So, after three months of arduous second series Ashtanga training in Maui, dedicatedly practicing every day (except for the moon days), managing to remain unscarred, I return to the UK and within 2 weeks put out my shoulder pulling a stupidly designed wheelie suitcase! Hardcore Ashtangi injured by luggage! After months of Pincha Mayurasanas, Karandavasanas, and handstands, where my shoulders have remained strong, I am defeated by a small hand-luggage sized case, a walk, a bus, and the London underground’s many steps, stairs, and "mind the gaps."
My osteopath explained that they really are a silly design; they pull your shoulder out of its socket and twist your spine. You are pulling a heavy weight with your arm in a vulnerable position. The shoulder is at its weakest point and then you are demanding it to bear a load.
“It's much better to push than to pull, or at least use a rucksack (backpack) which distributes the weight evenly over both shoulders.”
Noted for next time.
As for this time… my shoulder was knocked out of sorts, resulting in a lot of pain, aches, and niggles. Also, as I was determined to carry on practicing at the level that I had become accustomed to in Maui at the House of Ashtanga and Zen with Nancy Gilgoff, I pushed on with my 4 x second series practices a week, regardless. Stupidly, I practiced outside on the grass one day -- which is not the most ideal of places to practice the 7 headstands at the end of the sequence, as realised -- when I lost my balance on the uneven ground and toppled over my bad shoulder.
I woke up with neck lock. I couldn’t move it. I couldn’t turn my head. I couldn’t sleep properly. It throbbed. It ached. It hurt… a lot. I flew back to my Osteopath knowing that he was the only one who could fix me.
"Rest," he said.
“What?? I don’t understand what you are saying… I am an Ashtangi – I don’t rest.”
“You need to rest it. NO if’s, no buts, no maybe’s. Rest.”
And so, I tried to rest. I didn’t stop practicing – I just practiced more gently.
I instantly fell into the mental trap of feeling like a failure. Feeling like I wasn’t very good. Feeling like I wasn’t very strong.
I battled with the desire to practice and the guilt of not practicing. I rested. I felt bad. I practiced. I hurt. I rested, I felt bad, I practiced, and I hurt.
I knew it was a lesson in letting go of our so-called yogic "achievements." It's not about what you can "do." It’s not about what pose you can get to. I know that, but when your practice goes backward (or feels like it does), it is really hard to not beat yourself up. I could almost do Karandvasana on my own a few weeks ago…. And now I am struggling to get through primary. “I am a rubbish yogini….”
I beat myself up. My internal dialogue turned sour.
I had been working so hard at being nice to myself and then suddenly BAM, a little baddie shoulder and all that loving kindness towards oneself disappears! BAM another blow from the self-defeating stick of doom!
What is all that about? We work so hard at cultivating a warm and compassionate attitude towards ourselves and then with a minor injury BAM, back to step one.
It is the journey, not the destination.
It doesn’t matter how many times we go backward, we are still moving forward. Two steps forward, one step back. That’s the scenic route, right?
It’s ok. Its no reason to start being nasty to yourself all over again….but as long as you recognise that and you see yourself doing it then you are not really going backward at all… Because now it is conscious. Before it was blind.
So, that it an improvement, right?
Two steps forward, one step back. Learn to enjoy each step regardless of the direction that you are going!
So, as with all of my yogic lessons, I tried to see how this was reflected off the mat. Every lesson is the same, on or off the mat. I looked at the last time that I injured my heart. Now, I am super sensitive to rejection (as we all are) and also to being ignored or not paid due attention to. This is something that I have become more aware of through my practice. The more I became aware, the more I could resolve. I slowly came to realise that it was because of my father. Long story short, I resolved my differences with my father, but when it came to actually creating a new behavioural pattern within myself…. Well, that’s a bit harder. Behavioural patterns are built into us by subconscious self-protecting mechanisms and once they are in place they are hard to shift. (Not impossible…. Anything is possible if sputa kurmasana is right?).
As with all of these things, first, come consciousness. Once we realise that we are doing something and we recognise that pattern then and only then can we start to go about changing it, but it doesn’t happen the first time around.
With matters of the heart, things are often fragile and easily shattered. So we have to tread carefully. I looked at the last time that my heart got injured and I realised that I do the same thing as when I am physically injured. I start to beat myself up. I list all the faults within myself. I blame myself; I hit myself with the "I am not good enough schtick."
Just as I do when my body is injured.
Surely when we are injured, either emotionally or physically, we should be extra specially nice to ourselves. We should take care of ourselves more: not less. We should spend longer in the bath; we should enjoy the comfort from loved ones; we should feed ourselves well and mentally we should whisper nothing but sweet nothings into our ears to make ourselves feel better from the inside out.
“Don’t let the behaviour of others disturb your inner peace.”
This is one of my favourite Buddhist mantras. When we are injured, we must take extra care to maintain our inner peace. We should take comfort in the knowledge that whatever it is: it will pass. The broken shoulder will heal; the broken heart will mend; the broken person will fix…. and not only that but will become stronger from it.
I realised that with my new heightened sensitivity from my shoulder injury I have become more aware of movements that I was doing that possibly caused me to break in the first place. I noticed the parts of my practice where I need to pay more attention to my alignment, postures that I have been working but maybe not in the best position to avoid injury, where my shoulder has been weak and not strong. I have highlighted ways of improving. I quietly thanked my shoulder for bringing me this new awareness.
In matters of the heart, again, the injury has made me reflect upon behaviours that I displayed that maybe did not put my best self forward. Situations that if I found myself in again, maybe I would handle differently. Self-defeating behaviours that I displayed that were not necessary or attractive (to myself or others). I can observe them but without judging them. Once more use them as a tool to improve me. Softly. Gently. In a nurturing way. I can recognise patterns and hopefully, next time, choose a different, more positive one.
Again, I quietly thanked the person that had injured my little heart for giving me the insight into myself; and the opportunity to see what I still needed to work on within me.
Not in a self-destructive manner. Not in a beat yourself with the same schtick a hundred times manner…. But in self-reflectiveve, self-improving manner…… while soaking in the bath and reminding myself of how amazing I am for going that one step forward.