Yoga Teacher, Heal Thyself

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 🙂

Metaphor is Powerful; Yoga is Powerful

We’ve just witnessed the power of metaphor on the national stage, and yoga asana practice is direct, personal engagement & embodiment of the power of metaphor. We embody particulars and so transcend the generalities of natural forms in postures,  as when we engage the majestic conversation with air that is the Eagle in Garundasana, the enduring stability of the Tree in Vrkasana, the open reflectivity of the Moon in Ardha Chandrasana. 

While performing asana, the student’s body assumes numerous forms of life found in creation, and he learns that in all these there breathes the same universal spirit – the spirit of God. ~BKS Iyengar

Yoga asana is movement in concert with breath. Each release, each opening is supported by and in turn invites more breath. Each moment of awareness is tied to a simple motion or stillness, a particular moment of physicality accessed through awareness riding the conduit of breath. Minute particulars, infinitely organizable, known only through our unique presence in this one prescious moment. The moment as it is given to us.

Even believing the force of metaphor and the empowerment of presence and embodiment, the mechanics can remain deeply mysterious. How can physical movements change our lives, change the world? While my first inclination at response is “How can they not? Aren’t our lives, Isn’t the world, a collection of movements?”, the deeper answer comes down to particulars.
“Labor well the minute particulars,
 take care of the little ones
 …
 For Art & Science cannot exist but in
 minutely organized particulars.”
~William Blake
 
Yoga practice leaves us more adaptable, more present and so more alive, creative & responsive. 
“Enhancing respiratory function is the surest and simplest way to increase the adaptive capacity in the organism.” ~Thomas Myers 
So through awareness and attention to particulars of our own ever-present existence, we train ourselves to become more responsive to our worlds and the needs of the people in them.
Still need motivation for practice? How about a recent report in Prevention magazine linking meditation to better sex? We all know better leving leads to longer lives, but if meditation can lead to sexier life, what’s not to try, to love?

Re-Imagining

Yoga allowed me to re-imagine myself.

I realized this today practicing with one of my old faves, Shiva Rae’s Solar Practice CD from 1999. It was one of my first home practice guides, and even today when I need another voice in my head, someone else’s metaphors and images to bring freshness to my Warrior, I slide this one into the player.

And I realized, her metaphors became my own. Her voice helped me re-imagine my body and re-connect to the way I related to my body when I was a girl. I remember squinting my eyes to make haloes and fireworks as I balanced my arm, perpendicular to the earth in its socket, so perfectly that I could imagine it wasn’t mine. It stood there on its own. And I was the earth.

And when Shiva Rae used the metaphor of “wings” for the shoulder blades today (well, the recorded sound of her voice…) I realized, that was the first time I re-imagined my body as an adult. Imagined it wasn’t set in stone as it sometimes felt, or in mud or even bound in cotton as it sometimes felt I was insulated from the world. That my body could become a conduit for energy and images and power. That I could live differently.

I had just delivered my last academic paper about a year before when I was practicing with this CD for the first time: Metaphor as the structure of Truth. Having received much interest, many plaudits and requests for reprints and further investigation, I vanished to the desert. My name had changed (returned to home), my profession, my location, my possessions (mostly left behind), and I had some radical re-imagining to do. I didn’t know it at the time (I had come here to be a Paramedic) but yoga would be the vehicle for my to realize the deep truth of that last talk. And Shiva Rea’s voice would plant a seed in my heart, a seed of wings and of roots.

The structure of metaphor is a container and yoga helps us explore how we contain our breath, and so how we express our meanings and truths. I still believe the basic tenants of that last talk, that sentences are derivatively true, that when we seek truth we are never ultimately looking for statements and that what makes statements true are neither facts nor objects nor worlds but states of consciousness.  Yoga helped me not only realize the truth of what I discovered, but to re-imagine it and myself in ever more revealing ways. That’s why I practice yoga. Every Day.