Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pain in Practice

Today, I was in Bikram yoga. I love yoga, I've had a practice on and off for a long time, and I've always disliked the issues that seem to go on between the schools of thought in yoga. Of course, I used to play a part in that myself.

I found Bikram yoga to be ridiculous. Yoga is already hard, why do it in a hot room? What is this competitive nature? What? A POWER HOUR? Screw it. That's not Yoga, I'm not goin'.

Sounds a bit closed minded for a girl who likes to think of herself as open hearted. (Knock, knock, Kate... what is the lesson you are meant to learn here? Hmmm.) So then, I meet this guy who I love to spend time with, and guess what? He's a Bikram instructor. Sigh.

I dug my prejudices out and looked at them. If you need me, I'll be over here at the "real" studio, practicing Hatha Flow with an Iyengar base. Thanks.

I always thought Bikram was for all the wannabes who followed Gweneth Paltrow into practice after her "Yoga Bodies!" photo came out in US Weekly in the 90s.

Can you hear it? I couldn't. I couldn't even see the prejudices that I had built right into my practice. Anyhow, this is a few years ago now, and of course, I had to suck it up and go, right? He was cute, I was in love with him, any yoga is better than no yoga. And I am a firm believer in experiencing the things that the one you love loves. That's how you share your heart.

So I walk into the studio and the first thing that takes me by surprise is the full on near nakedness. All five of the girls in the front row are HOT. Yes, I mean sweaty, but I also mean ripped, toned, tan, all their hair is to their butts at least. None of them have it tied up sensibly. They are wearing "shorts" that are smaller than my underwear and some of them have a little bandeaux top on. The others are wearing micro sports bras.

And, of course, they are all incredibly, intimidatingly flexible. And annoyingly nice, welcoming and whatever. I'm not going to like this. I've decided that before I even walked in the door, so we are good to go. As long as I keep looking around for ideas that match my prejudices and reinforce them, I should be safe in the knowledge that I am right. I'm here to show this boy that I've had a good Iyengar practice for years and I can DO this. (Even though I don't believe that yoga is competitive, for anyone else, or that you should every be in the practice with the thought of any other person or body or thought being a part of it... clearly I'm not letting my emotional, egoic self run insanely around the room, keeping me safe... oh wait.)

But I want to leave space for this beautiful boy to be right, as well. I'm here to experience something that helped change his life. Now, I'm in conflict. I decide that the girls in the front are an anomaly of Aspen, that Bikram people can't possibly dress like that, because that would make this a practice of narcissistic self indulgent show offs. (Was that in my out loud voice?) If you need me, I'll be in the back row in a pair of actual shorts and a sensible long waisted yoga top. Real yoga clothes. Sweating my brains out. Because its HOT. There's a REASON they are nearly naked! Helloo!!

He warned me, by the way, to bring water. I don't drink water during yoga, I drink after, so I brought some, but not much. I looked around. They all had the special hot yoga towel. More crap to buy, I think. Making your yoga soooo special, you need a towel on your mat. Whatever.

Lets skip the nausea, intense feeling that I was going to pass out, the immense amount of sweat, the hard work and dedication I saw all around me, in every single body in every single posture. Lets skip the fact that I had to check closely and look at the boy to see if he had rivers of sweat literally pouring off of him. I was sweaty for sure. It was raining all around me. I hadn't produced anything like that!

At the end of class, I was hooked, but intimidated, and financially crippled. I couldn't do it. I wanted to do it. But I didn't have an extra $20 a month, let alone $100, or $200 if I wanted to belong to 2 studios for "regular" yoga and Bikram as well. I had two kids to feed and clothe, and no financial help with them. I couldn't afford to "drop in" at $20 a class. So while I knew the minute we started breathing that I needed to be in this room, I couldn't do it. I spent the next two years craving it.

Fast forward two years later. The season ends. The summer starts. I get a little help from my friends, I'm not busted flat broke for the first time in years. I'm tired of waiting for company and friends to go to the studio with me, I just want to practice and I don't care any more. I don't have the clothes or the mat or the flexibility, and I've gained 12 pounds after ski season this year. (That's another blog post...) So I just go. I go and I sign up. And then I go to Bikram every single day. And by two weeks, I'm going twice a day.

