Attachment, Injury, and Letting go
Over the past few years, I’ve suffered more than a few injuries on my mat. First, it was pain in my hand. Then my shoulder. Next it was my SI joint. After that came my hamstring pull. Most recently, I tweaked my shoulder again trying to deepen Kapotasana. While just the number of injuries I’ve accrued in the last few years is perhaps alarming, the real cause for concern is the fact that I haven't given any of them time to fully heal. Every tweak, pull, and twinge I mentioned (and some that I didn't) are lingering because of my attachment to how I think my practice should look and feel.
This came to light last week while I was trying to force myself into lotus despite feeling knee pain (my knee issue predates my yoga practice, but if I’m honest, has most likely been exacerbated by it). Thankfully, this time the pain was bad enough that it set off alarms in both my body and mind. I couldn’t ignore it. I had an epiphany in that moment, and it came down like a ton of bricks.
I push way too fucking hard.
Out of fear of not being strong/advanced/good enough, I flagrantly disregard my own wellbeing in pursuit of being better. This isn't unique to yoga. I’ve spent my entire life abusing my body, mind, and spirit because I don’t feel good enough as I am. I’m attached to an idea of what I think I should be. As a teenager and young adult, that manifested itself in binge drinking, copious drug use, and dangerous eating disorders. As I matured, I let go of a lot of those punitive and escapist behaviors, but the underlying issue never went away. When I found yoga, it presented a perfect opportunity for it to rear its ugly head once again. I grew attached to my practice as a representation of my self worth. Eventually, it also became a tool for punishment when I came up short.
None of this was conscious, to be sure, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of it on some level. My teacher Tim Feldmann has repeatedly told me to relax during practice. My loved ones have often told me to cut myself some slack. But insecurity, by its very nature, makes you doubt even trusted information. It whispers menacingly into your ear, telling you that fear knows best. If it’s got a strong enough hold on you, you don’t even know that’s what you’re doing. You act accordingly and justify the behaviors. For me, I’ve long understood that I can be hard on myself, but when an actual instance came about, I had a millions reasons why THIS TIME I had to keep pushing. That’s how these behaviors work. We may be aware of them to a degree, but they are so ingrained that we can’t see the forest through the trees.
So, what to do? For starters, the evening of my aforementioned epiphany, I vowed to take light practice for as long as needed to finally heal these injuries. But don’t be fooled; I've not been instantly freed of this dysfunction. I have struggled with it for years and it won’t vanish just because I write a blog post about it. This will be a lifelong journey, but I can tell you that something feels different this time. These injuries are a sign. The discomfort is too great to ignore. My heart is finally opening to MY pain. I will modify in whatever way necessary, regardless of how depleted my practice may look and feel. I will drown out every voice but the one that says, “Lean toward love.” Maybe I won't be able to do a single Chaturanga for months. Perhaps Lotus is out of reach for years. So be it.
Thankfully, yoga provides the perfect road map for this exact thing. In fact, I believe that my awakening to this issue is because of my practice. As I said, I’ve been dealing with self-hate and abuse my entire life, and it was only after developing a disciplined yoga practice that I’ve come to understand it and find the strength to work through it. Yoga has a way of tearing down your ego (the source of insecurity) and building humility and compassion--true strength--in its place. This process, I’m told, repeats itself time and again throughout your life as long as you keep opening yourself to it. As someone said to me a few weeks ago, doing yoga is like doing laundry—wash, rinse, repeat. Again, and again, and again.
This is just one of many washing cycles I’ll go through. I’m eager to see what stains scrub clean.