Too much running and not enough stretching the week before, a long road trip on Saturday and Sunday, a stressful transitional moving day on Monday, coupled with strikingly cooler weather for June made for a perfect storm for a back injury. By Monday evening I was uncomfortable, by Tuesday morning I had difficulty getting out of bed.
Often though, the most meaningful learning experiences in life come from times of intense turmoil. I've been calling the past month or so of my life "the muddy waters" (after listening to one of my favorite yoga teachers describe the lotus flowers growth in muddy waters.) As to reinforce this symbol has also showed up a number of times in the past week or so, I received a beautiful Alex and Ani Lotus bracelet as an end of the year gift from a dear friend and student and another dear student presented me with a Chinese paper cut beautifully inscribed with Mandarin Ducks among Lotus flowers- blessings for a healthful and happy life and family.
I am surrounded by Lotuses but am up to my neck in transition and turmoil.
So this week's muddy waters challenge- beginning a teacher summer with an injury. A painful, sleep interrupting, constant painful reminder every time I move. To compound the injury, my husband happened to flare up a herniated disc on the exact same day. We were a pair.
Life goes on though, on Tuesday I had to teach a yoga class. The students are exceptional at the studio and would have done completely fine with verbal cues from me, however I was so stiff on Tuesday I was worried I wouldn't even be able to stand in the room and teach. I felt depression start to loom over my head, fearing this injury would be a lasting one, an enduring painful existence, possibly keeping me from doing what I love the most.
I had the idea to attend the hot yoga class right before my class in hopes that, at least the heat would loosen me up enough to not cringe in pain while I taught that evening. So that was my intention: to lie in heat in order to heal myself somewhat. I had been doing yoga for a long time. I had cried through enough pigeons, felt overwhelming peace when surrendering in child's pose, opened my heart in many camels, but what I was about to experience changes everything.
The class I attended is called SLOW, FLOW, STRENGTH, I was pretty confident I'd be slow. I was not very confident I'd be able to flow in my body's current state of affairs. And I definitely did not feel strong. But, I stuck to my intention, decidedly taking two blocks off the shelf, as I had once watched a video on how to use them to help transition a foot forward into a lunge (I knew my lower back would scream at this movement as I could barely stand up from a chair, let alone the floor.) And I came to my mat.
In child's pose I began to breathe, yoga breath- slow and smooth. And as the teacher began to instruct, I stayed in child's pose and I kept breathing. When she told us to lift our legs and come into down dog, I bent my knees and on all fours, and kept breathing. When she invited us into a forward fold, I stood up slowly, pressing down on my blocks for help, and placed my forearms on my thighs.
I did not look like the other students. I did not feel like the other students. There were plenty of people in the room that knew I was a yoga teacher. I was cognizant that they probably had some expectation that my practice should look different than it does. My ego was aware of this, and it was a struggle to continue to remind myself of my intention, Ahmisa non- harm, but even more than that- compassion, deep healing compassion, the kind I dish out to everyone else, sometimes forgetting to take some for my own plate.
At one time during the practice, I stopped for a moment and taking a deep breath realized, I could not have done this four years ago. Four years ago I would have ignored the injury, gone on a long run, turned on some Insanity- pushed the injury to the point of self-induced immobility. Over the past four years, my practice of yoga and its teachings especially of Ahmisa, focus on awareness of ego and its harmful affects, as well as, my developing sense of self worthiness and mantra- "would I treat a friend as I am treating myself?", had allowed me to be open enough at this moment to listen to my body, stay in stillness and breathe. As I watched the class come into Eka Pada Koundinyasana (a more challenging arm balance), I felt a surge of pride for not "going for it" even though, (my ego) really wanted to show I could do it.
As the week went on I chose Ahmisa over and over again. Each time I practiced active healing I felt better and better. I chose time away from running, meditated more, moved into slower restorative yoga poses or just stillness and breath, drank lots of water over other beverages, and made time for rest.
And although not living in the moment and not paying attention to my body, and stuffing my feelings in order to appear stoic, got me into the injury- at least it didn't keep me there.