Let me start by saying I read a fabulous article called Ashtanga:aging and fatigue, this week by Chad Herst. Please read it here. So much of what he talks about is valid and compassionate, as a practitioner who didn’t start practicing until I was 43, I can attest I know what an aging body feels like! Yet, like with anything, it can lead to a rationalization to just give up. Kind of like cheating on a diet, then deciding to binge because you’ve already had a piece a cheesecake.
Obstacles will always arise in our path, that is just the way life works. I swear, everyday, yes every single day, I have very specific reasons come up inside me telling me what I can’t do. My brain is very good at telling me how tired I am, my back is tight, my shoulders are sore, my thumbs hurt, my allergies are kicking in, my balance is off, my ankle is numb, etc. Many days, during my first few sun salutations, I am fighting the urge to just curl right into child’s pose and give up.
You know what? The majority of the time, it’s nothing but blah, blah, blah. I am no masochist or sadist for that matter, I can usually differentiate between discomfort and pain that leads to injury, there is a difference. I promise I’ve never had a day saying I wish I hadn’t practiced today. Not once. Granted as Chad stated in his article, practice isn’t always pushing it to the next level either, but I will add, balancing it, with an honest assessment is key. Cliches abound all about this phenomenon. “Most things in life are difficult before they are easy.”and “Pain is your friend.” Both come to mind, and yet I hate cliches and overuse them…oh the irony.
I’ve come to the mat with chronic discomfort, fatigue included. I subjectively don’t call my past rheumatoid arthritis damage pain. It’s not that it can’t be hurting on any given day, because, sometimes it just does. No rhyme or reason, (another cliche!) just waking up and there it is. Sometimes it’s my back, many days it’s my thumbs, rarely my ankles tweak just to mix things up a bit. Each time the pain is significant, of course I fear another bad flare. Combined with that is just the regular aches and pains of being human like sleeping funny on your neck. These are not injuries to be concerned about per se, and though, I fully get my brain telling me I’ve got an ouchie, it’s not something to throw in the towel about. (More cliches, sigh) I wonder sometimes, what part of me is so resistant? Is it fear? Is it knowing how intense a specific asana is? Is it being lazy? Is it frustration? Impatience? Disliking the asana I’m struggling through?
I’m sure it’s all those things with a dash of ego thrown in to the recipe just to make it all the more dramatic and all about woe is me. (Another one! ) Let me stress, I abhor pain, it’s vile and simply hurts. I try to avoid it like the plague. (I like that one) However, I know that laying in bed all day, (a onetime fantasy for me) barring being very ill, actually is not beneficial to me, or anyone. I’ve done it, on chemo. Laying waiting to have energy does not give you energy. I know this as a fact.
Use it or lose it. (It’s true, but I really dislike this cliche) I have felt like I couldn’t move, seriously, I’ve been so severely flared in my RA the only way to get downstairs in my house was to sit on the stairs and scooch down one step at a time, crying because it hurt to just get myself in the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Looking back, I empathize with that sickly soul, but wish I had been given advice to pick my ass up and try a little harder. Yes, tough love( more cliches really?) and I’m not sure I would have taken it before I was ready to, but alas I know better now. This does not in anyway mean, that I would push through a true injury, assessment, rest as needed, and modification if necessary. Work with a trusted instructor as well as medical intervention if needed.
As crazy as it sounds, movement makes the worst of that pain of discomfort go away. Even when I had to bump my way down those steps, by the last one it was always a little better than the top! It also creates more energy. Movement can not straighten my middle fingers back to normal, but for the most part, action gets the circulation going, which ultimately gets me feeling better. By no means should you practice to a point that you are too exhausted or injured to function. Practice is a support to living as well as a foundation to a lifestyle. The foundation must be tended too, or it starts to slowly crumble away. That does not mean catching your ankles at all costs, but it does mean giving your best effort, in any given day, for that day. It also means that some days you will be sore, but in that sweet way. My quite winded point is, yes pay attention, avoid injury, if not the aging process, but don’t let your mind stop your potential, as all this babble arises, just acknowledge it, see what’s real and then let it go and practice to the best of your capabilities.