This has been a very hard year for me, mostly due to the fact that I had rapid deterioration of quality of life from a degenerative neck condition that not only causes severe pain, but has also caused me to not be able to do the things that I love in life, the things that help me breathe. With the help of a few wonderful people and a lot of support from my husband I have been able to manage my life better and have gained much in return.
I am learning to think differently about what happens and the reasons behind it. I have gained more empathy for people who suffer from chronic pain and disease and feel more compelled to better myself in order to help them with their journey to find some relief: the rounded “wholistic” kind of relief, not a pill or a quick fix, but a better way to feel through mindful living both physically and mentally.
My Yoga practice has been greatly influenced by this process and being determined to conquer as I have always been I have persevered through much pain to finally receive the physical benefits that Yoga brings. Subsequently the gains in my “non physical” Yoga far out weigh the physical benefits. I have had to experiment a lot with my practice and find out what feels good and what causes pain and notice how my body feels (I am asked in Akhanda Yoga to inquire within to notice how I feel) but I don’t think I ever asked how it really felt but more likely how I wanted it to feel. I did not take the time to listen, but when faced with the possibility of severe pain I started to look at my own practice very deeply.
At first I went heavily into alignment but found that this made my pain even worse because in many ways my body did not want to line certain joints up and when I did so I created a lot of tension in my body. Even if I were resting my neck, the tension from discomfort would send shooting pains through it and up and down my spine and arms. I then started to experiment in a pose with what felt good for MY body and made many adjustments until it felt comfortable, or in some occasions I do a different pose that makes me feel good. I found taking the tension away from always trying to be in alignment and just letting my body tell me what IT wanted to be liberating. Not just on my mat but in life also. I have been trained to have inner inquiry in my practice but separated mental and physical inquiry and always shut out the body and went straight to trying to look inside my mind. I think I missed these crucial steps, because of course it is all connected together equally. Also, the chatter in the mind that presents its self when you are constantly aligning joints and limbs to be in “correct alignment” is distracting, you can’t hear the voice behind the inner inquiry because the alignment chatter is way too loud. At the beginning of the Yoga sutras we are taught “Yogas chitta vritti nirodha” which gives us an idea of the main benefit of Yoga: the calming of the waves or turning (chatter, questioning, negative thoughts, etc.) in the mind to create a quite place in the mind that is blissfully its true self living in the present moment. So through this pain I gained the gift to feel my Yoga in a much better way and to listen to my physical body and hear its voice and get away from mind chatter. I am actually grateful for the growth that this condition has given me and constantly work to change my actions in my life to better my life and better my body in a way I have never done before.
Of course I have bad days and sometimes feel terrible and very negative towards my condition, hating the pain and the limitations that the condition presents to me. This does not help and even makes it worse due to the tension that these feelings bring to my neck and throat. It is easier said than done to be positive when you are in great physical and mental pain, but to be aware of this and to really listen with a compassionate open heart to your body is so very healing. By listening to my body, allowing myself to feel my pain during my practice rather than blocking it, then moving to a more comfortable place, gives me a deeper connection to myself that allows for a quieter mind, more freedom in my body, less tension, and most importantly a compassionate self-nurturing connection to myself that I have never allowed myself to feel. I had to let go of expectations in my practice and stop trying to please my ego, which is hard for a lifelong competitive athlete. This ties in very well with ancient Yogic teachings and the Bhagavad Gita to see the world as yourself and love the world as yourself and thus come into being,
finding your soul force. Deep listening to how something really feels with a quiet, open and compassionate heart can most certainly help all of us to live a life true to ourselves and help cultivate love and compassion towards all beings around us.
“We cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great. For our own idea of greatness is illusionary, and if we pay too much attention to it we will be lured out of peace and stability of the being God gave us, and seek to live in a myth we have created for ourselves. It is, therefore, a very great thing to be little, which is to say: to be ourselves. And when we are truly ourselves we lose most of the futile self-consciousness that keeps us constantly comparing ourselves with others in order to see how big we are.” (Thomas Merton)
Many blessings to you all.