“Through practice, I’ve come to see that the deepest source of my misery is not wanting things to be the way they are. Not wanting myself to be the way I am. Not wanting the world to be the way it is. Not wanting others to be the way they are. Whenever I’m suffering, I find this ‘war with reality’ to be at the heart of the problem.” -- Stephen Cope
“These days, my practice is teaching me to embrace imperfection: to have compassion for all the ways things haven’t turned out as I planned, in my body and in my life – for the ways things keep falling apart, and failing, and breaking down. It’s less about fixing things, and more about learning to be present for exactly what is.” --Anne Cushman
Once again, I've been gone from this blog for a while. I've been practicing out in the world. I've been writing, but not about yoga. I've been going down different avenues, most of them very internal. Once again, I feel like it's time to come back here and see what there is to be said, explicitly, about practice.
Since the New Year, I've been practicing meditation and pranayama more intensely. I've been reading a lot about yoga philosophy and mindfulness in daily life, and my asana practice has dropped to the side. I've also started training for a marathon. As I've been increasing my weekly mileage, I've been exploring the meditative possibilities of running - how it feels to connect with the body and the breath, to use yogic practices like sending the breath into areas of discomfort and using mindfulness with mental habits such as fear of failure and the desire to give up.
Approximately three weeks ago, I started getting some minor nagging knee pain during runs. It was so negligible that I put it out of my mind and thought I just needed to stretch more and rest my legs. However, on February 22 I completed a 10-mile run and I ended it with severe pain in my knees which worsened over the course of the afternoon and evening. I soon realized that I had a serious overuse injury that was going to require an absolute halt to training until I could move pain free.
I was devastated. I had invested all my identity in my running and had come to rely on it for a sense of purpose and power in my life. At first, I wanted to give up on everything and crawl into bed and never come out. But then all the meditation practice I've been doing kicked in. Instead, I was determined to listen to my body until it spoke to me. I gathered as much information as I could about my condition, and I asked my knees what they needed. At first, they just wanted me to stop moving, but then as the pain subsided, I began to be able to identify specific areas of difficulty and how they were affected by the way I moved my body.
I held back. I watched all my thoughts and practiced letting them go, whatever came up: a sense of failure, a sense of desperation, a competitive urge. When my knees asked for it, I got on my yoga mat and discovered that my body knew which areas to work and stretch to give my knees the freedom of movement they required. Yesterday, I woke up and my body shouted, "RUN ME!" At first, I doubted it, but when I took to the road, I discovered that I could run 4 miles without pain. Not only that, but I was present in every step. I felt the impact of each movement; I felt the chain of energy of each impact with the road.
As soon as we are formed, our body begins to be affected by being in the world. Like the tree trunk in the picture accompanying this post, we are worn by the business of living and by our contact with those living around us. We are not perfect, we are not invincible, we cannot do whatever we want. We cannot take on everything. We like to think we can, but our bodies let us know... and if we don't listen, they shout louder. If we fight it, if we ignore our bodies, we end up in pain. What I have learned these past two weeks is that the pain is not here to punish us. The pain is our teacher. It is here to remind us to listen and to find what it is that we need. Come back into your body. Ask it what it has to tell you today. And then listen. Whether you like what it has to say or not.