Your Practice is Your Practice (+ Other Thoughts on Persistent Pain)

I haven't done a comfortable downdog in three months. 

Seems like the simplest task in the world, especially to someone who has been practicing yoga for 10+ years (and just graduated with her 200-hour teacher training, thank you very much!). 

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But it's not.  

Three months ago, just as I was stepping into the world of teaching a practice I have loved and advocated and shouted on the rooftops about for years -- and waited, and waited, and waited to teach -- chronic pain and disease decided to step into my life, in the form of abdominal, pelvic, and leg pain. 

I had issues and illness when I was young, but have never been at a point where my first thought in the morning, and the last in the evening, was the pain and the twists and the turns in my body. 

The one thing I had always turned to was suddenly something I could no longer trust. 

Why am I telling everyone this? Because in my darkness, in my introspection, in my isolation, the panic, in all the rage that it caused me, besides the terrifying questions -- how will this consistent pain alter the chemistry in my brain? How will I manage my life? Am I really in control of healing myself? - there were so many lessons. 

Just FYI - all these lessons can apply to emotional pain. After all, it's all tied together in one beautiful messy bow. 

1). IN EVERY SECOND, YOU CAN LITERALLY EXPAND. When you are in any type of pain, your instinct is to contract, to draw in, to hold any energy you have to conserve it, to tighten around an area to keep it from further pain. While this might be helpful in that moment, it is not helpful long-term. I began to cultivate awareness of this holding in my body, and when I felt that I could (this is key), I took a deep breath and visualized that part of me expanding instead of curling inward. It was a gamechanger. 

2). WESTERN MEDICINE'S GOT NOTHIN' ON YOUR BODY'S WISDOM. The fact that in 10+ doctors appointments, no one could find anything specifically wrong with me, leads me to believe that most of my issues are/were psychosomatic, whether I consciously knew it or not. I began a daily practice yoga nidra, and I'm certain that that is the only reason I have started to heal. Relaxing my body on the deepest level possible was another gamechanger. 

3). THERE ARE ENDLESS THINGS TO BE GRATEFUL FOR. Literally endless. When pain pulsates, I look around me: I'm grateful for my sight. I'm grateful for my mother. I'm grateful for the good weather. I'm grateful for this beautiful notebook I'm writing in. When you are struggling to physically exist, this can be life-affirming in the deepest sense. 

4). I CAN TAKE THIS WITH ME. I'm so grateful for my limitations. If I'm not perfect (and God knows I TRY), then no one is. That pressure then slides off my back. When I'm in front of a class, I now have more language and relation to my students, because I understand more than I did when my body was functioning in a way that I wanted it to. 

And, maybe the most important...

5). YOUR PRACTICE IS YOUR PRACTICE. Like I said, I'm a trained yogini and some days all I could manage was one deep breath a day. You are worthy without standing on your head. You showed up. That's the work. That's the practice. No one can take that away from you. Your practice is your practice. 

Heavy, heavy note: many of these insights came in hindsight, and I am privileged as hell to have the healthcare and support system that I have. It only makes me want to fight for equitable solutions even more. 

If you have any lessons you've learned from chronic pain, or mantras you've summoned to cope, I'd more than love to hear them. 

Your Practice is Your Practice. 

Yours in love and pain,

M