Well, first of all, yoga is a way of life. It’s part of the Hindu religion, and the Sutras spell out a path to nirvana and peace (since the Sutras were written about 500 years after the Buddha lived, some scholars claim they would not have been possible without Buddhism and are heavily influenced by Buddhist philosophy as well as the atheistic Hindu system of dualism).
Of course, here in the West, yoga’s rep for sweaty hot rooms and twisty bendy postures has caused us to forget that it’s part of Hinduism at all.
And face it, I love the twisty bendy everything. I have recently fallen in love with the investigation of the philosophy (just as I fell in love with Buddhism last year), but the twisty bend everything still claims me, tests me, makes me face so many things. And not the ones you would expect–not aging, stiffness, the limits of my body. But who I truly am.
I go to the mat. And wherever I go, there I am.
I’ve written that my worst case scenario was to have an eruption of back pain while doing yoga teacher training, and that, of course, the worst case scenario happened. And here’s the thing–I get kind of sick of turning worst case scenarios into AFGO’s (another f&*#ing growth opportunity), but what else is a girl to do? I’m not allowed to lie down, wail and writhe in yoga teacher training. So, AFGO.
I might add that the AFGO keeps honking its horn because I’ve had flare ups in three separate weekends. I went back to the lovely Dr. Martinez to re-charge my John Sarno-I-am-insanely-homicidal-and-don’t-want-to-know-it approach to back pain. I went to Thai massage and shiatsu, even though what I’m really supposed to do is examine my unconscious rage (and other feelings).
And I’ve returned to the mat. If I wasn’t in teacher training, I might not have. Weight lifting significantly changes the pain equation (when paired with examination of homicidal tendencies) in a way yoga does not.
Anyway, so I’m on the mat this Saturday, sweating my brains out after 2+ hours of incredibly strenuous yoga. And satya (truth, a yoga yama): I’m getting angry. I’m starting to have intense inner conflict, because even though I can continue to do the asanas (postures), I know from the other weekends that when I do, I reach over-exertion, my mind fogs out, I get triggered and unhappy and overwhelmed and I really just want to cry. I mean, past two hours it’s just not fun at all.
At the same time, I have my lovely conditioning from my Irish father, a stellar athlete who was offered football scholarships to a million colleges and played halfback for Notre Dame. We played sports all the time growing up, and he admired only fight, only never giving up, only trying no matter how much it hurt. So I’m on the friggin’ yoga mat, knowing that yoga is a way of life and starts with ahimsa (non-violence, with self as well as everyone else), with this never-say-die tape running in my head, and the really great teacher, who I genuinely like, giving us instructions and assists, and it’s like a pressure cooker, because I’m totally overwhelmed and I really, really, really want to just stop.
On top of that, Saturday was an introduction to inversions, so I was excited to do headstand, handstand and stand on the forearms because they are really fun.
I didn’t stop. And by the time we got to the inversions, I was in a black mood, and unable to concentrate, knowing if I did go upside down I’d likely have back pain because the point in every training where the back pain descends is just then–the overwhelmed, over-exerted point. The point of intense inner conflict.
Though I didn’t do much with the inversions–I went up in handstand once, knew it was enough, and stopped. But then I got triggered and tried again…and the back pain descended with FEROCITY.
I lay in savasana (corpse pose) crying a little, because I was so frustrated and disappointed. I mean, I am often a 5 year old and not getting to go upside down was a big let down. I decided, while lying there, that when everyone else went to lunch, I’d just hang upside down on the rope wall in 3 or 4 different ways to make myself feel better. Which I did. And it kind of worked. The black mood lightened a lot.
Then, AH-HAH! The light bulb, the explosion, the-I-did-notice-but-was-too-embarrassed-to-admit-it moment. The back pain descends when I’m overwhelmed. When I have internal conflict.
Earlier Saturday morning, I’d been struggling with wanting to go to Pride. I’d been talking about it with my partner all week–our 25th anniversary on Pride weekend, Obama coming out for gay marriage (I’m back in love with him, which he no doubt intended)–I mean, it was too much to miss. But a make-up for a day of yoga training is like $200-$300. And I’m not teaching. So, INTERNAL CONFLICT. I woke up with back pain, and then did my Sarno writing (and some meditation) and decided to do one Pride event–not the parade, which I’d have preferred–on Saturday. And the pain went….whoosh! Gone.
Of course it came back at the overwhelm point in the training. But I’m starting to get that these intense moments of internal conflict can be addressed or avoided and then NO BACK PAIN. It’s more than my lovely homicidality (give me a break, anyone who meditates gets to find out they resent everything). It’s when I go to war with myself and my conditioning and the pressure builds and I don’t know how to resolve it that I get back pain.
Yesterday, (Sunday) more intense yoga. I sat out for part of it. I didn’t get overwhelmed. Though I’d walked in to class with a ton of pain, I was down to minor twinges after an hour. AND, I went up in both handstand and headstand (I’ve always been able to do shoulder stand with no problem).
The truth about yoga is wherever I go, there I am. And meditation teaches me to focus on myself. It doesn’t matter whether anyone else is overwhelmed. What matters is that I am, and managing my internal world in a kind and skillful way brings me peace. I get to decide how much physical yoga is too much–that is something I have the power to do.
On the mat, it’s not about back pain. Back pain is the teacher. It’s about admitting I get overwhelmed, that lots of instruction can be hard for me to process, that whether the over-exertion is physical or mental (holding concentration for so long), doesn’t matter. I get to say die. I get to just stop. And be with what is. Until being with what is becomes peace.
Once a woman I had trained on a job I used to have told me the first time she saw me, she immediately felt intense resentment. She said I seemed so confident, and she thought, “Nothing bad has ever happened to that woman in her life.”
Then she became my poetry editor. So she read about my family. She actually apologized for completely misjudging me.
Satya is finding a way to honor the poetry. The truth and the beauty, the dirge and the psalm. And really, who wouldn’t want to do that?