Since I accelerated my Ashtanga yoga practice from two or three led classes a week to a daily self-practice, often in Mysore style settings with teachers adjusting me, I have suffered almost constant pain around my sit bones, regular shoulder pain and occasional lower back pain after particularly intense periods of practice (teacher trainings for example).
I have researched this, rested it, worked around it, pushed through it and still it hurts. I’d become used to the pain, I had pretty much accepted it as part of my practice. But recently I have been having reiki and theta healing, and the messages coming through are the same from both practitioners, “Stop pushing yourself beyond your limits. Accept that you have limits. Love and embrace those limits.” And my favourite bit of advice “You need to understand the difference between expanding you comfort zone and pushing your limits.”
I started to think about this comfort zone expansion like blowing a bubble, you have to very gently ease the breath into the bubble with awareness, because the second you lose focus and blow too hard the bubble bursts. I tried to hold this in mind the next day in my practice. I tried to feel when I was in a zone of comfort (i.e. I was in a pose and in no pain = comfortable) and then how to deepen the pose from that place of comfort, without reaching the limit and pushing straight through it.
WOW. Totally different practice. I didn’t hold my chaturanga because it hurts my shoulder, I didn’t fold forward in any forward bends on my left side. I dropped to my knees in down dog about 50% of the time, I didn’t rock back in Garbha pindasana, which I’m pretty sure badly bruised one of my vertebrae last month and has been painful ever since. I still sweated with effort in Bhujanpidasana, Bakasana, Navasana, handstand et al of course, but I finished my practice in a little less pain than I started. Probably a first, at least in the course of the past year.
As I lay in Savasana I thought about why I have practiced so intensely for so long. What is at the root of this need to push my poor body through its pain threshold? A number of thoughts came to me:
I have a belief that I need to be strong in my yoga practice to enable me to demonstrate poses to students, so I hover in every chaturanga without thinking, without being present in the pose, just doing it the way I have always done it out of habit. This has now conversely created the reverse situation, strength is there, but injury prevents me from fully expressing many of the poses.
I allow teachers to adjust me very deeply in forward bends without telling them that it is damaging me. My bad, not theirs. My very bad for not having enough respect for my body to let it open up into the pose in it’s own sweet time.
I appear to have a very deep-rooted belief that to achieve anything you have to struggle through adversity, however, I am starting to see that you can do the exact same thing in a totally different way. To quote my Theta healer ‘You can run down the beach, sweating and pushing yourself and everyone will look at you thinking, “what is she doing this crazy girl, she is not enjoying that.” Or you can run down the beach with ease and enjoyment and people will look at you and think “Wow look at her, she’s so graceful and happy.”‘ Same exact action, totally different way of doing it. This applies to everything in life BTW, not just exercise, washing the dishes, doing your work. Are you doing it out of a misplaced and begrudging sense of obligation or are you doing it with love and ease and grace?
The point of all this emotional digging for me is that the end does not justify the means. I mean what even is the ‘end’ in yoga? When have you ever perfected a pose? Not when you’re in pain in that pose, that’s for sure. Each and every pose is an end in itself every single time you do it, because that’s the point of yoga, to bring you so totally into the present moment that the moment of the breath is all there is, no past or future.
So for anyone out there who is pushing themselves to do anything that is causing them any type of pain or discomfort, maybe try and enjoy what you are doing in the here and now, instead of focussing on the there and then, because obviously tomorrow never comes, today is when life is happening.