These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

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. 

Now you do.

I’m a budinski…I know, not everyone wants or likes unsolicited advice. I really really work on not doing it, I swear I do, but occasionally stuff just blurts out. I was practicing in the usual dristhi mind my own space way a couple of days ago and was just about to start my seated closing when the lovely practitioner next to me was being taught and adjusted in to full garba pindasana. Her lotus was deep and fine, and her body type is that enviable natural hip opener kind…so when they were struggling with getting her left arm through, I couldn’t help myself…( um impulse control police? ) I whispered over, telling them to try and push the left knee and leg closer to her body to create a bigger gap to get through. The teacher smiled at me and said everyone has different body types, so that advice may not work. I smiled and nodded, and then went back to meditative breathing with my mind now racing with my lack of control and hoping I hadn’t offended either one of them with my ridiculous uncontrollable desire to help out. Awareness is the first step right?

I’m not losing sleep over this particular transgression, but yet it got my thinking, reminiscing my own feeble first attempts to get my arms through that impossibly small space between thigh and calf in full lotus to then reach up to your face and cover your ears. I admit the action of getting there can be extremely uncomfortable, and if your elbows don’t get deep enough, painful. Oh the joys of being almost there, but instead of enjoying the yummy back stretch, feeling the pain of a bony elbow hitting into the top of your foot or ankle bones! Yes, it hasn’t come easy, but shorts and sweat help. Water is a nice gliding friction to ease the transition, wether sprayed on or ideally naturally produced in sweat equity.

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So comfy looking right? ­čśë

I had the distinct pleasure to be adjusted fully into it the first time by the gracious, yet formidable Saraswati Jois.

In April 2012, when Jois Yoga was opening in Connecticut, Sharath and Saraswati had come to do a week of led primary. I was beyond excited for the opportunity to meet them and practice under their guidance. I had been practicing slightly under two years, and though I was doing a full primary, my garba was most assuredly a work in progress. I could get my hands though that impossible space between, but not beyond the start of my forearms yet. It was frustrating, and at led pace, I felt it was inaccessible, so I usually just wrapped my arms around my knees and pulled them in, instead of even attempting to waste time going for it. ( I love the rationalizations we all make for ourselves, truly) Looking back, I was giving myself a pass to avoid the discomfort, I am not criticizing my choices, but in hindsight, it was just not where I had wanted to put the right focus yet, or believe.

I had signed up to practice for two glorious days at Jois. As I was driving there the first day, making my 40 minute commute, I was wondering if I’d be stopped at any point, or adjusted. I actually had a flash of dread that someone would try to help me with garba. I shook my head to get the negative thoughts away and laughed at myself for getting ahead of the game. Practice is practice, everyday is different, you can’t project or assume how anything will go, just keep trying, right?

So, there I was, in the back of the room, excited, nervous, but practicing. All was moving along, packed bodies, lots of energy and sweat, and along came garba pindasana. I thought nothing of it. It was led pace by Sharath, I didn’t even try to push my hands through my legs at first, I just automatically curled my hands around my knees. In a split second, Saraswati was kneeling in front of me. I was in awe and nervous. She asked me why I hadn’t put my arms through, was I injured? I said, no, I’m fine, I just haven’t really done that yet. She smiled at me at grabbed hold of my right hand and placed it in that impassible space and then used her foot as leverage and yanked it completely though! I was stunned, as she quickly did the same thing to my left hand. Saraswati looked at me and the shocked expression on my face, and said, with a smile, “Now you do.” She then preceded to roll me around nine times. My arms felt a bit like they had a slight rug burn, but it was incredible to experience the asana under her compassionate but tough guidance. I felt like I could lift myself to a higher plane with the adrenaline now running through me in kukutasana.

