Monday, April 26, 2010


I hurt my back again.

I was having a fabulous two weeks of no pain. I started jogging lightly again. I started back bending more consistently. I was a bit tight and stiff on Friday morning, and when teaching, I folded forward into uttanasana and my low back went into those awful, painful spasms that I have come to know all too well.

It's funny, but I'm not as upset this time. Am I a tad frustrated? Yes. I don't like having to be inactive. But this time, instead of getting frustrated and blaming the world, I feel like I have a lesson to learn. I need to learn how to fix my body myself. Obviously, the advice of the experts wasn't helping me improve my low back weakness. I have the power in me and the resources at my disposal to figure out what is wrong and to fix it. For the first time in a while, I'm not looking to someone else for answers. I'll find them myself.

Oh, I could write an entire blog post about physical therapists, their high-horses, and their lack of the intricate knowledge required for yoga anatomy. But I won't, because placing blame is pointless, since my life is my own. Instead, I'll just remember that because I looked outside of myself, I didn't get the whole answer, because every BODY is different and a one-size-fits-all solution doesn't always work. I'm doing my own anatomical research, and found a missing piece to the back-pain mystery (I won't go into it now, it's a work in progress). As soon as I am well, I am excited to re-train my body to work correctly. I'm also excited to pass on the information I'll be learning to see if it can help my students.

The day I got hurt, my mental state oscillated between distraction (I caught up on episodes of "Private Practice" and watched "New Moon again") and a mindful calm. Between those bouts of rest on the bed or the couch, I retreated to my back yard, where I knelt on the ground, barefoot, to pull weeds, plant the garden, pull more weeds, slowly mow and trim the grassand plant a flat of small, green ground cover. I moved slowly, accepting my body as it was, and focused only on the task at hand. Being outside and using the simple activity of pulling weeds was so calming, so healing, that it reinforced my belief in the true healing powers of the Earth. Engaging in earth-based activities can bring a sense of calm like no other. It's one of the only places outside the occasional breakthrough yoga class where I can let thoughts of worry, frustration, or despair melt away and focus only on the moment -- on the dirt on my fingers, the spines on the weeds, the bark under my knees, and the satisfying feel of an unwanted root being pulled from the ground.

So I cannot despair. For even if I don't have my yoga asana practice, I can still have the peaceful mind, steady heart, and calm, calm, calm.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The two selves

I have been spending a lot of time by myself in asana, meditation, and thought this week. It has been beneficial for me. For the past week, I've practiced everyday, meditated most of those days, slept a lot, and started to reconnect with my Self.

Patanjali said that there were two selves; the True Self or the spirit, and the mind. In an article by Kate Holcombe in Yoga Journal this month (May 2010), Holcombe says to think of the True Self as the boss, and the mind as the assistant. What would happen, she asks, if the assistant acted as though she ran the place, without ever checking with the boss at all? I've found that when my mind takes over for my true self, I feel chaotic, ungrounded, unsure of myself and my abilities as a person, unconfident in my path and alone. Or, I can feel on a mission to the point of blindness, forgetful of the moral or need the fueled it, like the thought or goal has shushed everything else in my space and I have a one track mind. Usually, when I achieve the mind's goal and the white noise is gone, I usually feel defeated, guilty, or astonished that I could let the mind run the place for so long.

In Sutra 11.23, translated by Holcombe, it states, The inability to discern between the temporary fluctuating mind and our own true Self, which is eternal, is the cause of our suffering, yet this suffering provides us with the opportunity to make this distinction and to learn and grow from it, by understanding the true nature of each.

I know what my True Self sounds like. When the voice of my True Self is prominent, it speaks to my soul's desire and spiritual path on this planet. It speaks to support me and to gently guide me when I'm off track. It makes me feel beautiful, supported, loved and nourished. It reverberates through my body like a sound wave, ringing through the chakras. Depending on what it has to say, I may feel it in different chakras. When my mind, or my ego, is steering me, it's like white noise over the aura. When my mind is speaking, it acts more like a distraction or an obsession, and it blinds me from hearing my Truth. For example, I've lately spoke of this desire for purchasing. That is my Mind speaking. What is says is this: "You must have this item. When you receive this item, and not before, you will be a complete person. You will finally fit this ideal picture that I have of you." In other words, the promise of the mind is to make me complete through act. This obsession doesn't feed the True Self, who is complete already, and who bases everything, including purchases, knowing it is complete.

