Wednesday, January 14, 2015

the upside of broken

It’s not been easy to sit and write. Actually it’s not been easy to sit in general, to stand up from the ground, to put on leggings, to strap on sandals, though each day this too is changing…

My back has been hurting and it’s not just been challenging in practice but also in pretty much every activity. It’s taken a certain amount of time to admit this to myself, to allow myself the mental, emotional and physical space to actually feel it, and thus examine it--and it’s taken a bit more time to admit this to my teacher, who I’ve traveled all the way to India to study with. Sharath has actually been amazing and compassionate, he suggested I stick to primary and has been supportive of me scaling back even on that. As for my own acceptance, well, this is a work in progress.

While the trouble with the back did not apparently happen in yogasana practice, the way I’ve been practicing with whole-hearted Mysore-inspired gusto has not helped it, and, if anything, has made it feel even more tender. After a week of practice, I had to re-examine my hopes that the deep stretching would work out whatever kinks there were.

I’ve had to remember that my “best effort” is not always the same across the board. That my optimum is different when I’m healthy and able bodied, than when I’m hurt or injured, or when I’m busy or under-slept, or when I’m stressed and emotional.

So my biggest challenge has been this: to let go of my own ideas about my own practice, particularly about practice here in Mysore where I am used to jumping into the deep end. Right now, my best effort is about wading gently in the shallows, allowing the back to expand and loosen, giving it space with the breath.

Returning home exhausted after a mindful led primary last Saturday, I realize how hard this is, that I am used to exerting a certain amount of effort to go deep in a forward bend, for example. And how much harder it is to be cautious, to scale back my own practice, to override my attachment to the postures and my desire to go deeper, to appreciate the energy of a room in motion but to also to not be driven by it, to be content to walk forwards and backwards on the mat, while all around people are floating and flying, to be unashamed and forgiving of myself as my knees touch ground in upward facing dog because doing it this way it isn’t painful.

Once again, the Mysore room is humbling me, albeit in different ways from previous trips and only after the first two weeks since arriving—record time really for this place to make me feel so tender, so vulnerable.

It’s been a great teacher this thing with the back. I’ve been through the motions with it. I’ve been disappointed and upset. It’s been hard to be comfortable, and there's nothing much to do but to sit patiently with the discomfort. More recently, I’ve been hopeful. I’ve felt the thrill of being able to practice mindfully with little to no pain, even in a led primary class.

I feel I am getting to know my own body a little differently--and my mind too. While I know that the depth of the practice is not determined by the depth of the posture, I have to admit that I often think of a great practice as one where I am closest to what I consider “the full of expression of the posture.” If I were to fold forward in the same fashion as I might have a month ago, I may come close to the visual ideal of paschimattanasana, but if I were to do that today, I would not only be endangering the health of my back, but I would also no longer be practicing yoga.

And while the challenges continue, and practice is an unending roller-coaster, with ups and downs, twists and turns, loop-de-loops, highs and lows, I am grateful that I am getting to watch my own preoccupation over asana and my crazy patterns: how hard working I usually am, and how this is at times to my own detriment, how all too often I have a hard time giving myself a well-deserved break. Every day is a great lesson in letting go as much as in acceptance. 

(As of publishing the article, happy to report that the back in doing much better. Everyday is a marked improvement. Pain is less acute and more dull. Most likely some micro-tearing due to excessive travel/crazy Christmas schedule/on going saga with leg behind the head postures have caused the back muscles on the left side to spasm. There is no damage to the spine, disks are good. Taking rest, practicing lightly, and a healthy amount of great advice from friends and professionals have helped immensely. I feel incredibly supported during this time and cannot think of a better place to heal than in Mysore where Guruji prescribed primary series as yoga therapy. I am amazed that even with adjusting to my current limitations, nothing is lost in the practice. It is so ... how else can I say it, for me, it is still so perfect!) 

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