I’ve been suffering from something for the past three years that has had a profound effect on the enjoyment I get from practising yoga. It has caused me to question why I practise on numerous occasions and has almost led to me throwing the towel in altogether. In fact, if I wasn’t responsible for teaching at the shala I don’t know if I’d still be practising. It’s self-evident that in order to teach ashtanga yoga one has to practise it, so it is that responsibility that has kept me on track. I have all the students at the shala to thank for that.
Those of you who know me personally (and those of you who read this regularly) will probably know that, in 2014, I developed a very large herniated disc in my lower back which kept me from being able to practise or teach (or sit, walk, or lie down comfortably) for just over three months. It was a long (and expensive!) journey back to practising again that included a lot of help from a really fantastic physiotherapist who understood my love for the practice.
On a side note I have noticed over the years that many practitioners, when they get injured, are reluctant to see a doctor or physiotherapist out of the fear that they will be told to stop practising yoga. If you find the right professional then you can really work together to keep on (or return to) practising. So I always encourage people to get help from someone outside the ‘yogasphere’ rather than blindly continuing with an unhealthy pattern of injury followed by partial recovery.
Anyway, with the help of my physio, Xavier, I was slowly able to re-introduce the asanas over a number of months (albeit none of them looked or felt much like they had done before). Since then I have been practising regularly (with the exception of the odd day when the trappings of having two small children have made it impossible).
At the beginning of my return to practice I was just happy to be able to move my body through some of the asanas and to breathe deeply. Slowly though, I began to realise that the practice didn’t feel the same as it had before. And it wasn’t just having back pain that caused it.
The back pain was just the beginning.
The real problem, the thing that kept me from enjoying my practice and made me want to give up was:
I was so afraid of injuring my back again that I couldn’t switch off from it and just enjoy practising. I was so conscious of the memory of the pain I had experienced that I couldn’t allow my mind to go to that quiet place where the asanas just flow from one to the next. Citta Vrtti Nirodhah? Forget it!
But I kept practising. Because I know that my life is better when I practise than when I don’t. And if you’re teaching, you practice!
Then, a few weeks ago, it happened again. That pain returned. Excruciating pain. And off I trudged, back to see Xavier again.
But it was different this time. On putting me through a few tests he informed me that it wasn’t the same problem. In fact I’d be fine in a few days. Oh and by the way, that disc problem that you had is not there any more.
I realise now that I was so identified with the pain of a herniated disc and with recovering from that pain that I never noticed that, actually, it wasn’t really there any more. The fear of the pain had become more powerful than the pain itself.
So here I am, a few weeks later, in fear-recovery. My outlook has changed and I’m enjoying practising more than I have for a long time. The fear is still there of course (it’s hard to let it go) but it’s not as strong as it was. I feel like, with time, I might even be able to return to practising with the same intensity as I used to; to really let go, surrender to the practice and enjoy the experience on a daily basis.
I have always loved practising ashtanga yoga but sometimes I felt like I was playing with fire. I sometimes thought I was stupid to keep practising despite the pain I was in, but I always kept going. I feel like I’m entering a period in my journey with this practice during which my love and confidence will be fully rekindled. And I will be a better practitioner and teacher for the experiences that I’ve had.
Then again, who knows what’s in store for us, right?