Many of us have come to start our Yoga journey either because of an injury or general stiffness. Picking up a mat and stepping onto it for the first time, rarely occurs because we feel strong, balanced and at our ‘physical best’. At the same, time those of us already on the Yoga path have probably encountered some kind of injury, or physical limitation that has forced us to change the way we approach our practice. Or, as teachers, who use our bodies all day, practicing, demonstrating, and adjusting.
Safe to say then, that at some point during your chosen undertaking of a Yoga asana practice, you will feel bad. You will feel pain, uncomfortable, stiff, tired, emotional, confused and even angry.
So why do we continue. What is it that draws us back to ours mats, day in, day out?
I recently returned from one of my regular trips to Mysore to practice with my teacher Ajay Kumar. To say that the trip was a difficult one would be an understatement. Still suffering sporadically from an old injury that I got from an adjustment (not by Ajay), and the referral (when other parts of the body start to compensate), I felt like I was regressing in my practice. Nothing was ‘flowing’, and my mind was full of negativity. Added to this Ajay was attempting to refine my poses. I was definitely not in my yoga groove! I actually felt like quitting. My mind went to all the lie-ins I could have, the late nights where I wouldn’t clock watch. Yet when my alarm went off the next day at 4am, I got up and went to practice. The reason for me was two-fold.
Firstly, it is through injury and feeling like I am not succeeding in my practice that I have gotten to know myself better than at any other time. I have been forced to internalise, observe, and to listen to what my body is telling me.
The second, and herein lies the purpose, the bud, and the beauty of it all; is that it has cultivated my faith in the power of Yoga to heal and to change.
During times of pain, on or off the mat we believe it will forever be so. That we will always feel exactly like this. That it will never, ever get better, and yet with time it does. We re-build our strength. Our flexibility comes back. The pose that we stopped being able to do, returns to us like a gift. Received with the greatest appreciation. We cherish the days when we feel ‘good’ because we have a deepened knowledge of feeling ‘bad’. We start to differentiate between muscular and joint pain. We inherently know when to forge ahead and when to back off and rest. We learn to take care of ourselves in our lives. To seek treatment; massage, acupuncture. We open up and show our struggles to others. We become human.
Through this period of vulnerability and the realisation that we can do nothing but surrender, we actually start to find inner strength. Maybe we even explore other Yogic disciplines such as pranayama, mantra, and meditation, thereby expanding our experiences.
I believe physical pain is a manifestation of something unaddressed in the emotional and it is our job to seek and learn from it. As Jim Morrison once said; “You feel your strength in your experience of pain,” and so we step onto our mat with the faith that no matter what, we are full of all we need.