-year teacher training program at The Yoga Room in Berkeley, California, has studied yoga therapy with Shari Ser and Bonnie Maeda, and is especially influenced by the teachings of Donald Moyer. She has studied extensively with Rodney Yee, and is inspired by the teachings of Patricia Walden on yoga for emotional healing. She teaches workshops and series classes on yoga for emotional well-being, yoga for stress, yoga for better sleep, home practice, and cultivating equanimity. Nina is the co-author with Baxter Bell of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being and co-author with Rodney Yee of Yoga: The Poetry of the Body (with its companion 50 Card Practice Deck) and Moving Toward Balance. She is also the author of numerous articles on yoga and alternative medicine.

This piece was originally posted on the Yoga for Healthy Aging Blog on October 26, 2017.

As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

6 thoughts on “When Excess is Too Much: redefining balance in everything including how we practice yoga

    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      You are welcome. You are so right, our culture values productivity and accomplishment to such a degree that we are constantly pushing ourselves, sometimes to exhaustion!

  1. Dorita

    I have had inner rumbling about this, although not nearly so clearly stated, as I have gotten back in to a workout routine these past months. Thanks for making it clearer!

    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Working out is great for us, but so is rest and recovery Trying to cultivate balance is tricky for all of us!


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