Holding on to pain

As I was writing my previous post, I realised I am very reluctant to say that I don’t have pain anymore. Partly because I do still experience pain and cramping, but there is more to it.

Although I’ve kept silent about it for a long time, pain has defined my life for the better part of the past ten years. It’s made me tired, cranky, stiff and sleepy. As long as I can blame pain for being tired, cranky or sleepy, I don’t have to blame myself for it. I don’t mean blame as in finger pointing, but rather as in accepting responsibility. Basically, there have been many things I could have done earlier to relieve the pain, the first one was to accept it. On the other hand, I’ve not been cranky for ten years, if you met me you’d think me a happy upbeat sort of person (most of the time). So, I hold on to the fact that, in spite of being in pain, I can enjoy life, I can overcome my body. I am not my body, and my spirit can prevail even when my body decides to cramp up. It just sounds so ‘heroic’, without the pain I wouldn’t be heroic anymore (or would I?).

If I’m not in pain I have to admit that I’m just feeling down for some emotional reason, and then I would have to actually get in touch with such emotions. If I’m not in pain then I am not my own hero that can get over herself, go beyond the pain, and enjoy despite the circumstances. And so, I am reluctant to admit that I am healing, I hold on to the pain, and this slows my healing. I’m not letting it go, and so some of it remains, and sometimes cramps me up as badly as before.

If I’m not in pain, I would have to claim responsibility for my foul moods, my headaches, my laziness. If I’m  not in pain, I wouldn’t be special anymore.

I’m ready. I’m leaving it all behind. I’m leaving the pain behind. I’m embracing my new found health, and working for more of it. I’m taking responsibility for who I am, what I do, what I feel, what I say.

 

Finding strength- the power of the vinyasas

I started a daily yoga practice a little over two months ago. It is the best gift I have ever given myself, I feel years younger, and although I still have some pain, a lot of it has decreased or only comes on occasion and not permanently as before. I didn’t know how much pain I was in until it left me. I feel that the healing is happening during the vinyasas in my ashtanga yoga practice.

I’ve grown stronger, or rather I’ve found the strength I already had. I feel like I already have all the strength I need to reach every pose in yoga, as cocky as that sounds, I just don’t know how to use it. Through daily practice I unlock a little bit of it every time. Yes, muscle is being built, joints are gaining stability, my body is changing. These are just the manifestations of all the strength I already have. The strength is in my pelvis, I have begun to feel my pelvis for the first time in years. I start, on occassion, to be able to feel the deep muscle supporting my practices and transistions, when I can feel it the practice gains a new dimension. Last night I went on a speleo training of sorts, a lot of rope work. I went on this same training last year, and I found it much more difficult. I was doing it all with my arms, nearly pulled my shoulders out, today I feel like I did most of the heavy lifting (aka, lifting myself up) with my abdomen, specially my lower abs. I was able to access the power stored in my core, moving with integrity even as I was lifting myself up using my arms as leverage, but not as the main strength sources. I wasn’t even thinking about it, this is true progress. All thanks to yoga, since I haven’t been doing rope work regularly lately. (Doing muscle work while hanging on a harness is a GREAT way to relieve back pain, by the way, I think that I why I have kept on caving). 

In the ashtanga yoga that I practice, I really feel like the vinyasa is where all the magic happens. The vinyasas in ashtanga are transitions from one pose to the next, consisting of jumping back to plank, lower down to chaturanga (like half a push up), upward facing dog, downward facing dog, and a jump forward to the next pose. As beginners we focus on trying to ‘get’ all the flashy looking poses, and see the vinyasa as an ‘in between’; but I am starting to think that the vinyasa is really ‘it’. The rest just helps you to gain the strength and flexibility to practice vinayasa with integrity. The real transformation is happening in the vinyasas, in videos and beginners lessons they advice that you ‘skip’ the vinyasas once it becomes too much. I think it would be better to keep the vinyasa and skip the poses. I’ll start practicing like that this week, see what happens.

