I hurt myself on my yoga mat yesterday morning. I don't really know how it happens. I wasn't checked out, thinking about what I was going to eat for breakfast or what I'd dreamed about last night or Peyton Manning's game last night or what time the sun was going to come up. I was thinking about what I was doing: I was in plank pose, and trying to lower down into chaturanga dandasana with my knees lifted (which is something I don't do very much because I'm building upper body strength consciously) and something in my thoracic spine snagged and I flopped down onto my belly with the grace of a trout.
The good news is that it was near the end of my practice. I didn't have a ton of poses or vinyasas left to do, so I knew a rest was coming soon. After the last few poses I lay down on my mat and thought to myself, Damn, I hurt myself. Then the voices started in. I heard my father's voice first, telling me I should be more careful. "Be more careful" was something my parents said to me a lot. Worry defined our relationship for years. When I moved out of the house, I would call home and my father would answer the phone, and the first thing he said, without fail was, "Is everything okay?" It was fine, but it also imbued every call with an urgency that was never there: it displayed his tendency to walk around in an almost constant state of anxiety. It's as if he wasn't glad to hear from me, he was worried because if I was calling then I had a problem.
Anyway, his voice telling me to be More CAREFUL was the first thing I heard, lying there on my mat. The truth is, I wasn't being careless. I was focused, I was playing my edge, and I was tuned in to my body. I wasn't flinging myself around in poses and trying to wrap my ankles around my head. I was practicing my practice. Then I heard my husband's voice, which was saying, oh are you okay, oh, I'm so sorry.
After those voices, I started thinking that it was okay that I'd hurt myself. I hadn't done it on purpose, and I hadn't been careless, and it had happened and it was okay. Be compassionate, I thought. This injury gives you a chance to approach your physical practice with integrity, and to treat yourself lovingly, gently, sweetly. We need a lot of compassion when we're hurting. Maybe it's because so often we're irritated by our own pain, as if somehow we shouldn't hurt, we should be bigger than this, or we don't have time for this, or this pain is so small and it should get the hell outta our way.
In the few poses I had left and in savasana, I began to think about injury. I don't like injury, I don't know if anyone likes hurting, but still I'm grateful for injury. When your body hurts, the pain forces you to slow down. You must tune into your physiology really clearly to know where your limits are, and continue to move in a way that's good for you but also that's healing. Pain is an opportunity to take care of yourself and do things that are healing.
How often do we do that in life? So rarely, I think. When we have a headache, we don't walk away from the computer and turn the TV off and get quiet and still and hydrate. Instead, we take a couple of aspirin and continue life at the same breakneck speed. There are so many products we use to try and avoid feeling our pain, so many things we do to treat our symptoms but not to deal with what's causing them.
Yesterday, after my practice, I spent the day taking it easy. I took an Epsom salts bath, I lay around with a heating pad, I rubbed various things into my muscles (or rather, my husband did: thanks, Honey!) and I even took a muscle relaxant. None of these really cured the pain. I just wound up more or less achy, grumpy and sleepy for most of the afternoon, and I slept maybe 14 hours. This morning, when I woke, the pain was worse than before.
This morning, I'm planning on taking another slow day, trying to take care of myself and trying to get a little work done. But I'm also thinking about emotional pain and its similarity to physical pain. I want to say something pithy about how when we feel emotional pain--which generally happens as a result of knowing and relating to other people--we don't slow down and stay present and see if there's something we can do in the midst of the feeling to make it better, to heal. We lash out or we retreat. We don't move toward the pain, and gently and respectfully deal with it, to see what it has to teach it, and how we can heal. We pop all kinds of psychic painkillers and do everything we can to forget about it.
You know, people talk about prayer and God being bigger than we are and affecting our hearts so that we can love one another better. But I think that maybe the way that happens is painful. So few of us want to do the hard thing, to do what hurts in pursuit of healing. Does it matter how much we pray if at the end of the day, what will heal us is the thing we refuse to feel? I don't know. Generally, we pray for a miracle, for a change in the other person, we don't pray for the bravery and humility and self-compassion to do our own hard internal work.
Anyway, my back hurts, but not because I did anything wrong. Because sometimes, we hurt. I'm using the pain as an opportunity to practice self-compassion. There's plenty to go around.