This article is a continuation of Part 1.
So what do we do when we realize and acknowledge that we are experiencing some degree of pain, possibly even most of the time, in our Yoga practice? Sadly, happily, the solution is generally pretty simple and straightforward: back up and be more sensitive, and probably go slower, since the unhealthy patterns require a certain minimum speed to operate. Basically, do less and be more aware, advice that many over the years have not wanted to hear and found that quitting Yoga practice was easier than actually doing what I suggested.
The pattern for harming is in there, and it’s in there for a reason. When we attempt to do anything counter to the pattern, forces exist (call it inertia, or simply past practice) that WILL attempt, sometimes very strongly, to get us back into the pattern. These forces exist within our cells, within the energy body and our mind, and they can even manifest in “external” ways, like from friends or family or …Life (hence, the Yogic encouragement to be very careful of the company you keep).
Again, to start to counter the self-paining, the first thing is to back up in the pose to before the pain has arisen, hopefully RIGHT before the pain has arisen, everything I’ve ever written about the Edge. Breathe, pay attention, feel as deeply as possible. Don’t “go anywhere,” or try to do anything or try to make something happen; just wait. We’re waiting at that point for something to shift, which we will feel, and THEN we’ll be called/pulled in deeper, not pushing our way but being drawn in, and it will feel completely easy and natural at that point.
HOWEVER, in my experience, in that initial backing up and waiting—even sometimes for a LONG time (minutes or more)—was the deepest mental and emotional pain I had experienced up to that point, probably YEARS of “stored” pain and buried emotion that had been relentlessly driving my pushing. Those painful emotions and mental states were part of the forces trying to get me back into the pattern. Going through that fire—and yes, it was a fire and it DID burn/hurt—was completely worth it and was, paradoxically, non-harming, as it had arising from my intention to NOT put myself in pain, to practice ahimsa.
I used the physical poses to look honestly at what was there and endeavored to find a place in the PHYSICAL pose were my mind was not trying to get away from what was happening on the physical level, where I was not tensing unnecessary muscles, where I wasn’t experiencing fear, and when I found that place, whatever arose emotionally and mentally, I felt was OK and I could hold it all lovingly in my awareness. At that point, I had enough meditation and “inner work” experience that I could watch the flow of the emotional/mental pain energy with compassion, and doing that allowed it to be seen, to be known, to flow and to be healed and integrated in a healthy way into the Whole, to have it no longer be an agitating force in the Whole.
As BKS Iyengar was fond of saying, we use the practice to make the unconscious conscious. Yes, we use the practice to make the invisible visible, to be aware of what we don’t want to be aware, to face what we have been avoiding, to experience what is hidden right there in plain sight! It’s not magic but it does take some inner strength and faith in a Bigger Picture, or at least faith that there is a way through all this already existing pain.
And that’s maybe were it can get tricky since my student said she was believing that “the pain I’m feeling is something I’m supposed to feel to get to the next better place.” And I say of course, “No, that’s not correct,” to that, and yet I just described the intense pain that I experienced from trying to learn to not put my body in pain! I think the main issue is the “supposed to;” that’s what differentiates how I was approaching my experience and what I’m hearing from her. I had no “supposed to” except that the pose is “supposed to” be like THIS (some preconceived way) and I was trying, in my Pusher-mode, to get to that, resulting in pain. When I backed up to find the pain-free place in the pose and mental/emotional pain then arose, I had no “supposed to” about being with it and feeling it: it was just there to be with, and I had no resistance or “should” to doing that.
If you are reading all this and think it applies only to this woman and Ti, just consider now: anytime God’s Grace is upon you and you notice that you are operating under a “supposed to” or “should,” please be rigorously honest and interested in that fact and look deeper; probably back up to see if you can notice exactly when, where, how and why that thought arises. You can say/think to yourself, “Hmm, I’m thinking I’m ‘supposed to’ do __,” and just look at the whole experience of that. “Hmm, that’s interesting,” no need to ACT on that “supposed to,” just curiosity. (Obviously this can be happening OFF the mat, too, right…maybe even right NOW?… maybe in multiple ways!)
The other issue may be around the idea of getting to a “next better place.” Yoga is about being in the moment, involving ourselves, even investing ourselves, more and more fully in WHAT IS and divesting ourselves from what ISN’T; Yoga is about inhabiting the moment. Yoga/God/Happiness/Life/Reality/Love, these are all ONLY EVER in the MOMENT, THIS moment, right now. (Are you there/here?) From experience which I’m sure is common among human beings, if I’m having a thought about getting to a “next better place,” I’m not really in the moment, and usually it’s just a way to mentally soothe the pain I actually AM experiencing in the moment, or as this student acknowledged, to justify, or even better, to exalt, the pain of the moment.
If we are in pain, can we simply acknowledge, “I’m in pain,” and then NOT act on it, NOT justify or exalt or deify or celebrate it, and definitely NOT blame it on others. If we can do that, then we human beings have a chance at survival, as we will then also be able to hear and acknowledge when other human beings tell us they are in pain. If you find you are in pain, at least acknowledge it to yourself. You deserve that kindness.
It’s sometimes easier to see (or at least project) examples in the outside world than inside ourselves. Watching the tragedy of the human Spirit that was January 6: so much unacknowledged pain from waning white and male privilege, so much pain of betrayal by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over the past few decades, and probably pain from traumatic childhoods; all that pain wanted to be acknowledged and seen, and obeyed, yet the people displaying, even pridefully and violently celebrating it, we know are consciously or unconsciously unwilling and/or unable to hear Black voices and friends saying, over and over again, even with their dying breath, “We’re in pain!” If I can’t feel and acknowledge MY pain, I won’t be able to hear or believe or allow that another is in pain.
Pain can motivate us to act, for example on a cultural level, as it has done around George Floyd and Breona Taylor and the countless other valuable Black lives before and since them, but also on a personal level, too, of course. However, in Yoga there is another moral quality to practice known as Tapas, which Swami Satchidananda translates as “accepting but not causing pain.” We don’t need to accept pain and do nothing about it—we have to act if we can—but any pain that arises in our Life, we accept, we receive it, even as we also possibly take action toward its ending; but can we accept pain WITHOUT causing pain? We’ve ALL been in pain, of one kind or another, and dosed out pain from that state to others around us, right? That’s not Yoga and won’t bring us the Peace we seek; accepting pain and not acting toward its ending when we have the capacity to do so is not Yoga either and also won’t bring us the Peace we seek.
“Epilogue:” I sent an early version of this blog to my student, and a few days later this was part of her response: “Being so open with you actually guided me into a much more careful practice with one of your videos. …[When I did that] it felt much better as I totally accepted where I was at and did not push my edge a single moment. It felt so blissful and enjoyable, and I couldn’t believe what I had been missing.”
You all are in my prayers daily. Love yourself and keep going deeper on your Path.