Pain ~ Fear
As a child I loved to fall…I would purposefully fall down stairs and have my friends roll me end-over-end in a rabbit cage my parents had empty in the back yard. Even in gymnastics I remember a specific event that happened when I was competing on the floor and did a back handspring which ended on my head. With all of my life experience there are few things that I am more thankful for than that of not being afraid of falling.
That fearlessness of falling or in some cases ‘failing’ has transferred to areas in my life beyond my physical body. I’ve been relatively fearless in my entrepreneurial & romantic endeavors, not all ending well but still able to pick myself up and continue on. This leads up to the more current day and how I came to yoga.
I moved to Santa Barbara in 2009 and had no real experience in yoga other than 2-3 Bikram classes and a Rodney Yee DVD a girlfriend had invited me to practice with her once. I noticed, more from the DVD than the Bikram classes, is that I felt more peaceful afterwards. That spark grew into a flame after I arrived to SB. I had driven for 31 hours in 2.5 days, found my new place and promptly went to sleep in my empty apartment on my air mattress.
I awoke the next day and I decided to look online for yoga classes that had more depth and that would hopefully give me more insight into the peace that I felt from practicing. I found Steve and Michele’s Ashtanga program. The next day at 5:30am I walked into studio 2 at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center and began. I had no idea what Ashtanga but I came equipped with my fearless will to dive in.
I had just ended a 10 year career as an electrical contractor that consisted of managing 10 employees and over 500 jobs a year. When I moved to Santa Barbara I made a commitment to myself to take time off until I felt clearer about what I wanted to do for my next step. For the next year of my life my days consisted of yoga 6 days a week, with the exception of the sweet weeks that had a moon day which didn’t fall on a Saturday, daily beach walks and meditation.
After that year I felt a huge emotional relief. It wasn’t as if my life was perfect but I felt like I was emerging from a storm, catching glimpses of sunlight. Around this same time I was running into some severe pain in my body. The more I practiced yoga, the worse the pain was…the thing that had helped heal me was now seemingly hurting me. I asked every teacher I could find, “what should I do?”, and they all gave me very well thought out and relevant help, but from which I found no noticeable improvement.
Around this time I took over the management position at SBYC and started in their teacher training program. I continued to practice yoga regularly and ask even more teachers and well known trainers what to do. The advice informed me much about my body but I didn’t find any relief from it. The pain reached its apex when I tried to go from bridge to child’s pose and it took me 25 minutes as I dealt with excruciating pain. Finally I gave up looking and decided to ask myself, my body, what’s going on?
What transpired between that time and now is the reason for me being compelled to write this.
The two years after the events I’ve mentioned was when I was able to find out what was going on in my body, and most importantly in my mind. I used the physical practice of yoga along with my intuition to experiment with the pain. “What happens if I push through it, what happens when I don’t do anything?” Each day I thought I understood and that I had found my solution and I would wake up the next day barely able to get out of bed or even put my socks on. For me, someone who has always had a body that works the way I want it to, I grew impatient at times and at other times simply depressed.
Little by little though I found things that I could do to help, sometimes it was physical, sometimes it was just breaking the habits of how I bent down to pick something up. The key, beyond any of the physical findings, was that I continued to come back, to begin again and again and again, to practice….
I began to find a little relief, then more and so on. Some days were better, some days were worse. The more would come up to the precipice of pain consciously, the more I began to learn about what was really happening and what was causing the pain. Eventually I found that the pain wasn’t there to trigger my fear reflex but to inform me. The feelings I assumed were pain began to morph and change into other feelings and sensations. I began to realize that I didn’t need to try so hard to overcome anything or find some solution, the answers were already evident…I just needed to listen.
As my awareness grew I began to also understand my reaction to the pain and fear of it was causing the perpetuation of it. “As we act in one situation, often we react similarly in others.” I began to see that as I approached unknown areas in life and relationship I would react in the same way.
Paul Werhman, another yoga teacher in the SB area, told me a story he heard about an experiment to people did as they dissected a cadaver. One person held the base of the cadaver’s spine with both hands, the other took both hands and grabbed the back of the illiac crest, or the ridge at the top of the back of the pelvis; they then proceded to pull in opposing directions to see if they could recreate the ‘slippery disc’ or move the spine in any dramatic way. Before any movement could happen in the spine, the top of the pelvis broke off and the experiment was finished.
As I’ve worked more and more with people I’ve found that the pain, many times, is a mislabeled sensation that has more emotional than structural significance. In addition to that the idea that a disc can be slippery or move around a lot is a misconception. The amount of movement that can or is actually happening is typically on a microscopic level. Our perception of what is happening and the reality is often counter to one another. Even people who have had diagnosed conditions of degenerative discs, misaligned vertebrae and other minor disc issues have found ways to regenerate and realign their spines through a myriad of techniques.
I have studied in many different styles of yoga, from Ashtanga and Iyernga yoga as well as newer methods such as Yin and Therapeutic Yoga. I’ve spent many hours working with The Gyrotonic Method and have gone back to my roots in gymnastics and the more recent blending of it with yoga, AcroYoga. All of them have given me little gems of knowledge but it has always come from the outside in. What I’ve learned is that every body is different and there isn’t one way to treat everything.
As I ramble I do want to reign it in to get back to the essence of what brought me to write this so here it is. The more we look outside of ourselves for solutions the more we will miss out on what is actually happening now and continue to feel lost and at the whims of life. I am not discounting legitimate help from others, including myself, or diving into the mysteries of life around us, but we don’t need to always look to other people, methods or practices to fix us. In that searching we are missing the nectar and essence of life, the true empowerment that comes from self knowledge and self awareness. From the confidence that tells us that we have a choice and a clear deep understanding of what’s best for our body and our soul. When we can let go of what we think and stop telling ourselves ‘that’s just the way it is’ we can begin to relax into the beauty that is always surrounding us.
I chose the Urdhva Dhanurasana pictures to illustrate the physical transformation I have been through. The posture represents many of my fears and has offered me a way to find a way through them.