"Pain" & disclosing tablets
OK, so yesterday I had my first proper session for a year. With anticipation I rolled out my mat outside feeling all warm and fuzzy, because whenever I put my mat out it feels like I'm creating a special space just for me, to work in. Kind of like that feeling that a long-suffering grandad gets when he escapes the house during his wife's weekly knitting convention for a bit of creative time in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Anyway, despite easing myself into the stretches and sun cycles gently, and ending the session with some beautiful chanting, I woke up this morning with rather an acute awareness of just about every muscle group in my body.
* Note: In an earlier blog post, I explained that, rather than use the word 'pain' to describe the sensations of muscles ironed-out by yoga, I use the term 'awareness'. Not because I'm some sort of masochist, but because pain isn't really descriptive enough and tends to be negative. I'm not denying that sometimes when we're a bit too enthusiastic or when we actually have some kind of physical 'limitation' whether it be temporary or long-term we can experience discomfort, but it's important to listen to exactly what that 'pain' is telling us. I'd argue that in the West, we've become so disconnected from our bodies, that we tend to interpret all discomfort as our bodies saying 'oh no no no no, don't do that again'. The thing is, while our ancestors might have been able to interpret the different types of pain and act accordingly, we tend to use it as an excuse, as a way of avoiding anything remotely more strenuous than watching 5 episodes of The Simpsons back-to-back. Pain, then, is best described as an awareness, because we are (afterall) living, breathing, complex organisms whose means of communication are far more complex than a simple 'yes/no' or good/bad' response- or even those stupid questionnaires you get in the High St. that ask you a question and by the time you've thought about your answer you've forgotten which of the many categories your response falls into. No, the 'pain' in yoga is definately better known as an awareness. Let me illustrate.
I woke up, I hurt. I moved every part of my body and discovered that everything apart from my toes, calves, face and neck was really achey. But, instead of seeing it as pain and drawing the inevitable conclusion that I had worked too hard/am unfit, I looked at the discomfort as awarenesses, and yielded the following: the awareness in my shoulders and upper back is the strongest...this makes sense because I know I have a lot of tension there, and after that session yesterday my shoulders felt so much freer and lighter, so it must have shifted some energy blockages... The awareness in my hamstrings and thighs is telling me that I worked them yesterday, but considering that I achieved so much with less effort than say, my shoulders, it tells me that they're in quite good shape...and so on.
See how much more effective it is? I also think it's more effective than those who say that there is 'good pain' and 'bad pain'. That expression is halfway there, but lets not forget the nuances of our body's awareness! There's also 'work this muscle group again tommorow' pain, and 'work this part of me less and that part of me more' pain as well as 'Jeez, you need an osteopath!' type pain.
So yeah, to my final analogy. This morning as I lay in bed, freshly awoken and throbbing with muscular awarenesses from yesterday's practice, I pondered. Yoga means to 'unite' and this whole idea fits in very well with my reflections, in particular being 'at one' with the physical body, and listening to its communications. Just as a dentist gives a disclosing tablet to a someone who needs awareness of where to brush their teeth more thoroughly, so does yoga give you an awareness of your own physical condition. The "awarenesses" I was experiencing were not only telling me where I'd worked and how hard, but they were giving me pointers for the future, making me aware of which bits needed more work and attention, and what my strengths and weaknesses are. I think this is also true of yoga practice in general- personally I find it very difficult to persevere with things that I find very physically challenging, especially when others can master those things easily. There's also a saying that rings true for me: 'it's better to do a little bit of something than an awful lot of nothing'. How true is that?!
What does yoga disclose about you?