Tag Archives: Pain

The thing about time is…

Standard

I’ve realized the thing about time is that it always makes you eventually forget the true extent of your pain, so that when a *new* pain makes its appearance, you’re tricked into believing that “NO, this is worse then before”.

I could be talking about a major disappointment. Or about another hypothetical situation of a jilted lover. But it is (of course) my practice that I am referring to. The thing that I wake up at 5 in the morning and drive in the quiet, still driveways of Federal Highway at 6. Often wondering where all these other crazy early risers who are on the road with me are going to at such an ungodly hour. 

I had been dealing with a discomfort on my right ribcage that has been escalating into a full blown type of pain that I find myself clutching and rubbing my right torso every time I need to laugh because well you *feel* it. Earlier this week, I had to use the opposite hand to push open my car door. And yet, there is a part of me, stubborn or resilient, call it what you may (or maybe just plain stupid, that’s quite possible too) that saw me turning up at the shala, on my mat until Wednesday. 

On Monday, I stopped at the end of Primary series. Did my usual backbending routine from the floor, involuntarily grunting a little too loudly perhaps, and stood up waiting to be dropped back. Ganesh, who obviously sees everything in that room, with eyes possibly at the back of his head too, must have seen all that silent pained expression I have been pulling during practice.

He came up to me and said in his very matter-of-fact and slightly broken English, “why are you standing? No dropback with that pain. No need. You do from the floor enough” and motioned for me to just sit down already. 

I felt like a kid in primary school that just got reprimanded for misbehaving in class. In this case, for not having enough awareness/intelligence to know when to back down and modify my practice until the pain is resolved.

Facet dislocation, my jovial Chinese chiropractor told me. And that is pressing on the nerve running to my ribs. I know what the cause is (hello dropbacks!) yet I do not know what exactly I am doing wrong that has brought me here. 

On Tuesday, I attempted pasasana, the first posture of the Intermediate series. And again, this time from way across the room, he gestured with his hands and said “don’t need to do”

On Wednesday, while helping to assist after my own practice he asked “what happened?” And held his right ribs. I shrugged and answered with a question “opening maybe?” And mimicked an urdhva dhanurasana 

Truth is, I HAVE NO IDEA. I don’t know if this is the normal rite of passage that every person has to go through before they could drop back and come up gracefully, if this was my own pre-existing condition resulting from years of bad posture, if I am ok and will be ok, or if I would end up somewhat fucked if I continue on. 

I remembered thinking to myself, while going through a slightly uncomfortable posture and humorong myself “well, that shoulder injury was end of December last year. Ok what. On average then I injure myself once a year”

Of course injury is never OK. As Eddie Stern would say in one of his many interviews “There are 8 limbs of yoga and pain is not one of them”

My closest friends tell me it is unavoidable. Necessary almost. That every single practitioner in that room has a story to tell about their own experience with pain, injury and the ubiquitous backbending.

“You need to break first before you get to do it correctly” 

“I had the same too last year, and I took muscle relaxants and rested. Just don’t take too much or you might not end up feeling anything at all” to which was met with a wide eyed stare of disbelief from me.

“This is normal. I think pain in that area indicates an opening, so you can go deeper in your backbending” 

I would very much like to believe the latter. In fact lets just say I am hanging on to that belief, and that is about the only thing that is keeping me from freaking out by the fact that I literally have use my left hand to open and close my car door. 

I had been resting for 2 days. No practice. But teaching still continues. With acute awareness of what I can help to adjust and what postures I should probably leave alone. 

Laruga Glaser talks about the cycle of the practice that involves phases of building up and spiraling down. She’s been doing this for 18 years. I find a certain comfort in that. Even though it is entirely baseless (because heck, how do I even know if our bodies are built the same?) I remain with the faith that these phases of “spiraling down” is unavoidable, no matter how much awareness you bring onto the mat with you every morning . 

“you have to find a way to make ‘peace’ with the fear”

Yet I don’t remember feeling as scared and hopeless as I do now compared to last December. I had been reading and staring at anatomical deconstruction of the spine, nerves and ribs for the last 2 mornings, hoping for an answer to modifying my practice until I am healed, and a clear understanding of what I need to be doing correctly in the future. 

The thing with time is it makes you think that it moves forward linearly and that as you move forward into your practice, you are meant to know more about your own physiology and anatomy. You are meant to have that awareness. 

And yet, truth is, I do not know. 

“Fear in itself, will reel you in and spit you out, over and over again”

Standard

I’m getting some worthwhile music education lately from all the time spent in my car stuck in traffic. This one is Blue October that seems to be gaining frequent airtime lately. Don’t mind the guy that is screaming into the sea. I think he’s just letting go some of his own fear while shooting for this video.

I have been dwelling on the idea of fear since I heard this song. Perpetuated by some conversations that transpired during and after my yoga classes this week. There is a woman that comes in the morning at a small studio in the quiet neighbourhood of Shah Alam. Amongst the many obvious emotions I see surfacing up is fear. And though this is quite common to observe as someone who leads the class, it is also one of the most valuable lessons there is to learn about the human mind and its instinctual abilities to react to the unknown.

Across the spectrum of human emotions, fear is one that I remember growing up with a lot – fear of doing something wrong, fear of not bringing back the good grades, fear of watching the eldest brother ‘pay’ for having the courage to thread around the edges of ‘something wrong’ and a fear, I clearly remembered as a child sitting at the top of a slide, and frozen in place because I was so afraid to slide down.

