The Pain Behind The Pose

The Pain Behind The Pose
One of my favorite surprises of adult life has been making new friends that feel just like old friends. I'd heard about Katie Randall before we actually met because she is an RPCV and a yoga instructor (I've found there aren't too many of us out there). Then she asked me to join a ladies discussion group to dive into a great big text of female empowerment called "Women Who Run with Wolves." We choose one chapter a month, which is rich like a slice of quality chocolate cake, and meet on Sunday evenings. Our talks have been winding, juicy excavations into the nature of female. We ask more questions than find answers and share what is really going on and how we really feeling about it. In Sanskrit there is a word called "spanda" which means a divine pulsation of energy and I feel it in our midst when we are sharing who we really are and who we really think we could be.

Due to some inspiration from another amazing teacher of mine, I've been thinking a lot lately about the quality of conversations in my life and how my finest work could be to get myself into the best conversations possible. I want to be part of a conversation that leaves both people feeling touched by the hands of brighter and more. While leading a recent yoga retreat, it was too wet from spring rain to make the campfires we had planned. Instead, both nights of the weekend our small group of women retreated to a circle of puffed armchairs. We drank tea and shared with honesty about our own rambling quests and the ways we had learned to give our lives meaning. During the closing circle, most people listed our impromptu circles as one of their favorite parts of the weekend.

I'm finding that kind of conversation takes a lot of vulnerability and deep listening and I'm not always capable of it. I can't remember where, but recently I heard physical asana practice described as the practice of intimacy with yourself. God that feels so true to me. Despite many intentions to just be present with my body + breath while I practice, my active mind can be so resistant to just really being there with myself.  The spaciousness of feeling into my tight left hip and the power of deep diaphragmatic breathing can be a scary place when it stirs up some stored emotional energy. My ego mind makes it clear that it would rather think about other things and will run away very quickly when threatened if I'm not focused.

Of course, I see this reflected off the mat, when I'm resistant to just listening to another person without agenda. I find this is particularly hard when they are sharing tough emotions, as a few of my friends have been experiencing this week. My instinct is to tell them what needs to be done or compare it to my own life, but i truly know there is power in just listening with compassion. Fully experiencing that power requires a lot of intimacy. Just like in my yoga practice, when I find myself getting distracted with what needs to be said or heard, I breathe and surrender into the wisdom of the present moment. This practice reminds me that I don't always need to be in control or have the answers. When I can do that--oooh, everything changes and the most transformational conversations arise.

So Katie--who is studying yoga therapy and will change the world with it--asked me to be part of her project called "The Pain Behind the Pose" and of course I wanted to be part of this conversation.

Here's an excerpt from her project description:

The Pain Behind The Pose is all that lies behind the physical expression of yoga.  We know when we step onto our mat that what happens in our physical bodies is a small feat compared to what happens within. Sensations are felt, emotions lit, stories told, thoughts flood, no matter how long you’ve practiced, no matter how strong your physical form.  We as individuals experience being in asana differently due to differences in body structure, past experience, stressors, injury, muscle strength, and so on.  This collective project is a culmination of yogis and yoginis that share their story behind the pose. I envision for us to expose the realness that so often is tucked away, or kept to ourselves, perhaps rejecting in the embrace of the pose.  This experience can be so powerful to each of us on an individual level, and my belief is its power being strengthened that much more by sharing our stories.  here is my submission:

I choose the pose Warrior II because you can't get through a beginners yoga class without doing it and because it's simple and really hard at the same time. My main challenge in this pose is really finding the true width of my feet so that my knee can bend right over my ankle while I experience the powerful sensations of a warrior pose. The temptation is always to shorten my stance so my knee can go over my ankle and I don't have to really go into all of that feeling in my hips and front quadriceps. When I do find my true stance and am asked to hold it for a while, I tremble all over the place and sweat like a mad lady. My brain goes into panic and all I can do to stay present is a deep ugayi breath. When I come out of the pose, I feel a deep sense of release on every level of my being. 

In the archetypical mythology of the warrior poses, there is a order. Warrior I represents the looking ahead and evaluation of what needs to be done. Isn't it amazingly strong to just observe before taking action? Warrior II opens up into the pose where appropriate action is planned and prepared. Planning for action is so important and something I've always struggled with so it's no surprise this one is the hardest for me. Warrior III balance is the moment of leaping into that action with the support of the universe behind you. I was wobbly at this pose for years, but now that I've worked through the other warrior poses I am much more stable.

How can I not equate this to my own life? For many years, my perfectionist tendency has been to look like I have it all figured out to any outside observer. Things did look good, but inside I knew I holding myself back from my true power. I've held myself back by skipping important practices, with negative patterns of thought and by numbing myself with a number of delicious yet destructive substances. As I walk deeper into my path and find a discipline I wasn't sure I had, I feel my warrior power. I've observed the world and myself for 32 years and I have some ideas. My desire for my life to have impact--to experience my dharma here--is so big within me that I have no choice but to keep up. It's also amazingly messy, trembling process that brings up fear like I've never experienced. Reminding myself that the warrior path is the most efficient way to break through blocks really helps. Also, knowing that nothing about should be easy really helps too. When I first began practicing yoga, I was confused how the warrior poses fit into the non-violent philosophy. Now I see that it takes a true warrior spirit to be a positive force in this world and that the stages of these warrior poses are a true model of how to live a life a of grounded strength. I'm still not quite sure what my Warrior III leap will be, but I am quite satisfied to work on the preparation and deep integrity of my Warrior II until that stage comes.