Perception and preconceived ideas can be beneficial, like knowing fire is hot, however, there are times we take past knowledge or fears and make assumptions that are not true, creating a false narrative in the psyche. Just as the placebo effect can do wonders in helping, the nocebo effect can do just as much damage. The mind can lead us down dark paths and dead ends. Just this morning, I heard more than one student say,” I can’t do it.” It doesn’t matter if it is a third backbend, lotus, Mari D, or something else. Trusting errant thoughts of frustration or fear only creates tension and a sure set up for failure. The only failure is in not trying. Its never about the can not, or the final aspects of fulling getting into the asana, it’s about trying, giving it a shot, seeing if today anything works better than yesterday.
I’ve been figuring this out in my own mind lately as well. I have been bemoaning what I thought was a flare of RA since I came back from India over a year ago. I came home sick, and was treated by a great infectious disease specialist, but I failed to really follow up on my aches and exhaustion, because I thought it was my rheumatoid arthritis. My hands have been pretty bad, so I thought why bother, just keep up all my usual routine. I avoided going to the rheumotologist because I didn’t want to know how bad it was, but finally relented about a month ago, figuring it’s better to have an idea of what is going on as I was dealing with such terrible pain in my hands. Tests, X-rays, blood work, hurry up and wait ten days for all the results…
The good news was this was not RA. I am quite happily still in full remission, to the point that if my X-rays and past tests didn’t show it, the doctor wouldn’t believe that I have had an auto immune disorder. The bad news was the illness I had in India could take up to 18 months to fully work out of my system, and most of the symptoms were tied to that. Quite exciting to know its not permanent and just some lasting repercussions that will go away, except for my hands. My hands are a different beast, from my own creation, yes I have residual damage in some joints, yes I have some pain from the illness last year, but as well, somewhere in this point of pushing past the aches, I gave myself avulsion fractures in my knuckles of both middle fingers which snowballed into hurting other parts of my hands as I was unaware but physically avoiding putting any weight of length in my middle fingers. The X-rays show the breaks happened, most likely last summer from over gripping somewhere. In this as well, was the mindset, that this was how my hands were, and what I don’t know, is by compensating for the nocebo effect going on in my head, I made it worse and created the tension and restrictions in my body because my mind told me that was how it had to be.
So, I’ve been pondering my assumptions of thinking I had a flare, versus a pain level of fractured fingers that I ignored because my preconceived thoughts deduced the worst case scenario instead of the possibility of something else entirely. Far less frightening to me, though still screwed up, because who breaks their own fingers and doesn’t know it?!? I’m hoping for no long term repercussions, beyond bone chips. I am seeing a hand specialist just to make sure I won’t do more harm as it continues to resolve.
In any case, I was wrong. I keep thinking about it, because of how much my mind had led me to believe everything was a symptom of RA. If I was tired, if my stamina was off, if anything hurt, my stomach, my eyes, you name it, it was RA, not even a remote possibility of anything else. Yes, everything I felt was real, but was it as dramatic and helpless as I rigidly made it into in my mindset of trying to persevere to the point of fracturing my fingers? I, in retrospect, had needed to follow up with my infectious disease specialist further and also taken it more easy in my initial recovery. But hey hindsight is always 20/20. Though I still trust myself, I have made a conscientious decision not to self diagnose and create limits, especially ones that lead me to injury! Might I have been easier on myself gripping, I’m guessing my mat trying to creep into kapo, if I felt it was weakness from my illness, and had more patience than I obviously do for a flare. How much extra tension had the simmering fear created? How much excessive muscle tension went into my movements instead of the reverse relaxing to explore the possibilities of today being unique, of each day just getting to the mat and seeing what could be stabile and calm instead of feared, whether on a conscious level or nor, the mind stores our Samskaras and feeds us a narrative that does not always match the truth.