Pain as Teacher, Accepting Its Invitation

RollModelWhat if, instead of banishing pain when it arises, we welcome it as a teacher?

Perhaps “welcome” sounds like a stretch, a bit too enthusiastic for the discomfort that inevitably comes with being human.

How about “curious”? Maybe remaining open to what pain can reveal sounds more accessible.

Whether I meet you on the yoga mat, within Sacred Circle, or in daily life, my intention in sharing stories is for us to see our stories reflected in each other. For us to nod our heads, soften around our hearts, and feel we are less alone than we had imagined.

You might remember the unusually strong creative surge I experienced in January, the one that kept me awake at night, encouraged me to upload several videos to YouTube, and inspired me to start my own company. (More on that last line item when the timing is right.)

I knew the inevitable ebb of that flow would come, but I had no idea it would feel so defeating.

Over the course of several weeks, my body and my breath slowly tighten. To the point where I can’t ignore the tension any longer.

I begin to let go of an opportunity before I can put words to what I am feeling. Through muscular tension and shortened breath, my body tells me it is time.

My ego, on the other hand, urges me to stay, to not look like a flake or a quitter to whomever might be looking on and keeping score.

But my body knows before my brain catches up. I give notice and let go.

“Whew. Done!” I figure.

Nope, not quite.

With little warning, I spiral into an acute episode of vertigo. The spinning sensation sends me into a violent purging of my body’s contents.

“Surely, I’m done now. Ready to move on.” I assure myself.

Nope. Not yet.

In the following days, my neck locks up. I seek refuge in Caroline’s yoga class, not caring if I’m able to fully participate. After several months of only teaching and not practicing with my own teachers, I want to be held in a safe space where I can tend to my needs.

This small pocket of time allows me to see how patterns of being and moving have led me to this place of physical and emotional stuckness.

I walk out of the yoga studio feeling slightly more spacious, a little less stuck but rest more fully into knowing I have an appointment with my chiropractor the next day. He’ll certainly fix this. He always does.

While Colin’s skilled touch brings some relief, I’m still not cured. My back and shoulder muscles are rock hard. My nervous system is on high-alert. Colin reassures me about my upcoming communal bath reservation, how it will provide relief.

And that it does. I emerge from my weekly ritual softer, more open, more like myself than I have felt in weeks. But I’m still not completely free of discomfort.

In some kind of mysteriously perfect timing, a box of yoga props and an accompanying book arrive in the mail. I had ordered them a few weeks prior, thinking they might loosen the recurring tight spots in my body.

As I take materials out of the shipping box the book flops open to a page about the diaphragm. Rather than shut the book and continue unpacking, I read the two-page spread and begin to understand why I need this book and why I need it now.

I’ve been a sloucher who walks like a duck for as long as I can remember. I often sit or stand slightly slumped with my shoulders rounded forward.

I ignored all of my mom’s encouragement to correct my posture over the years. In and after college I sat at a computer for several hours at a time on a near-daily basis. As a mom I breastfed two children for a combined total of 7 years. And like many others in the modern world, I spend most of my day moving in a forward position (e.g. driving, writing, typing, cooking, checking my phone, washing dishes, carrying children and heavy objects, etc.) with less-than-ideal body mechanics.

Like a ballerina in a persistent first-position, I walk with my toes turned outward. As a junior in high school, some guy approached me from behind, placed his hand on top of my head to ensure he had my full attention, and bluntly shared, “You walk like a duck”.

Yup. I sure do. And that’s not where the imbalances end. I’m also a habitual shallow breather, which confers an astonishing cascade of consequences on my well-being. I have no idea when the habit first began, but I sense I’ve been at it for awhile without any awareness of my doing so (until I became a yoga teacher).

At this point you might be wondering how being a yoga teacher fits into all of this. “Uhh…you’re a yoga teacher. Shouldn’t you, of all people, be a model of perfect body mechanics and breathing?”

Yoga teacher training cultivated my awareness around alignment and breath more deeply than ever before. When I practice and when I teach my attention is absolutely focused on these aspects of well-being. As a regular Jane walking down the street, I have yet to fully integrate these healthful habits into every area of my life.

As the Oprah-ism (originally from Richard Bach) goes, “We teach best what we most need to learn”.

That’s for darn sure!

Each day I read a little more of the tome that is The Roll Model by Jill Miller and roll my body with my YogaTuneUp balls. I bring my awareness to my alignment as I move, sit, and stand throughout the day. I consciously invite my breath to flow into oft forgotten recesses of my body.

While my body experiences unusual levels of constriction and pain, how am I doing emotionally and energetically?

A feeling of tightness takes residence in my throat and heart. My mind spins into loops of self-doubt and non-clarity. For awhile I try my darndest to banish those feelings from living inside me, wishing them away and fighting off lurking specters rubbing their hands greedily.

I try this approach until I decide to take the opposite approach — surrender. I allow the discomfort to teach me what it is here to teach me. Rather than rally against the seemingly perpetual yuck setting up shop inside me I accept it as my teacher.

Not only do I open myself to what the not-so-fun feelings are here to show me but also to the light and love trying to find its way in. I sub for one of my beloved yoga teachers in a studio packed with pregnant mamas and facilitate an online Sacred Circle.

My ego does its best to nag me with thoughts of, “Who are you to go in there and do this? You’re a freakin’ mess at the moment!”

Thankfully, my highest self steps forward. I arrive with my full presence and serve from my tender heart. Because I allow myself to be open, to let go of the resistance I was holding in my attempts to make the “bad” feelings go away, I receive the love and feel the gratitude that comes with serving others in an authentic way.

While I consider myself officially out of my emotional funk, my body hasn’t quite caught up with my emotions. Each day is an invitation to bring my awareness to the body parts calling for my attention and tending to its needs.

In the coming months, I’ll share my experiences with The Roll Model and the YogaTuneUp balls, as they have worked wonders for many people, and I’m hoping they do the same for me (and you too, if you’re noticing your unique blindspots and wanting relief).

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What YouTube videos? Head over to the month of January in 2016 for a smorgasbord of videos I created and shared. Enjoy!

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