14 July 2008

Finding pain in all the right places...

"I am a work in progress,
dressed in the fabric of a world unfolding,
offering me intricate patterns of questions,
rythms that never come clean,
and strengths that you still haven't seen."
- Ani DiFranco, The Slant / The Diner
About a month ago I was practicing ashtanga and I injured my hamstring as I came down unevenly in supta konasana. Now, I’m a pretty tough girl and I hate to sound like a total wuss but it hurt….it hurt real bad…so bad I wanted to cry. Supta konasana was a pose I had done countless times without any difficulty or hesitation. Why did I screw it up this time? What was different about my practice on that day? I didn’t know the answer for a while but eventually it came to me because it was so obvious…I had become complacent in my asana practice. I have no idea where my drishti was at that moment or whether I was breathing properly. I wasn’t present at all. Bandas? Forget it, I probably threw those out the window too. I had done away with everything that is essential for a successful practice.

Initially, I was really mad about hurting my hamstring. My teacher told me to ice my injury immediately and when I thought I had iced enough to ice it some more then ice again until kingdom come. I tried this icing process but I had absolutely no patience for icing nor did I have the time to sit around and ice my butt all day. I became even more upset and frustrated when I tried practicing ashtanga a few days later only to discover I couldn’t do most of the asanas I had worked so hard to master for almost a year…grrrrrrr. I hobbled around for a few weeks mumbling and complaining about my pain but I wasn’t doing anything about it. I didn’t ice and I continued to wear high-heels despite my teacher’s strong advice against it. I couldn’t stop thinking about my pain as a huge set-back.

When I feel frustrated with my yogic development I often look to my teachers, fellow ashtangis and the revered gurus for some words of wisdom. I picked up one of my ashtanga books, turned to the commentary on Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras and skimmed through some of the text I had highlighted during my teacher training. Part II of the Sutras discusses certain spiritual disciplines and how they can bring pleasure or pain depending on whether we allow various afflictions to cloud our minds. As it turns out, pain is really a condition of the mind, it isn’t physical at all. It is associated with fear, vice and impurity…all of which keep us in a state of spiritual ignorance. Because our bodies are poisoned with the ego, our actions induce sadness, attachment, aversion and lots of pain. When we are in this place of emptiness, we are unable to recognize what is eternal and pure or what resides in our own true nature. Only when we finally decide to confront our fears and stop viewing pain as regression and negative, we become free from it.

All the answers...right there. I acknowledged that my pain wasn't the result of any physical injury or response from my ashtanga practice; rather it was due to a mental blockage. My mind was in a state of delusion. I wasn’t present; I was totally distracted and completely unaware. That’s a recipe for ashtanga disaster.

My hamstring hurts less and less everyday. My pain has allowed me to be more present in my practice. It has become a catalyst for improvement because when I feel the pain, my drishti, bandas and breath get kicked into high gear and take priority over any physical discomfort. Naturally, because I’m still an unenlightened human, my ego gets in the way every now and then but my new mantra - I love my hammy, but I’m not attached to it – helps me along the way.