January 30-February 9, 2021
A student wrote me recently: “I’m learning that I’ve been approaching your teachings in a totally wrong way. I feel varying levels of pain almost all the time during the stretches and for some reason I’m not honest with myself about that and convince myself that the pain I’m feeling is something I’m supposed to feel to get to the next better place. I’m really worried that my body is in a wack and that I’ve made it worse than when I first decided to come to your class which is only my fault as you are very clear about not allowing myself to feel pain.”
One response I have to that observation is simply, “Good awareness!” That may sound like diminishing or making light of the huge amount of soul-searching and courage and self-honesty, and possibly no small amount of pain, that coming to that awareness took, but my comment is completely serious. Wow! Good awareness! And it’s now with that awareness, coupled with a few simple yoga tips that she can move forward into possibly years of happy, healthy yoga practice, or at least of Life. In addition to her good awareness, she also acknowledges that any wacking-out of her body is her fault, thus acknowledging her responsibility but also, more importantly, TAKING her responsibility, not giving her power away, and therefore allowing for some self-empowering change of approach.
I’m very thankful to her providing the inspiration for this blog, and sadly, I wish I could say that her realization is unique, but the reason I’m writing more about it is because WHAT she observed—experiencing pain almost all the time during the practice—though not really common is still more common than I wish it were. THAT’s why I give so much energy and attention to the Edge in practice on MY mat but also in teaching. I’VE been there and know that even though for myself now, the “seeds” of self-inflicting pain are mostly dormant, they could re-sprout at any time.
I have said many times before that I a reforming Pusher (as opposed to Sensualist, those being the two types of people drawn to the physical Yoga practice, as per Joel Kramer and Erich Schiffmann). Also, the vast majority of people who have practiced yoga with me over the past 28 years have also been active or reforming Pushers. I believe that IF one is to BEGIN to transform from active to reforming Pusher, one will need to come to that same realization that my student confessed to, at some point. The inspiration for finally being honest about pain that one is experiencing can come from injury (possibly yet AGAIN! as in my case) or simply from concern for one’s physical, emotional or mental well-being, but as far as I can tell, the Pusher mentality is driven—“pushed”— and fed by unconscious pain, on one level or another. As long as it is not faced or acknowledged, it will continue, both the Pushing and the being pushed by the pain.
Phrased as a question for self-reflection, IF you consider yourself a reforming Pusher, have you at some point come to a deeper realization of the pain that is/was driving the pushing? Have you found, acknowledged, FACED, and at least started to go through, the pain that already exists in there? If not, how do you know that you are not actually still an “active” Pusher? (Maybe you actually ARE a reforming one, but I’m not sure how one could bypass that realization, though there certainly could be other ways/tracks that I’m just not aware of.)
If you don’t have any pain in there that you have access to, check yourself for signs of life please, or consider the possibility that you might be practicing “spiritual bypassing” and you just need to get real. Even the fully enlightened would be aware of that aspect of Life that is referred to by “normal” humans as “pain.” And if somehow you have dealt with ALL of your personal pain, there is still an enormous wellspring of societal and human pain available for the moderately sensitive to tap into at any given moment.
So the first and necessary insight needed to begin the journey from “active” Pusher to “reforming” Pusher is that I’m in pain and I’m pushing to …whatever… get past it, avoid it, cover it up, do what I think I’m supposed to, prove something to myself, impress others, or myself, …there are any number of reasons for it that one gets to discover in the process. That’s the second important piece to get, as that student wrote, “for some reason I’m not honest with myself about that (pain that I’m experiencing almost all the time) and convince myself that the pain I’m feeling is something I’m supposed to feel to get to the next better place.” Yes, all of us Pushers will experience some version of that: 1. “for some reason I’m not honest with myself,” and 2. “I convince myself …(to be in pain).”
Now a Yoga Philosophy interlude: Pop quiz! Two questions that are important enough to commit the answers to memory: 1. According to Patanjali, the expounder of the Yoga Sutras, what is the first moral precept of Yoga? 2. What is the second moral precept of Yoga? Most of you know at least the first one, maybe even in Sanskrit: Ahimsa, non-harming. The second is “Satya, Truth.” Ahimsa generally tops the list in other Yoga texts as well.
What is happening for this student, and us in the process of reforming our “Pusher-ness?” 1. She/we experience an awakening or a deepening of our desire to practice non-harming (here on the mat with the non-harming of the body), and 2. she/we experience a deeper level of truthfulness, here with ourself about what is happening, namely, the pain that we are already experiencing. Without 1. the desire to “do no harm,” the truth that she was in pain wouldn’t have been sufficient to change anything. Without 2. the deeper level of insight into the truth of what she was experiencing, the desire to “do no harm” would have also been insufficient to effect any change since she would not have known it was necessary.
And then one more important sutra (“verse”) from Patanjali, II.16: Pain that has not yet come is avoidable. Still some work to do…
Continued in Part 2.