Contemplating Injury: What Yoga Has Taught Me About Pain
This is how bad things have gotten: I am squatting on my floor by a low table to write this because I threw out my back again and I am in extreme pain. Pain, however, can lead to resting, also known as sitting in my apartment with nothing to do, which makes me feel like the craziest of crazy, so I must find some way of working. Hence squatting before my altar to the Lord of the Internet.
Being injured is a good time to practice the yoga of awareness: I observe that I am in pain. I observe that when I am in pain, I am a massive bitch to anyone in my path, be they imaginary or real. I observe that I am feeling insecure about my teaching because isn’t this magical yoga supposed to prevent me from ever getting hurt?
Then again, there is no yoga that can prepare you for a 3,000-pound vehicle hitting you on your bike, mangling said bike, and leaving you limping and terrified in traffic two years later. “Peace” and “love” just aren’t helping me release my scar tissue, and whenever I pick up my dowel, I feel more like hitting my very expensive massage therapists, chiropractors, and energy healers with it than gently releasing my IT band.
Being a yoga person, I also know that no injury comes without a gilded message from the gods. They say if you don’t listen to your body while it’s whispering, it will start to scream, and I am screaming, at my boyfriend, who is trying to do the dishes but is having trouble concentrating because of all the screaming.
Seriously, though, something must be wrong here. I must change something about my life: quit my job, move to a city that has fewer days of constant, depressing rain, get a haircut, or something equally dramatic. Deep down, though, I know the problem is and has always been me. Well, me, and also partly the car that hit me on my bike two years ago.
My life is, after all, just a manifestation of the decisions I have made. Literally, what’s happening is that the two halves of my pelvis are tilting in opposite directions. My training as a poet and a yoga person (including the fascinating book Your Body Speaks Your Mind by Deb Shapiro) instructs me that I should take this as a metaphor for what’s going on in my life. Are there places where I feel pulled in two different directions? Let’s see here: I am a freelance writer and performance poet, I teach at three different studios including one that I run with my mom, I have an anxiety disorder and a boyfriend who is always doing the dishes. I also vaguely recall having friends somewhere in the city. My days off are my “data entry and accounting” days. Fun!
Something’s got to change. I considered breaking up with the boyfriend, which is usually my first plan of action, but see, he always does the dishes, and massages my feet when my back hurts and is also the best boyfriend ever, so that’s out. I have decided instead to leave one of the yoga studios I teach at to try to free up some space to to focus my energies and the two halves of my pelvis all in the same direction. It’s obviously not, though, the yoga studio’s fault for making me teach all those horrifying yoga classes. It’s my fault for filling up my time with all this stuff that I start to resent when I can’t even wash my own dishes. I need to figure out a way to slow down and reset this habit I have of anxiously filling up my time because when I have free time I get anxious. I’m an anxious ouroboros.
I would like to learn how to do this without leaving for a month for Thailand or taking a 10-day silent retreat, though that sounds really lovely (except how would I get my work done??), because I want to figure out a way to get my work done and also have a nice life and not feel like a crazy person and keep throwing out my back or spraining my ankle or getting hit by a car.
So I go back to my yoga of awareness. I am aware that I’m totally overwhelmed. I am aware that is is much harder to be a nice person when your back hurts. I acknowledge that I have been working on this stress addiction for going on 10 years now, and I still feel like I’m hitting my head against a wall. I am aware that I am trying to stuff my life as full of meaning as I can because my ovaries are imminently shriveling up and one day I’m going to die. Also, I am overreacting.
I also acknowledge that on days when invisible knives are not having a party in every nerve ending in my spine, I am learning how to listen to my body and make better decisions. I am getting better at this. Just not today.