I didn’t want that adjustment, not that day, or any other, but I was so fortunate to get it. Not because it was Saraswati, not because it was extremely uncomfortable to get there ( have I mentioned before that I hate pain? ) but because it showed me I needed to stop shirking away from what asana I had trouble with, I had to realize this piece of the sequence wasn’t going away, and I also needed to see the potential inside me to get there. I had to take a leap of faith that the seemly impossible is possible with patience, instruction, time, and ideally some sweat to help ease the slide through.

As I sat and overstepped my boundaries a few days ago, it was really Saraswati in my head, pushing my own left leg forward to ease my arm through that arose inside me, in that same way I shudder when watching my children procrastinate on their school work. (Why did they inherit my terrible flaw of writing papers at the last minute?) Samskaras will get you every time! I don’t know how much longer I would have continued to avoid working at garba pindasana if it weren’t for that assist, but it made me continue to work at it, knowing the potential was there. Sweat is still my friend in that pose, and now, in winter here, a water sprayer does the trick if I haven’t built enough heat yet.

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Thank you Sarawsati! ÔŁĄ´ŞĆ

Samskaras…why does the past haunt us so?

We all have scars, some visible, some not. Some, I think we are able to wear with pride of survival, others, well, it’s not always so easy. About 3 years ago, almost to the day, I was bit on the thigh by a friend’s dog. I have always been an animal lover, I have two dogs of my own. I was just walking up to her door and the dog came out and just attacked me. I knew the dog, had played with him and pet him before, one of my kids spent the night there all the time. It was scary, painful, bloody and unprovoked.

The intensive bruising, two punctures and one inch long rip all healed up nicely. My friend whom I didn’t turn in, felt terrible. I tried to go around Hugo again, but literally shake every time I’m near him, alas, I still tremble anytime I’m around new big dogs now. I wish I could control it, but it’s hard. I’m rational, I thankfully haven’t let my fear overtake me, but it’s there.

In my yoga practice, about a year later, I switched to wearing shorts on the mat. (It makes everything harder for me except garba pindasana, no more fabric to help with my binds!) As I practiced one day, all of a sudden, the faint scars on my right thigh were glaringly obvious to me. It made the memory stronger again. At first I was upset, I wanted it to be the past, I wanted to be able to pet a big dog again without shaking fingers and prayers in my head begging the dog to not assault me. I wanted to not visualize that horrible day. I wanted to be stable! Chitta vritti nirodahah and all. How could I master that?

Compassion. At first, I just tried to pretend I didn’t see the scars, that didn’t work at all. My next approach was repeating a mantra, that helped a bit, but I could still feel the extra adrenaline running through me. I was frustrated. It dawned on me, that I blamed myself, at least partially for the bite. As silly as it sounds, when the bite occurred I was going through a really rough patch, my friend had actually said she thought the dog bit me because it picked up on my vulnerability. It was a ridiculous rationalization and only revictimized me, done to spread the fault away from the dog that obviously shouldn’t be around people. Why is it so hard to own responsibility? I get that now, but at the time, I was in shock and injured.

I decided instead not to dwell on it, but if I saw it, and the fears arose in me, I acknowledged it. I said to myself, it’s ok, it was scary, and thankfully you healed. I utilized what I had learned in meditation. Ask yourself why, exactly, do these thoughts come to you or cross your mind. Don’t push it away but don’t obsess over it either. Observe and examine, but do not make any judgement in the sense of good or bad. Relax. Whatever appears has to be dealt with in your thoughts and emotion. Look with kindness and understanding on your own reality. (This all took place probably in a matter of seconds sitting in dandasana and then drifted subconsciously and consciously throughout the rest of practice) This mindset really works regardless of what comes up on the mat. I had one teacher word it a little differently, but as I was in some turmoil one day, he said, just get on the mat and send your thoughts out to your inner committee, they will figure it out for you. By reacting with compassion, I honestly don’t fear the fading scars anymore, and hopefully new big dogs will get a firm rub from me soon, versus my tentative touch. If all else fails, well, a hand gently placed over the heart can do wonders to soothe and heal. ­čĺť

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Me and my Luna:-)