I spent the last two years listening to the boy tell me that he feels "so good" after he goes to Bikram after a huge ride, when his back is tight, after a huge ski. Its not his work out. Its his re balance. Its his sanity. Its restoration, detoxification, balance.

And he was right.

Apparently, Bikram says "One beautiful day, your head will be on your knee" and two days ago, HEY, it was. I'm making my body. Its becoming strong, flexible, nimble and my balance is improving all the time.

Yesterday, I gave a massage in the morning and then sprinted out the door to class. While I was there, I reached up to get ready for half moon, and I felt that "bad" thing from the car accident I was in two years ago happen in my neck.

Now, let me precede that by saying that two solid months of daily or twice daily Bikram yoga has begun healing my spine in a way that I could never have predicted. Two months ago my "backbend" was me looking up about 30 degrees with a straight spine and pain everywhere. Now, my backbend lets me see my eyes in the mirror behind me. My body is feeling better every day.

The fibromyalgia from the neck injury in the accident is always present, but with a strong, flexible body, its much MUCH more tollerable.

Occasionally, however, the Injury comes back. I backed way off. I stayed in the hot room, I laid down on a yoga block as I felt my shoulder and neck begin to contract in a way that is all to familiar and very scary.

I got home and got Bodhi to walk on my back. I got my self massage tool out and began to dig. I laid on more heat. By the evening, it hurt so badly and I was so restricted in my movement that I wanted to do nothing other than cry and puke and go to the ER and beg for some big guns pain killers. I resisted. I resisted Tylenol. I resisted wallowing in the pain.

I walked around in circles, feeling crazy. It hurt so much I felt like I was near my limit. Bodhi woke up and wanted to tuck in with me, so I gave him the massage tool and he went to town on my back. Slow, deep, sustained pressure of the whole body weight of a 7 year old for about a half an hour. And then more heat. He helped enough that I could sleep.

This morning I got up and it hurt, but I could move. All I wanted to do was go to yoga. Get in that hot room. Get some healing going on.

And so I went. And it was interesting to step into the room where I've been working HARD. Backing off as needed, caring for myself, building a strong practice, and know that this was not going to be a workout, this was going to be me in a hot room wishing I wasn't hurt.

I set my intention for the practice to listen carefully to the neck and shoulder, but do everything else that I could and do it well. Not let the pain in the shoulder be a valid excuse to keep me from going strong on the left leg, for instance.

I wondered if I could make a practice that was strong for the whole body and caring and careful for the injury. My shoulder and neck hurt. A lot. I modified, I skipped postures, I worked harder than I think I ever have in class, and I barely broke a sweat. Which made me sad. I missed my detox, I missed my yoga bliss. I missed sweating out a gallon of water. I hated the pain I was in. I felt robbed of my practice.

I caught sight of my shoulder in the mirror, all around the injury, the skin was breaking out in big cystic bumps. Something is happening.

I went in to talk to Kate, the instructor, after class. She complimented me on my practice, and when she asked how the injury felt, I told her, "It hurts." and then I started crying. I wanted to sit down on the floor and bawl. Not out of anger, or fear or wishing, but just to acknowledge and honor how much it hurt, how hard it was to change my practice to support the injury, how present I was with the pain. It hurt.

Kate said that Bikram often said that humans are like onions (I think Shrek said that, too). And Kate's hypothesis is that while I'm healing my body in class, I'm peeling back layers of protection and getting closer and closer to the root. And I agree, this is how I feel. I feel like my old body is falling off to show the real me inside, healthier, taller, happier, present, with myself.

Kate said, "And now, you've come to the injury. And that's what's next. Work through this. Keep coming. Lets let your body heal you."

And so I grabbed a tissue or six, my special yoga mat and towel, rolled them into my beautiful yoga tote bag, and pulled on my skirt over my special teeny tiny Bikram shorts and walked all shaken and sad and happy to have gotten to the injury and have the next task before me, back to my car.

1 comment:

Liat said...

OOoooh!! Oh man! I hope you are not in so much pain now.