For the past couple weeks, the number of students in my classes has dropped off, and I have been wondering why. Is it my teaching style or ability or simply the student's shifting schedule? Like all teachers, I have my own style of teaching. My teaching reflects my personal practice and goals as a practitioner to slowly advance into more and more difficult asanas while keeping breath intact and clearness of mind. My teaching style is a little different than others at my studio. I took a nice class from another instructor, with a filled room, and realized what our differences were as teachers. During the class, I thought, "Well, I could teach this way, couldn't I, if I wanted to get more students?" But I realized that was my Mind speaking; the same mind that tells me I am inadequate if the number of students in my classes is lower than in other classes. After a day of thought, I realized that I can only teach what is true in my heart, and that the students who come find a connection with what I am teaching, and that is good.
In verse 1.29 of the Sutras, Holcombe translates: Those who have a meaningful connection with something greater than themselves will come to know their true Selves and experience a reduction in those obstacles that may deter them from reaching their goals.

This was another great "hello" for me. As I read this entire article, the cogs in my head went click and I realized how I had been affected by obstacles in my life. When difficulties occur in my life, it's my reaction to absorb them, to become them. When I injured my back, it wasn't just an injury to the person I am; I became that injury. Similarly with vertigo. I wasn't a person with vertigo, it was my vertigo; I had let it become who I was. What Patanjali was saying in this passage is that we need to learn to understand our connection with the Universe and our True Selves in order to experience difficult circumstances without identifying with them or absorbing them.

When I finished reading yesterday, I started to make separation from the difficulties that ailed me. I am starting to glimpse what I already believe: that I am a spiritual being in a body, rather than just a body with a mind. Vertigo or back injuries or PMS or weight gain or sickness or taxes do not define who I am; they are just things that happen to me. Patanjali suggested that everything that has an effect on our bodies and minds is something that is happening to us, not that those things define who we are. It could be argued then, that life on this planet is something that is just happening to us; it is an experience that we are using to grow our True Self. If that is true, then we really must learn to know and trust our True Self and the Universe (or Supreme Being, or God, or whatever you wan to call it). And of course, that we should take life less seriously and find more amusement. After all, it's just something that's happening to us. It doesn't define who we Are.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Potential of Thinking Positively

I know that my life is shaped by the thoughts that I have. I know this. And I know that when I feel like the world is wobbling underneath me and things are getting shaky, I can change the way I view things by changing my thoughts. It is easy to know this. It is more difficult to actually do this.

I also realized an interesting pattern to my symptoms that have my doctors baffled. My vertigo is nearly obsolete in the mornings, the time of day when I feel the most optimistic, the time of day that I love the best. My vertigo worsens around mid-day, and is particularly virulent when I am around others, especially those with strong energies. My vertigo is also particularly nauseating when I haven't meditated or otherwise grounded my spiritual practice. That was a hello for me. I have recently felt like a spiritual person hiding in the closet, waiting for the safe time to come out. I am afraid that what my body is craving is a grounded, active or admitted spiritual practice. For me, that practice would be based on spiritual freedom through meditation, connection with the god of my heart and a deep connection and study of the natural world. And yoga, lots of yoga. One of the principles of my spiritual beliefs is that I create the world I live in through my thoughts, my actions and my reactions to my thoughts and the actions and intentions of others. To live this truth is my challenge.

I am trying. During a rather rough bout of vertigo on Monday (yes, I still have vertigo, can you believe it?), I was having a healing session with my friend when she sent me a huge hello. People had been reminding me for the past month to laugh and find amusement and change the way I think about my situation. But it hadn't come through, I mean really come through, until Monday. Somehow, as my friend asked for the third time over Skype if I was going to hurl, I realized that I had no routine or time set aside for spiritual practice. I am an organizational person, and I realized that I had not set aside any time for meditation or journaling, an activity that works wonders for my well-being. Instead, I had just "hoped" to find the time. Well, no more hoping, now it's in the google calendar just like everything else.

Each morning, I start with time for yoga. To move my body and feel the subtleties within. This is followed by a time for meditation, 15 minutes to an hour, depending on what comes. Followed by journaling time. If nothing else, I want to focus on what areas in my life I've been taking too seriously and see how I can change my thought patterns to create amusement and allow energy to flow in a positive direction.

I did this yesterday, and although my vertigo was still rocking and rolling, I felt somehow much more calm to deal with it. Instead of worrying about how bad it could get and how long it could last, I remembered my meditative tools and remained calm, collected, and available to participate in my life, rather than fall victim to it.