Lately I’ve heard some impatience coming from students about healing their injuries. The common sentiment is “when will I heal already? It’s been (insert number of weeks or months here)” Coming from students who’ve only just started yoga, i’m reminded of our societal ill of wanting quick results immediately for a condition that perhaps took them decades to create.
Then again, there’s the pain – which makes us all want the fastest relief possible. Chances are it’s the pain that lit a fire under your butt
and finally got you into yoga. But this is how we got into this weird relationship with our bodies – taking care only when they are screaming bloody murder. Desperate – we get hooked on medicine that relieves pain without addressing the underlying cause.
Ahhh…the underlying cause, rest assured, it took years, maybe even a whole lifetime to create. It could be a result of a physical accident, whose trauma has years of compensatory (pain-avoidant) movement patterns wrapped around it. Injury X could also be the result of a repetitive psychosomatic response to a chronic stressor in our lives. It could be genetic (but yes, nurture CAN
outdo nature – there’s hope.) It’s often all three wrapped into one!
Like a knot that is filled with brambles and thorns and is just plain gnarly, it’s going to take time to unwind this injury and unwrap its secrets. What we may find beneath it is release. Ahhh!! We’ve all had THAT moment in yoga! But there’s also the chance that we find more pain, deeper pain, uglier pain, the kind we wish wasn’t there at all. And then we compound the knot by wishing we never had it in the first place – wishing we were different, perfect, had nothing to fix. Then put the impatience on top of it, and well, to just get stuck in a rut of self blame, which creates more pain, and so on – we all know the pain cycle pretty well. But if we can work through it, if we can face the ugliness and listen to it’s messages, and be patient enough to let the body unwind in its own time – organically, truly, we will be healed. We’re one baby step closer.
And THEN what we may find is that the pain has shifted as we chase it out. I am not uncompassionate towards my students – as I’m no stranger to pain and the self-blame game. Unwinding my scoliosis has been my goal since 13 – when a complete stranger in a mall handed me a book who’s title was Stand Up Straight and I realized – I simply didn’t know how! “Good posture” hurt too much to maintain for more than a minute. Once I saw my spine for it’s shape, the self hatred was almost too much to bear. I went after my healing and started reflexology first….10 years later I had been doing yoga 5 years and my middle school school students called me “Quasimodo.” I couldn’t burst out crying and leave the room could I? I was the teacher! Who knows where I put that pain….
Another decade into it, I was officially what I call a “therapy whore” – trying everything from Alexandre Technique to Rolfing to Yoga to Pilates to osteopathy, to visceral therapy, to multiple modalities of meditation to spiritual mediums in the middle-of-now
here of Brazil and more! I never imagined I would be a yoga teacher, but in the quest to heal myself, I gained such an arsenal of tools that – here I am – feeling compelled to share what I know. 17 years into my practice. I’m a yoga teacher, which means I never lose my temper and I never ever experience pain! I even burp rainbows! ….Just kidding.
So why am I still waking up with the occasional sciatica or a pain in my left shoulder? Well, because there’s still some unwinding to do. I’m hoping when I reach the half life mark – (i.e. when I’ve done yoga for half my life) I will be breaking even with the other half of my life that created this condition. Maybe…I can’t guarantee it though, so I have to be in it for other reasons – like getting to know myself, or working on self acceptance. When we change our focus from the pain, ironically, it tends to give up the ghost.
I try to look at my “gains” this way: I’ve completely changed my relationship to my body and how I feel inside. I feel expanded, freer, more capable and courageous than ever. The 13 year old me and the 23 year old me never would have taken on things like rapel and scuba and other risky delights! Along the way, I’ve discovered many of the WHYS for my injury – and yes, every time I looked, I wished it were different. Teaching – I saw the fact that most people are in the exact same boat with their injury X. Did I blame my students for their pain? No! So why should I blame myself? Once I forgive myself (I use present tense because this is an ongoing process) for not being born with perfect bones, or not having a storybook childhood, and not being the fairest in the kingdom – that’s when I started to see some results.
I also have to acknowledge while I’m not yet the beacon of posture and beauty that’s landing me yoga journal covers YET – If I had not begun this journey I’m absolutely positive that right now I’d look like humpty dumpty AFTER the fall. Toss in a huge hump over the left shoulder and add a cane to boot! Maybe even like my grandma – getting Botox injections in my neck to move it, or like my dad who’s on his sixth shoulder surgery. Really, things could be much worse. So….a touch of gratitude can give you the REAL baseline comparison when you’re reflecting on your yoga gains. Rather than seeing what you’re still lacking – just think about what might have happened had you never started your journey! Even though you’re injury may not be completely healed, I can guarantee you that if you’ve been doing yoga consistently for even for just a few months – you are feeling more flexible, stronger, have more energy and feel more balanced. You might have even had a few life-changing insights- they happen to me every single time I practice. In the quest to heal my pain, I’ve had epiphanies beyond description that feel magical and that have made my experience on earth, in my body, much more complete.
So for those looking to heal their injuries – first you must reshape your goals to something you CAN guarantee – like cultivating more patience, and the biggie (even the phrase used to make me cringe) learning to love yourself! If you notice just one moment that feels soft and pain free, absorb it entirely – like the sweetest sunshine! Allow this moment to set the tone, own these good feelings and the new SKILL you have developed – the ability to nurture and know yourself- deeper than any friend, lover, or doctor ever possibly could! Stay the course brave yogis!