I was sitting with my husband yesterday, in a hospital room, watching a loved one recover from surgery. We had arrived around 10AM and waited hours as doctors took test after test trying to figure out a diagnosis.
He said, “I am so tired.”
I said, “All that stress from being here in the hospital.”
He said, ” I felt calm during everything.”
I said, ” The body doesn’t lie.”
We had both been incredibly calm all day. Didn’t matter. It was still all there.
Our mind can become the master of a great spiritual fairy tale. The hero/heroine has it all together. She is calm and unbothered in the face of stress. He is unmessable with. She knows the perfect Eckhart Tolle or Byron Katie quote to say at the perfect time.
The mind can lie. The body will let you know the truth. What we suppress, comes out somewhere.
It can show up as:
- Loss in vitality
- You catch every illness that is going around
- Failure to thrive
A spiritual practice is a recovery practice. We are working to recover from the belief that we are defined by our thoughts, emotions, environment and past experiences. Most recovery practices start with the same steps.
- Admit that you have a problem
- Admit you cannot deal with the problem on your own
The rest of the steps are basically the process you use for recovery. Something, that commonly happens on the spiritual path, is that we are lured into a false sense of being done. We think we have arrived. We are are own teacher. We don’t have a problem.
But what have we arrived at? When Christopher Columbus came to America, he thought he was in India. To this day, Native Americans are called Indians. Thinking we have arrived when we have not, has repercussions.
The body doesn’t lie. Our life doesn’t lie.
You drink coffee all day long.
You are often exhausted.
You are no longer inspired.
Ashtanga does a great job of telling us when we are lying to ourselves. We do the same asana every single day, six days a week with moon day and ladies holiday off. Yet, every day feels different. Sometimes we can do the whole practice without missing a beat. On other days, we lose our focus half way through. One day back bends are smooth, the next day, we are panicking. You may have been binding in Mari D with no problem and all of a sudden, you cannot. You develop an overwhelming fear of headstands.
And then there are the phantom injuries. One day, out of the blue, something hurts. Half way through the practice or a few days later, it is gone. Maybe the injury is around for a long time. You go to the doctor. They run tests and tell you that there is nothing wrong.
Or the weird pains that switch sides. Today your right hamstring bothers you. Tomorrow, your left.
Then there are the breakdowns. One day you are crying in paschimotanasana and you have no clue why. You lash out at your teacher. You question why you are even on your mat. For a few months, Ashtanga becomes your mortal enemy and it weakens you like kryptonite. Then you do a workshop, and all of a sudden, it gives you strength.
Let us not forget Mysore magic. The phenomenon where you go to Mysore and all of a sudden your injuries heal, pain goes away and poses that were super hard all of a sudden become easy.
It is the same poses. The same Vinyasas. What changed? Your “stuff” changed. Your emotional baggage shifted. Maybe you dropped some. Maybe you picked some up. It is worth exploring.
When we buy into a spiritual fairy tale, our bodies have to do the work that our intellect is no longer doing . Our nervous system will tell us what our mind will not allow us to entertain.
After the body is purified, it is possible to purify the nervous system, and then the sense organs. These first steps are very difficult and require many years of practice. The sense organs are always looking outside, and the body is always giving into laziness. However, through determination and diligent practice, these can be controlled. After this is accomplished, mind control comes automatically. Vinyasa creates the foundation for this to occur.- KPJAYI.org
Pain and a lose of vitality are always symptoms that something is stuck. Traditionally, a yogi was not allowed to move on to advanced yoga practices until they could sit comfortably in an asana for an hour! You can imagine that this criteria blocked many from becoming gurus, asana masters or leaders in the yoga community! The Yogis knew that not being comfortable in our bodies was a sign that energy was not running smoothly through us.
Listen to what your body is telling you. Our exhaustion at the hospital told me that something was still bothered. Something was still being touched. These are the places where the light of truth have not penetrated. Take the light and go there.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.