Keep to the vinyasas as much as possible.

On yoga and spirituality

I´ll say it right out: it annoys me when spirituality is ‘imposed’ in the yoga practice. It annoys me when people look down at yoga practitioners that ‘only do it for the sport’, or ´cult of they body’ as they say it. Do I think that yoga should be taught, first and foremost as a spiritual practice? no. This is a bit of a contradiction in me, because I DO practice yoga to reach more openness in mind, body, and spirit.

I’ve actually met a few people who think of yoga in the same terms as going to a church (be quiet, don´t laugh, wear discrete clothing, keep a look of calm repentance on your face), and take personal offense when they see someone doing it for a sweat, weight loss, pain relief, therapeutic reasons…or anything other than deep spiritual purposes.

I think that such thoughts undermine the true power of the yoga practice. The practice will teach what the practice will teach. I´ve been practicing ashtanga yoga for about a month now, which means I´m a newborn in diapers with respect to the practice. Let me tell you, getting started in ashtanga, a dynamic and challenging style of yoga, feels a lot like going to bootcamp (not that I´ve ever been to bootcamp, but you get the picture). And if it´s bootcamp for the body it is bootcamp for the mind and spirit as well. If I wait until I feel ‘spiritual’ to get down to it I would have probably abandoned it already. Exactly THIS had been the problem for  more than 10 years, I just didn´t feel ‘inspired’ enough to be worthy of practicing. I was blocked from practicing yoga because I myself was one of those holier-than-thou-eyebrow-raisers. Now, I force myself to do it, about 3 to 4 times a week of doing attempting the primary series is the most my body can take.  The rest of the days I do other excercises in yoga or pilates, or acrobatics, for strength and specific postures. Sometimes I’m in a bad mood, and I do yoga. Sometimes I’m in a happy mood, and I do yoga. Sometimes I´m angry at the world, and I do yoga. All the time Sometimes I’m in pain, and I do yoga. Sometimes I am sleepy, and I do yoga. Do I feel spiritual about it all the time? no, most definitely not. Sometimes I have a very unfocused practice that is blah, and sometimes, although I wouldn´t think so at the beginning, I have a wonderful flowy (as much as possible given the circumstances) practice.

THAT is the beauty of yoga. A deeper sense of self (call it spirituality if you will) unfolds, whatever the reason you are doing it for. It causes a process of introspection, as soon as you ask yourself:  why is it that last week I could get into that pose and this week I can´t?  or, I honestly don´t think I’m stressed but my shoulders say something different, what is that all about? are my mind and body on the same page?

It is the practice of asanas and breathing that will unfold the process of introspection, and self awareness, which I believe lead to higher spirituality…eventually. In all, I think that blaming beginners for ‘not being spiritual enough’ about it, is like expecting us to be able to do hand balances and legs-behind-the-head types of things right from the start (when really, we struggle to reach our toes in a forward bend). If the process of opening the body takes years to master, so does the process of knowing the inner self. It is something each person should look for when, and if they want to look for it. In the meantime, they can continue to do asanas, at worst they gain a healthy stronger body.

I think a lot of people miss out on yoga because they see it as ‘too cult-like’ or ‘too buddhist´ (I’ve actually heard that one, whether it is true or not), or ‘good christians don’t practice yoga because it belongs to another religion’ (another favorite where I’m from). It’s a pity that they would miss out on yoga because of, perhaps well-meaning, teachers that expect too much spirituality and wisdom out of beginning practitioners. So, in all that, I support teachers like Tara Stiles, who make it available to those who are turned off by the ‘new agey’ feel of the yoga community. At the same time, I’m also grateful for the teachers who make the other more spiritual aspects of yoga available for those who will ask (or search videos and blogs online, *smile*).

The practice will teach what the practice will teach whatever the intention you start it with. You will not learn handstands until you let go of fear and learn how to fall (Gracefully, and enjoy it too). You will not learn strength until you learn discipline to build it up, and focus in breath to hold it. ‘Practice and all is coming’, someone said.