photo credit to Daniel Martin Diaz
By Marca Hughes August, 28, 2018
“There is something everyone should know in yoga; the weakest part is the source of action.”
The upheaval of a physical injury plays out occasionally over the course of our lives. These periods, while difficult and inconvenient, can be ripe opportunities for personal growth and transformation. In the system of yoga it is understood that all forms of dis-ease originate in consciousness. When we experience interpersonal turmoil, we must assume that without intervention, it will manifest somehow physically. How we create, behave within, and resolve conflict is a great predictor of how we prevent and heal from injury. Whether you’re dealing with a physical or emotional upheaval, you can use the experience of one to study the other. Because, what is true of one- how it came to be, how it behaves, and how it gets resolved- is often times true of the other. When we find ourselves in a state of upheaval we can find value in the process of healing as a direct tool for self-study. Because a physical injury is a tangible thing to work with, it can provide a very approachable way to learn more about oneself in the context of other types of upheavals- like the emotional ones.
I have many students who, on occasion or chronically, are dealing with injury or illness. It is an experience that can really get on top of you and start to shape your life in a negative way. Recently, I have been dealing with piriformis syndrome- a painful, persistent, literal pain in the butt caused by, in my case, overuse. This is a pain that I have never before experienced. It came on suddenly and while it is decreasing day by day, has been nagging now for almost three weeks. It has taken much of my time and attention and caused me to reduce my activity by about 60%. The process of recovery and healing has been full of insights and discoveries as to how I deal with adversity, how I respond to intense pain, and how I get in my own way in the healing process. Yoga is about self-study. It is about learning our habits - the things we repeat that keep us in a continuous karma cycle and prevent us from growth and transformation. We can use our physical experience and apply any truths gleaned to the bigger picture of our lives. Here is what I learned these past few weeks:
“The weakest part is the source of action.” We tend to protect our vulnerabilities and in the process, will do anything to keep it that way. When we are injured we “guard” to prevent repeating the painful feeling. Even after it has passed. This is why it is said that the weakest part- the injury or vulnerability- is the source of our actions. Notice where you are weak and strengthen there so your weakness does not define you or direct the course of action. Also, keep checking back in so that you aren’t still guarding an old wound that no longer exists.
Resistance is persistence: Many of us are conflict-avoidant because it is simply more comfortable to maintain the familiar status quo than to rock the boat or “upset the applecart”. We must override this instinct to avoid conflict and instead, “lean into” our pain and suffering to begin the process of transformation. But persist with care, non-harming and self-love.
Leaning into pain and suffering will require bravery: We must fortify ourselves for this journey by taking good care of ourselves. If we are run down, ragged, stressed, over-scheduled, we are more likely to take the easy way out- pills that mask pain, less healthy behaviors, unnecessary interventions, etc. If we up our own self care, it will expedite and conspire in our own self-healing.
Your yoga practice will give you that bravery: Through the regular practice of yoga, we learn equanimity and are able to replace reactivity with reflectivity and receptivity which are the portals to overcoming our own suffering. We are better equipped to stay with the process which can get intense whereas before, we may short-circuit and back away.
“You can’t go under, you can’t go over, the only way is THROUGH”: Sometimes, in the midst of our pain and suffering, it’s as if we’re in the middle of a raging fire. We have the urge to escape. The only way out is through. (see #2) If it’s getting intense, you’re onto something.
Put down your defenses and LISTEN: You might have preconceived ideas about how you should heal. Let those fall away and enter your healing process with curiosity and openness so you can inquire, learn and allow resolution in whatever way it comes. Your body has things to tell you. Listening is the only way to learn more. If we can get quiet within ourselves, it will become easier to listen.
Have Patience: Just like we cannot master a pose in one class, we cannot heal a wound immediately. Accept that the timeline for your healing journey may be out of your control.
Find your “Edge”: In yoga we sustain a pose right at our physical “edge” - not over or underwhelmed by sensation. Find that place in addressing your pain without causing further harm to yourself. Don’t ignore it, don’t attack it. Find the place in between.
Injury and Illness can be a physical manifestation of an emotional imbalance: We can learn more about our specific ailments by reading Louise Hay’s famous book, “You Can Heal Your Life” in which she attributes emotional aspects to physical ailments. A great tool for working with injury and illness holistically.
Stay positive: It can wear a person down to deal with chronic pain. It can cause depression. And it can start to erode a sense of your self-worth. Practice self-compassion and do not blame yourself. “My child, do not judge yourself. Each time you judge yourself, you break your own heart.” -Swami Kripalu
Find Helpful Healers: In the past three weeks I have received so much support from various healers; my yoga mentor Jill Johnson, trusted chiropractor Peter Kish, a talented acupuncturist Charles Meyers, a phenomenal massage therapist Amy Mertz, a very skilled and experienced Physical Therapist Kari Tranel as well as my DO, Dr. Joseph Berg. I also found great help from Dr. Loren Fishman’s book “Sciatica Solutions”. He is a renowned MD in the rehabilitation medicine field who has been prescribing Iyengar yoga for 30 years to his patients. Not only do these healers rule out, evaluate, diagnose and recommend therapeutic treatment, most importantly they show compassion and provide encouragement. There were days when I was certain this pain and numbness wouldn’t go away or get better. A hug, a word of comfort, an assurance that this was temporary was some of the best medicine I received.
Over the course of this injury, I’ve learned much about myself -lessons that can be applied to how I deal with conflict and adversity in general, not just injury; my tendency to overdo until I’ve overdone which results in a complete cessation of activity ultimately setting me back more so than if I’d just clipped away at a more moderate pace. I’ve learned that sitting under the comfort of the heating pad, while cozy, it is better to do gentle, inquisitive movements that while they might cause me a bit of discomfort, will advance my healing and understanding of my injury. I’ve learned that, while living with pain is a solitary journey, there are many modalities of healing and practitioners who can help. I’ve also learned that when my mind plows ahead, my body will override in its own clever way to get me to stop. It’s been another fascinating journey of body-intelligence.
Here’s to healing from the inside out.