While I have been a yoga teacher for over 1o years I have not always taken the best care of my personal yoga practice. Running a fitness studio, being a doula and parenting three children did not leave me enough time for my own personal effective yoga practice. Well, that is a little bit of an untruth. The real reason I am in pain is because I had not yet let go of ego.
Yes, I said it. I have in the past had a larger ego than I currently do. Not the healthy type of ego either that keeps us alive and choosing the path of self preservation. I indulged in the type of unhealthy ego that many individuals with body image disorders do – that ego that compares you and your self worth with everyone else around you. My ego in particular liked to prey on my feelings of insecurity around my weight and being in an industry fraught with lean, toned, almost impossible to attain bodies bending into ridiculously compressed positions. So for me, the more I pushed myself into poses, the harder I worked my muscles, the more I ached after a class, or the further I went into a pose the less I worried about people perceiving me as “less than” because of my fuller figure.
I also ran my own business which required me to teach until 40 weeks pregnant, and go back to work less than 2 weeks postpartum in order to pay rent, instructor’s salaries and for groceries. I wasn’t the type of newly liberated woman who could make the statement “I’m skipping maternity leave because my job is important” – I would have loved to stay home and relax with my newborns for even a full six weeks, I can’t imagine saying no to a paid maternity leave of any type.
The stage was set for pain. Ten pound babies, 40 classes a week teaching aerobics and power yoga with hundreds of planks takes a toll on the pregnant and postpartum body. Sixteen months after my daughter was born I was still experiencing searing pain in my SI Joint (posterior near the hip) and buttocks, my inner groin (I suffered through diastasis symphysis pubis, something I wouldn’t wish on anyone) and my lower back. I made old man sounds every time I got off the couch, so many that my little sponge of a daughter started to grunt when she would stand up in solidarity with me.
What changed? I started teaching a prenatal yoga class at Yoga-Rhythms in Lisle, IL. Years ago I used to take Svaroopa yoga with the same owner at a different location, many pounds, children and years ago when I was youthfully flexible and in class just to relax after a workout. Now I attend classes every two days to manage my pain and release anxiety. And it works. Really works. If you let go.
Letting go is supposed to be a big part of yoga – letting go can’t truly occur if you are getting dressed up with $150 yoga pants to go to class for whatever the reason – because you can, because everyone else does, because your butt looks great, because you saw an ad for them – you are possessed by your possession still. You haven’t let go if you intensely stare at yourself in a mirror while instructed to push yourself as far as possible while your body goes through the stages of heat stroke – and shocker – the teacher leading you isn’t teaching yoga. I’m sorry to say this and I know some people will disagree ardently with me on these points but there is nothing to argue about. If you care how you look in a pose, if you care about being seen in class, if you care about how far you can go or if you are addicted, drawn to a certain name on the marquee, only feel like you get something out of the practice if you look like you escaped from somewhere, are drenched, red faced, sore – you get the picture – you aren’t practicing true yoga. You are stagnant, stuck within the Annamaya kosha. I was once there too so I know it can seem as though you are truly practicing yoga and you may be going through the motions, making a good show, even living a very yogic life – I was but I wasn’t truly practicing.
Yoga is about “removing the root cause of suffering and pain.” The first sign that my yoga practice wasn’t authentic were anxiety and panic attacks. Then came pain. I could also say then came some medical conditions (tumors, gallstones, questionable skin tags, etc) but that may not be a fair assumption. To those on the outside I had a steady yoga practice and taught daily but to me I was missing something – missing that feeling of bliss. Sure, I took classes where I felt good at the end, felt like I stretched or got a workout, learned something new – but the bliss was missing.
Then I started taking Svaroopa classes again and the bliss blew back into my being it rode in on a stack of blankets. I left the first class a little sore and if you saw the class from the outside looking in you would have a “What the? How could that be?” expression on your face. The style is beyond gentle, it involves lots of blankets and propping – lots of letting go and even more self awareness. You can’t get through more than 5 minutes of a class without hearing “Do you notice the difference?” or “Does it feel different?” or “How do you feel now?” you get the idea, teachers want you to contemplate your practice, something that is missing in many of the fly by night certifications out there. Teachers in this lineage receive a great deal of training I can attest as a yoga instructor with a great deal of training behind me that I had to let go of. It isn’t that Svaroopa Yoga (now in its 21st year) is that far removed from “ normal yoga” – it is truly ingrained in the heart of yoga – it just isn’t as capitalized or commercialized and that may be why you haven’t heard of this amazing answer to pain problems.
For me it has been a journey of letting go not just of pain but of that evil ego. Every time I mention this in class a teacher will say “Why do you have an ego about this?” or “why wouldn’t you want to use more blankets, don’t you want to feel bliss?” I do, I do! But my ego has a hard time admitting that all of these years I have been over stretching ligaments and tendons, listening to instructors tell me to go “more straight” or “deeper” into a pose and all the time piling on more pain for myself. Its hard to look around a class and see “normal students”, average sized men and women of all ages not pushing themselves. There is no-one to be “more flexible than” no-one to compare myself to and that was the hardest part – realizing my self worth isn’t tied to anyone else’s.
This revelation couldn’t have come at a better time – I’m ready to move on from teaching yoga and start a new/old career in academic teaching. I have been practicing Vipassana meditation more seriously and learning to wish peace and loving kindness to others in situation where I once may have compared/judged myself. I’ve taken it a step further into wishing happiness to others in their situation instead of feeling jealous or dejected and it is very liberating to be detached.
Four, maybe five weeks have passed and each class I attend I find new areas to release, I come up against new blocks now that I am getting into the muscles instead of stretching superficial tissues and I am pain-free. The potential to be pain free in one class really does exist, but the more you go – the more you let go.