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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hurting My Back and Ditching My Ego

Ah, injuries. They teach us so much, don’t they?

Due to a recent back injury my asana practice has taken on a much gentler feel. I’ll spare you the details on what happened and save that for another post, perhaps one entitled Don’t be stupid and practice a forearm stand when you’re picnicking in a park, not warmed up and using a skinny tree as your wall.

I used to come into crow pose several times a day, just for the fun of it. I loved standing on my head, and no asana practice ever felt complete for me without a good inversion or arm balance of some sort. During class when a teacher would say “ok let’s come into handstand” or “move your mats to the wall” I would light up. I would hear angels singing!

Now, thanks to my aching back and my practice of ahimsa (causing no harm), every time I hear those words in class I cringe.

Great. Something else for me to sit out.

I haven’t had a good inversion in months. I think I might be going through some sort of inversion withdrawal. The worst part of it is that if I want to take a yoga class I have to watch other people doing the things that I’m not yet ready to come back to. It’s like waving candy in front of a kids face then telling them it isn’t good for them and snatching it away. I’m a kid crying in a candy store! I find myself sitting or lying on my mat looking around the room at all the flying pigeons feeling like less of a yogi. Embarrassed. Worrying that I might be judged.

What will everyone else in the class think of me? Do they think I’m sitting out because I can’t do it?

I feel like Elaine in that episode of Seinfeld when she is trapped in a packed subway car where all is silent but she is screaming in her head.


Enter lesson number 22 that I have learned from this back injury: I have a great big ego and I need to ditch it.

When did yoga become all about what I can do in front of other people? When did I start putting on a show, and why do I care so much about what other people think of my practice? Yoga isn’t a competition … so where is this coming from?

It has been humbling, to say the least, to get on my mat and choose bridge pose when the yogis on neighboring mats are coming up into beautiful wheels. It has been a challenge for me to say, yes my back does hurt too much to sit for meditation so I am going to lie down even though everyone else in the room is sitting up. It is incredibly difficult not to bust out a crow pose when I am sitting on the floor playing with my puppy, even though that’s what I am used to doing. But these are my new challenges. There is always a new challenge presenting itself, and for the time being, this is mine.  If I want to advance in my yoga practice* then this is something I really need to work on; ditching the ego and recognizing that it isn’t about showing everyone the most challenging pose I can do. It is about listening to and honoring my body, each and every time I show up to practice.

*Please note; when I say “advance in yoga”, I do NOT mean the physical practice of yoga, the asanas. I am talking about the all day yoga. The 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year type yoga. The stuff that is happening in the mind and in the heart and in the way I treat myself and others and live my life. THAT yoga.*

So for the time being I have a good excuse for not coming into more challenging poses: Oh, I actually DO have a handstand practice but I’m recovering from a back injury so I’m not doing inversions right now. What about when my back heals? How do I continue to practice ego-ditchasana when I have no excuse to fall back on? What about a day when my body just doesn’t feel like coming up into wheel pose…will I still feel comfortable choosing bridge instead, or will I find myself pushing past my edge just for the glory of the pose and the recognition of my fellow yogis?

A few things I will have to keep reminding myself, injury or no injury:

My asana practice is for me and not the other yogis in the room. (Unless I am dedicating my practice to them in a generous and loving way!)

I need to acknowledge and accept where I am in my practice each and every day.

I need to listen to, and honor the message my body is sending me.

When I chose to come into challenging asanas, I am practicing them for my own experience and not for anyone else.

I recently heard a teacher say, “I am not my body, I am not my mind, I am something divine.” I LOVE this quote (and of course couldn’t help but immediately share it on facebook!) Throughout this injury I have had to constantly remind myself that I am not my body. What is happening with my physical body doesn’t define me, and it never will.

Well, now I’m off to get a massage for my aching back, prescribed by my doctor.

Huh … I guess there are a few benefits to an injury, aren’t there?

How has a physical injury limited your asana practice? What have you learned from it?

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