What happens when the yoga teacher gets gimpy?
Well, denial is a great first shot. Right? Isn’t it? I mean, I’m healthy, I have healthy habits, aches & pains – phww! These things come & go, the practice goes on. Right? Right? Anyone?!?
OK. So the practice is to cultivate awareness of what is, which includes the aches & pains. Paying attention to the space between the feelings is a great way of taking perspective, but if I forget to be with the feelings, then I’m just avoiding, not meditating.
In practice, we can vacillate between poles, diving deep into a contemplative bent and swimming back to experiential, just to find how the currents mix & mingle and are never seperate. I tend to dive in deep, at least, and maybe you do, too. It’s one of the reasons that I keep a little bit of yoga mat (active yoga asana & pranayam) and a little bit of yoga butt (sitting meditation) in every day.
But even with such habits as safeguards, fear, pain and my inner control freak easily override my best intentions at times… because my “best” intentions aren’t the only ones I have. In my case, chronic hip pain is one of the little beasties that dance around my campfire and whom I befriend. But sometimes I slip into thinking my practice should safeguard me against aches & pains, keep the beasties at bay. There’s some Protestant Calvinist strain of virtue dispelling sin & pain spilling from sin that tells me all the good things I’m doing should prevent injury, pain & discomfort.
So I “address” the pain, practice relieving asana, stay “aware of” the pain. Instead, I aim to seek pure, clear awareness, with pain, without pain, in the moment. Sometimes the hardest thing is to dive in, and sometimes even when I think I’m diving in, I’m dog paddling away like a golden retriever. How do we ever know???
Certainty isn’t what I seek. Just the ability to recognize what’s in front of my face. I help people who are in pain, seeking relief from pain whether from lifestyle, spinal stenosis, tightness in the hamstring or the heart. I have gained this ability and priviledge as a result of having worked with my own, studying, seeking guidance, integrating.
And so have all the other yoga teachers & meditation masters. So why have we built up a culture that damns pain, scowls at injury and tsk-tsks those who dare to acknowledge all the shadings of their experience? Maybe its just the circles I’ve frequented, or maybe it’s a “studio” culture: those with the “right” to teach are those who are able to cover any trace of their struggles with the smooth, even facade of a socialite emerging from a spa.
One of my lessons from this current emergence of my little beastie called pain is to find a way of being who I am in any given moment without hiding under seaweed entanglements of guilt & shame that engender fear and running. One of my lessons is rest. One of my lessons is to recognize when I’m exceeding my limits. These are heady, exciting, invigorating times of growth & learning, with deeply rewarding accomplishment and pride in re-learning old ways of being. And, such exciting, invigorating times require the roots to go as deeply inward as the leaves are reaching out.
More restorative practice, more meditation, simply breathing with the pain- not to make it go away, but simply to be with it. It’s true that it & “I” will change – such is the nature of time dwellers. But the change is not to be sought or resisted. Observed, smiled upon, witnessed. Inhaled & exhaled.
Inhale, Exhale. Maybe pain isn’t the enemy. Maybe the notion of opposition is part of the pain. Maybe the glossy studio notion of yoga as skillful facade is as much running as other Hollywood excesses. Maybe healing comes not in never limping, never falling out of headstand, never feeling let down by your practice. Healing thyself comes from truly embodying well-being, which translates “eudaimonia” from the Greek. A more literal translation is well-demoned. Time to practice with the demons 🙂