Pain. It’s a pretty charged word. And it is different for everyone. My mother says she had no pain giving birth and I have friends who have told me it’s not possible. One even said my mom must be lying. I know she is not.
This month, amongst many messages I’m hearing loud and clear is about how fearful we are. Fear of pain is one big one. Because of this fear we stop the minute there is sensation and back away. Geeta tells us, there is pain then that becomes comfort and then another pain and then that one becomes comfort so on and so on. And that journey with our pain not only really truly opens up closed places but teaches us something.
Isn’t it true that we look back at terrible, painful times and appreciate the lessons we learned?
Here, there is no fear of pain. They see a problem with the tight shoulder and they get right in there. It can be a bit shocking. They know that pain leads to comfort. (Barring severe issues or older age, these are dealt with in the medical classes). What’s the saying? Rude awakenings. At times, it can feel rude but you are unbelievably awake.
Here, you don’t spend years in Urdvha Mukha Svanasana with closed shoulders because then how can you then do Urdvha Dhanurasana or any other backbend and more importantly how can you do pranyama if you haven’t learned how to effortlessly keep your chest open. Why complain for years of pain caused by rigidity when you can get rid of it?
In general, we seek pleasure. Life is hard, let’s relax, play. Take pills to feel better, watch tv, we are always seeking pleasure. In the US we get whatever we want and there is little patience or satisfaction with what you have. All that pleasure whether it be things, money or a feeling will lead to sorrow. You always want more or the youth maintaining products lose out to nature, and even my dog who bring me so much pleasure will bring me heart wrenching sadness as well one day. Why do we do this? Because it’s being in the river of life.
So, what if life is “river of sorrows,” as Prashant has said. If that is reality then sorrows and hardships aren’t so shocking. They are just part of the river of life. We might be less prone to run like crazy from discomfort. If we learn to go with the river jostling along with the current, branches and occasional boulders instead of trying to scramble up the banks either to slide back in angry and frustrated or if we succeed to get out the river goes on without us.
Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene and benevolent. Yoga Sutras 1.33
Through practice we learn to stop the swing between the extremes of pain and pleasure and instead find stability and calm. That is where true joy lies and that’s where yoga helps us.
2.16 Heyam Dukham Anagatam
The pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided- BKS Iyengar
The practice of yoga is our tool. It gives us a way to find stability in a restless sea. It moves us towards and through all our physical pains, changes our perspective, spreads and open parts of our awareness not yet touched. While the physical prowess is not the objective those that can have moved through many obstacles -mental and physical- It is a path for exploration, to settle in, stay and observe. Through that process we move through, break through, see, admit, accept, change, detach, fortify, stabilize and on and on.
You have to know truly who you are and not think you are your fear, your insecurity, your stifness. You have to work consciously, honestly and have courage and faith. Yoga does this but it’s easy to escape, avoid and misidentify.
Yoga Vitamins- sutra 1.20
Shraddha: faith that you are going in the right direction
Virya: Committing the energy to go there
Smriti: Cultivating memory and mindfulness
Samadhi: Seeking the states of samadhi
Prajna: Pursuing the higher wisdom
Here, they tell it how it is “that shoulder is a problem,” “you need to work on that” Bam! They tell you the facts and aren’t the least bit afraid of the pain required to solve the problem. Solving the problem is the priority. Think about those in rehab after an accident or surgery. The pain is excrutiating. But we all accept that as necessary. We are all in a bit of a rehab everyday. And like rehab you can do nothing and stay immobile or go through pain and learn to walk again.
Personally, this year after coming three times I’ve finally heard the message about the tightness in my hip. I’ve been told, I’ve avoided. Instead of getting in there and “doing the work,” as my teacher tells me I got scared of the pain and so I did “just enough.” That tightness, ironically is the cause of other pains and avoiding it creates more pain.
So, I’m committed now. But still it’s a game to make myself stay in my daily weighted supta baddha konasana because I still want to run. My teacher comes over gives me a crooked smile and tells me the weight I have is like a flower. Really? I go for the heavier weight. I trust her. But that little fear monster still comes up and two days later I bug her again and ask her if the pain I feel is normal or a sign of something bad. She probably rolled her eyes inside but firmly answers again, ” ya, ya it’s the work you have to do.”
Finally, I got and trust the message. How hard she has to work to help people. I know why the Iyengars get so frustrated with us.
Of course, you can’t work violently with yourself because you can hurt yourself. If you need to get an mri or xray to find out what ‘s going on, by all means you need to do that. I did. .
In Iyengar yoga, we are trained to use props and adjustments and all sorts of things to be safe, to access an impossible pose, to help heal an injury to practice yoga later in life when the body is stiffened in pain. But for those who can do, some become terrified of injury and the props and adjustments can breed more fear. “I don’t do that pose without 17 bolsters, 13 belts, the correct amount of sunshine….” Barring a serious issue, what opening are you robbing yourself of if you don’t try Parsvakonasana without a brick? The postures bring up all sorts of things turning us upside down, twisting us , flipping us backwards, folding foward. All sorts of things come up and if we stop at the first sensation what are we robbing ourselves of? This month, they’ve taken away a lot of props and it’s been illuminating. And I do believe my hips are beginning to cast a light.
I want to reiterate here that the props have a purpose and they are essential Part of the practice is knowing when to use them and if you need them. The best, I think , is they allow us to continue to reap benefit from yoga no matter age, health or ability.
Practice. Practice. This is what it takes. Nothing fancy, just discipline and courage and faith.
The Iyengars, our teachers are the best example of this.