Hello dear readers.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of pain and responsibility in the practice of yoga. This is a subject that Boyfriend Yogi and I have discussed frequently. In his recent guest post Yogis and Jedis Oh My!, he wrote fervently about the necessity of taking responsibility for one’s own body in the practice. I understood his points theoretically and somewhat practically at the time, but in these past few weeks I have had experiences in my own practice that have really brought these issues to the forefront for me. You know how it’s possible to “know” something but still not really know it until you feel it to your core? Well, that’s what has just happened for me.
As some of you might remember from previous ramblings, I’ve been on a roller-coaster of a love affair with drop-backs. Since I began my Ashtanga journey last year, huge openings have occurred in my body and I’ve gained a lot of strength. This has particularly effected my backbends which used to be a source of great fear and agony for me. Perhaps I say “used to” prematurely, because after a golden period of opening and hard but exhilarating backbend and dropback practice, now I feel like I’m suddenly back to where I started.
A few weeks ago my knee (possibly a minor tear in the meniscus?) started really acting up. I decided to take a few days in conjunction with my ladies holiday, to really back off my practice – just doing restoratives, some standing sequence postures, meditation and breathing practices. By the end of the week of rest, my knee felt better so I started back up with a few minor modifications. But, after this rest, I was at a total loss when it came to my dropbacks. It was as if my body had literally forgotten how to arrange itself! And ever since then – no good. On top of this, my knee is hurting again. My back aches, I feel crunchy in my sacrum, I’m facing lots of fear etc. etc. blah blah blah! And my teacher started me with working with foam pads last week so I can learn how to drop back and stand up by myself. OW! I guess the timing was just wrong, because now my back is super sore and tight.
So all this pain in my body is forcing me to stop and analyze: good pain? or bad pain? growing pains? or damage pains? And that is where the issue of personal responsibility comes in to play. I’m struggling through my practice, trying to figure out what feels good and what feels bad in each pose for both my knee and my back. It’s hard and sometimes I feel like giving up. I want someone to tell me what to do. I wish it could be this simple – “do this, don’t do that, do this for this long and you will be healed and all will be well”. Uh..no…it doesn’t really work like that. My teacher has been helpful and supportive, encouraging me to take it down a notch in my dropbacks, but she can’t give me all the answers and make it all better. No one can. I have to figure it out myself. It’s my body and my practice and since yoga is helping me gain self-awareness, I have to employ this for my own benefit, safety and well-being.
So how do we deal with pain? Well, some pain is good. I totally understand that pain is part of the process, especially in Ashtanga. In light of this, I really enjoyed this piece by Kino MacGregor.
Here is another article from ele regarding pain, written by David Garrigues.
It is clear that in the evolution of practice, inevitably there will be periods of pain and discomfort. In my limited experience I have definitely watched pain cycle through my body as I come into greater freedom and openness in my asana practice. Obviously we hold a lot of emotions and toxicity in our bodies and the intensely purifying nature of Ashtanga brings a lot of that up and forces you to actually physically process it. It’s a powerful experience. A lot of fear arises in this journey. For example, I have a really hard time releasing into Baddha Konasana. I love when my teacher gives me a full intense adjustment in the pose, but at the same time I kind of freak out. I know that when she comes over to lay on top of my back with her knees on my thighs that it is going to really hurt, but the deep opening and subsequent freedom it brings, well, it’s certainly worth the pain.
So, how does one determine “good pain” versus “bad pain”? It’s a very personal decision; one that forces you to be super honest with yourself. For example, part of me believes that the pain in my back is “bad pain” but deep down I think I know that what’s really going on is that I’m scared, I’m doubting myself and I’m not truly trusting the process. Even so, I do trust my teacher and I know that she knows what is best for me. I recognize that she has more experience leading people through the practice of Ashtanga than I have practicing it for myself. Right now she is pushing me harder and giving me less support in my dropbacks and that is hard. I’m peeling down another layer and even more fear is being uncovered. I need to trust myself as I trust my teacher. I need to “honor my body” (yes, I know, the most ubiquitous yoga cliche out there..) but I need to do it in a way that doesn’t excuse myself, coddle myself or keep me stuck in the same place. I need to listen to my body, but I need honestly and authentically listen to and respond to what it tells me. I do not want this pain and fear to overpower me. I am learning, slowly (but with diminshing resistance) to accept my pain and try to carry on, compassionately and courageously.
David says that “Resisting pain can frustrate me, challenge my resolve to practice. Thus it’s essential to see that the obstructions that appear in my path, whether physical or mental, are meant to be there for my learning and growth. Somehow I have to trust the process, let go and see the potential openings, the advantages and new directions within the hardship.”
This is my hope:
To trust myself. To trust the process. To accept my pain. To process my pain. To learn and grow from it. To deepen in my practice and in my own understanding of myself as a result of this roadblock. To carry on, unequivocally in the mind, even if the shapes my body takes are altered. To have faith and devotion. To not be swayed by ignorance or self-pity. To always remember, that in yoga, as in life, progress is not linear.
Thank you for reading.
With love and gratitude.