by Steph Creaturo
I need new running shoes. I know this. My husband nags me about this. Each time I run, I feel it. Oh right, I need new shoes.
But I still do nothing about this. I am too busy to get to the store I want to go to. The store is inconveniently located to my life. They are supposedly very good. My intentions are good. But I am still running in my old shoes.
I use the example of my running shoes to illustrate the various ways we may inflict harm on ourselves each and every day. In the wake of last week’s much-discussed The New York Times article (in which there were a lot of excellent points, I might add), it might be worth taking a look at all the ways that we hurt ourselves, both on and off the yoga mat.
I wonder why the writer didn’t choose to write about how we inflict self-harm when we feel guilty, leaving our kids to attend a yoga class. Or when we choose to make the snarky comment at someone else’s expense for the easy laugh at a cocktail party. We take our mistake at work out on our spouse. We project whatever drama we have about our body onto someone else in yoga class. We push that hamstring too hard, thinking maybe this is a boundary we have to test, and that because of that willingness, the grey skies of tightness will part and the glow of a miraculously open hamstring may appear. We skip preparatory poses for more complicated poses like headstand, then abdicate on taking responsibility for it when our body responds in kind.
Yes, we get hurt in yoga class. True dat. It is an extremely physical practice in its current manifestation. If we choose to practice, we must accept this responsibility, as students, as teachers — as participants. But, it’s worth noting we also get hurt when we are in love, when we are friends with someone, when we are parents. We may get mugged or have a bike accident. We burn our hand on the stove while making dinner. Pain is multi-dimensional and our relationship with it is trés complicated.
One of the best things yoga has taught me is when we fully participate in relationships – with ourselves, our family, our friends, and the world around us – the likelihood of getting hurt can be a lot less. It won’t make pain go away. It’s not a magic wand. But, as we learn the skill of observing – our bodies, our breath, our thoughts – we can back off a pose when our body starts to grumble because we have a relationship with our body that we’re actively participating in. Or, maybe we resist temptation to push it in the first place by being super honest about our tendencies – to be competitive, to be perfect, to show off, to please the teacher. When we go too far in a pose, it is like eating too much cookie dough. It feels good for that satisfactory flash, but the pit of regret lasts a lot longer. And when our practice turns into a pro-active relationship in which we participate, we get this. (Most of the time, anyway.)
Real, long-term relationships are cultivated over time. To thrive, these relationships insist that we engage in deep inner listening, coupled with humility. The skill of taking a pause comes into the equation. A dash of humor and hearty venting sessions with a friend over a good cup of coffee are also necessary to the care and feeding of all long-term relationships. As is leaving your kids in the morning to take a yoga class.
So, yes, we get hurt. On the yoga mat and in lots of other places, too. There’s been lots of good discussion around this article. But it’s also a good time to pause, to reflect, to look inward, as pain is multi-dimensional and we need to examine our role in inflicting harm – and yeah, that’s super hard to do. It makes humans inherently uncomfortable and awkward, like when we walk around with sand at the bottom of our bathing suit. Sure, we’ll get hurt in yoga. Or on a run. Or when playing soccer. Or when running for the F train in the morning in our dress shoes. Or fill in the blank. Remember what Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock implored us to get during our high school years: “joy and pain are like sunshine and rain.” (Go on, click on the link. You know you wanna.) There ain’t one without the other in this precious human form. Not as good an article, perhaps, but a much more interesting – and lasting – teaching.