This is my spring break week, and as some of you know I have been dealing with a lot of re-examination and assessment in the past few months, spanning all aspects of my life.
So I decided – totally spontaneously – to use this week to take better care of myself by going to at least one yoga class every day, and only doing things I decide I need to do (not just responding out of obligation to emails, or social calls, etc). In other words, I’m practicing conscious selfishness this week. Yesterday I took 3 yoga classes. Today I just got back from one, and will go to another tonight. What I’ve realized is that the past two years, in which I have not been able to practice yoga because my teaching schedule has taken priority in my life, and after that my social schedule has been second, I myself – the care of my physical body – came last. I now do only a weekly Spinning class on Mondays, which makes me feel better that I have gotten my heart rate up, but does little to nothing for the mobility of my body.
The yoga classes have revealed that all of my violin teaching (about 25-30 hours per week) and computer time (most of the other waking hours) have taken a huge toll on my shoulders, and my right forearm. My right shoulder is permanently internally rotated. My left shoulder and collar bone are slightly higher than my right. My right forearm, where the tendons of the wrist extensor muscles insert in my elbow is completely knotted (“tennis elbow”, except from violin and laptop computer ergonomics).
I have done yoga on and off since 1999, and for most of that time (except for the past two years) I have gone to at least one class per week. During these classes I got to check in with my body, and move it in ways that my daily life did not allow me the opportunity to do. So I am aware of what I was once able to do. And this week has been humbling. I have come face-to-face with the neglect to my body, in service of things I decided were “more important” – like filling more of my time with teaching, and proving that I could build a business.
Now I am feeling those effects. I am mentally exhausted, and my physical body is sending me signals that say, “Remember me?” This week is a gift, because I get to just tune in, and gently take my body through movements that both reveal the pain and help to heal. I sense that this is a gift, because I am determined not to be someday writing a story about a “wake-up call” moment that finally forces me to make changes. I am continuing the process that began many months ago, with the tiny voice inside me telling me to explore widely to see what’s possible, instead of doing only more of the same.
There are two ways of looking at “therapeutic yoga”. My instructor last night, who works with a lot of injured clients or people whose jobs cause them to experience chronic pain, said, “Well, people aren’t going to change their patterns, right? So my role is to give them tools that can temporarily help them feel better, and enable them to continue doing the things that they do, the things that they love to do.”
I had another instructor in January at the Yoga Journal conference in San Francisco who said, “Your body is telling you something by sending you the signal of pain. We can do these poses, but just remember, getting rid of the pain is not getting rid of the cause of the pain.” He likened it to two airplane pilots sitting in the cockpit, and seeing the “EMERGENCY” light go on while they are airborne. One of the pilots says to the other, “I’ll go alert the crew, and you see if you can take care of the problem.” When he comes back, the light is off, and, relieved, he asks his co-pilot what he did to solve the problem. He replies, “I took the light bulb out.”
So my question to you all is, what do you believe our bodies are telling us about our lives? Do you believe that we are powerless to change the fundamental circumstances of our lives that give rise to our physical problems? Or do you believe that physical problems are the body’s way of signaling to our mind to make the changes that are necessary to bring the body back to its intrinsic state of health and wellness, free of pain?