Lately I have realised, with the recent shoulder discomfort in my Ashtanga practice that fear is like the shadow which exist at the heels of pain. Where there is pain and discomfort, there is a level of fear attached to it. Similarly, beyond the physical pain, where there is emotional suffering, fear would present itself in one form or another. That same question that popped in my head during practice at Dynamics about 2 weeks ago, how far should I go into this posture? How far beyond the pain should I be looking at in order to finish my practice today? and that motherload question of “AM I EVEN MODIFYING THIS CORRECTLY?!” became a daily conversation I have with myself while on the mat since this whole little adventure into discomfort started.

Because everything is an adventure isn’t it? Even the most uncomfortable ones always bring you down a road of discovery; revealing more about the world and its infinite perspectives. Sometimes your role as the observer, the outsider who is not even feeling these range of emotions is enough to teach you a thing or two. I remembered a conversation with I, who had assisted me into a backbend one morning when he said “I could feel your fear coming into that backbend. It was really cool!” I can tell you it was NOT cool to be the one dropping back, never quite sure whether I will break my back on the way down or slam my head on the floor or both, but it made me realised how precious these moments of vulnerability are in forming our understanding of ourselves and those around us.

Usually having been in the same shoes before makes it all that easier to empathise. So each time I see some students hovering their toes on the floor on top of their head, surrounded by hesitation, and that inevitable fear of breaking their neck, I let them explore this dimension while I stand behind them for assurance. And even as this one fear is eventually conquered, there are plenty more that each of us will come across over and over again, whether it be within the series or off the mat. Even as we think we merge as ‘victorious’ having finally crossed over that valley of fear, there must be a constant abiding knowledge that there are many more similar valleys to be crossed. Because as long as there remain possibilities of pain, injury, or emotional suffering, there will always be more of these dimension for us to plunge into with the sole purpose of revealing more of our inner world to ourselves.

Moving through the pain

Standard

Pain, when it comes to yoga practice always presents itself as a topic of inquiry that leads to endless debates and opinions. What is a safe yoga practice? Is it normal to be experiencing pain during or after a yoga practice? Does the presence of pain indicate injury? and if so, does it mean that yoga should not be practiced at all?

A widely consulted physiotherapist and an advocate of myofascial trigger points in Mysore whom I had met and learned a few things from during my last trip addressed the last question succinctly – “Yoga in and of itself does not lead to injury, it is the individual that comes to the practice with his or her own pre-existing conditions, imbalances and tightness without first being aware of these that leads one to eventually experience some level of pain and injury”

I have always approached my yoga practice with a lot of awareness to a point sometimes it borders toward cautious rather than trusting the process itself. My belief was pain during and after practice is unnecessary. These feelings are meant to be heeded by easing off or backing off, resting during periods of prolonged pain until it subsides before resuming your daily practice ultimately acknowledging and honouring the sensations and the limitations of your body.

My views on this however are changing. The more I begin to observe the 6 times weekly practice, the more I talk to other practicing Ashtangis and their own experienced challenges in the practice, and as I begin to lay down my hands on more texts, opinions and views of long-term authorized and certified Ashtangis, there is another worldview that is opening up to me of this thing we call pain.

Gregory Maehle even has different categorisations to pain of which I feel could be information that is largely hard to digest and wrap the head around for those without a consistent yoga practice. This week I have somehow managed to end up with a persistent pain on the left shoulders – the palm sized area around the infraspinatus and somehow, i don’t know how this is even possible, a sensation that wraps around from behind to the front pectoralis. My suspicion is leaning towards rushed chaturangas, falling out of the correct alignment in an effort to maintain breath to movement and a botched, i’m-still-working-on-it chakrasanas.

In the past 2 days it has greatly intensified perpetuated by the fact that I still have to demonstrate these poses in my own classes that I lead. For the first time in all these years of practicing various systems of yoga asanas, I have decided to show up on my mat, however intense the sensation is. Mostly out of curiosity, like volunteering myself as the lab-rat to my own experiment on my mat. What happens if I allow myself to move through the pain instead of identifying with it and cooling off for a few days? What if this is an opportunity to turn inwards further and refine my own understanding of body awareness and limitations?

Before everything else though, there is a clear disclaimer here that I draw the line on the above approach only to myself. And under no circumstance would I ever push such ideals, or even worse my own curiosities to other people who are new to the practice or anyone that comes to me to learn yoga asanas. These are obviously just my own pondering of which I have yet or ever will draw any clear conclusions from.

And so it is, this idea of moving through the pain rather than just sitting with it. Yesterday’s practice was horrible. Today’s painful. Let’s not even talk about how many times I woke up throughout the night every time I needed to turn or move. It is humbling to be assisted into postures that I have never needed help in. Even more interesting to coax past the initial body’s reaction to tense up at the first tinge of pain. And yet the most surprising discovery out of the last 2 days was that my headstand was lighter, less cautious and that much more stable. Perhaps it is the heightened awareness to move through my chaturangas, sometimes modified, sometimes slower, to skip the jump backs and jump throughs and take the beginners version. (And I believe this is where the grey area lies between introducing modifications to minimise further aggravation of those irritated muscles and tendons, or bulldozing your way through the pain with complete disregard of what the heck it is you are actually doing to your body). Perhaps it is the energy reserved through less jump backs and jump throughs that gives me enough at the end of the practice to almost effortlessly come up (to stay up is another story by the way).

But it occurred to me that pain and ease are really two sides of the same coin. I love the Quranic verse that says “Verily, with every hardship there is ease” (94:5) In its simplest form what is implied is that ease comes after hardship. But what if they both exist together, at the same time? And without one, the other cannot be experienced? Or that both are meant to be experienced together? That verse used to imply hope, the temporality of what is, the idea of ‘this too shall pass’. But today I am awarded with a different perspective. Sitting with it implies stagnancy, moving through it on the other hand implies quite the opposite. Moving through the discomfort of pain allows for lightness to be experienced, and when it comes it is that much sweeter.