Perched on a Ledge

Starting over meant leaving behind the illusion of a full recovery. A certain numbness enveloped me, as if facing the truth had blunted my spirit. Intellectually, I knew that the breakdown I’d had at the studio was a necessary and healthy step. But my heart and my body ached, now, in a way I’d never before experienced. If I had to describe what the world looked like to me in these moments, I would have drawn a picture of myself, trapped on the ledge of a cliff, overlooking a wasteland of vast, undefined emptiness.

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Photo by nour c on Unsplash

I did not want to stay here.

I needed a way off this ledge, to climb out of the deep abyss in which I was stuck. Yoga was going to be the first tool I wielded to lead me to a different place. The need to slow down, to accept that I was no longer the person I used to be, pointed me to the yoga’s universal ethical principles. If I were to adopt an honest practice, I needed to embrace “ahimsa,” or the concept of non-harming as described in the following: ‘Do no harm’ is the medical credo by which physicians and heath care professionals are to abide. The concept of ‘non-harming’ sets a baseline standard for the way in which we should live. The idea of Ahimsa should extend to the self before it can be transmitted outward into the world. The actions we take in the way we practice yoga asana can reveal the way in which we are taking care of ourselves.” (http://breatheintomotion.com/search/results?q=ahimsa). In my rush to return to my life, I had not considered that I needed to care for my body, rather than overlook its needs, ignoring its pleas that I stop inflicting pain upon myself. In my note to Mike, I acknowledged I was guilty of harming myself in the pursuit of a narrow goal:

“This week I came really close to just quitting- & in a way I needed the meltdown yesterday to accept how injured I am. It’s just a shock, again and again to observe the pain in an honest way: that lying on the floor with my knees bent hurts my feet. Or that open stances hurt the toes on my lead foot. Kneeling aggravates the heels…But if this is going to work then I need to let you in on the pain and I have to follow your directions more willingly. You must keep telling me, checking the overreach, keeping me honest with myself and focused on a different goal: no pain (not less pain or ok pain as I have been living all this time. OMG it’s gonna be so hard to keep dialling the yoga back and part of me wonders if you have any idea how headstrong I can be LOL.).”

Tied to this concept of non-harming of myself was the next ethical principle: Satya, or speaking the truth: “A conscious decision to tell the truth nurtures harmony in thoughts, words and actions. Being honest with oneself is critical for truth to be projected outwards into the world. Learning to perform yoga postures with a realistic outlook on how a posture should be practiced (or if a pose should be attempted at all) is a lesson in truthfulness…Yoga practice that embraces scaling back range of motion and assembling appropriate alignment respects ‘non-harming’ or Ahimsa (the first ethical principle) and weaves it into ‘truthfulness’ or Satya (the second ethical principle). ‘Truthfulness’ connects with ‘non-harming’ in yoga practice and yoga philosophy.” (http://breatheintomotion.com/search/results?q=Satya)

With these two universal principles in mind – non-harming oneself or others, and speaking truthfully – I committed myself to practicing yoga in a manner that would help me off this ledge and into a new life:

“Yup I agree I totally didn’t see my pain levels or deal honestly with you or me this first session. I hurt all the time Mike. Some days are worse than others but I’ve had years of practice at the “It’s not that bad, really” game. The path you’ve outlined is totally the right way to move forward. But I’m gonna need your help to stay with it. I will want to rush it. I will get impatient. Just keep reminding me that we’re playing the long game here.
Here’s a simple baseline I’ve had for 4 years: If the tingling picks up, the pain isn’t far behind, and then I have to dial it down. That was hard to do when I was working. And I never did – can’t run a school with your feet propped up, right?- so tingling was very loud by the end of the day, and I was hurting pretty badly by the time I got home. The  pain crept up more at night and I’d try to hit it with super doses of meds to find relief. And that didn’t work for me obviously. It’s part of the learned tolerance for pain. To cope I ignored what my body was telling me, and got comfortable with a certain level of discomfort. So this process you are developing here for me involves managing those habits too.
 Tingling is going to be the cue for us if I can stay tuned into it during class. If it gets to the point of a pain response I have pushed it too much. (Like with my toes last class). Of course the tingling hasn’t ever stopped since Feb. 2013. So not sure if we can reduce the tingling but willing to try getting the pain to zero….over time.”

Ahimsa and Satya became the guiding principles for my yoga practice. In choosing to slow down, to listen to the guidance of the yogi who knew how to carefully glue my body back together – I knowingly unleashed a wave of transformation that would bring healing to me both inside and out.

But that would prove a perilous journey all its own.

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