Illness occurs, injury happens and we aren’t to blame ourselves.
“We are given changes all the time. We can either cling to security, or we can let ourselves feel exposed, as if we had just been born, as if we had just popped out into the brightness of life and were completely naked.” ~ Pema Chodron
I am yoga teacher, a mom and wife, and until 13 months ago I defined myself by physical and mental strength.
This all changed when I herniated L4-L5 disc in my spine, and became an “unwilling slave” to my sciatic and sacral nerve pain. I believe this injury is a huge message. I’m therefore changing the way I participate in the world. As Caroline Myss states so beautifully, “our biography becomes our biology.”
So here I am.
Before my injury last year, I was stressed out while working to open a studio. I abandoned the business project halfway through. My body was in overdrive for many months before relinquishing it. My inside world was confused: on one hand I was relieved to let go of the project, on the other hand I felt anxious, and felt like a failure. And I think that living in this compromised environment of fight or flight contributed to the injury.
My teacher, Saul David Raye teaches that in order to heal—of body, mind or spirit we have to find balance within the ritam or rhythms of life and harmonize our internal rhythms: our masculine and feminine qualities, our earth-water-air-fire qualities within to the natural world and the pulse of all of life.
Our subconscious mind responds faster then the conscious mind, thus no matter how much I consciously want to heal, I am bound to the belief systems embedded in my subconscious mind until those change. The subconscious will always respond by protecting us from what it perceives as danger. When we respond in fear, we send our body into that state of fight or flight—a state of protection, contraction and separation. When we are in this state, the body will put our blood into the muscular-skeletal system so we can “run from the tiger”. Sadly, many of us are currently living in a perpetual fight or flight response and our bodies are breaking down.
I am aware of certain mental patterns, lifestyle choices and responses that have potentially led to my injury. Why in rehab, have I not been able to fully heal?
When I spoke with my teacher about the return of my injury, he invited me first to check in with unresolved emotions, beliefs, samskaras (life experiences that get caught in cellular and subconscious memory) or karmas that may not have been cleared the first time I experienced this physical injury. At first I was resistant, in my head I believed last year I already “did my work” (as if doing our work can be squeezed into a time period and is not lifelong?). This attitude created yet another wave of suffering in me—blindsided by physical pain and more tightening, and confused as to why “it” is in my life. I was doing my best to stay positive and didn’t want to revisit the emotions, the samskaras and the karmas.
The yogis believe that the physical manifestation of ourselves is just one small part of what makes us whole. Each one of us, instead, have five bodies, or koshas (sheaths) and that we must integrate our five bodies in order for any real healing or true manifestation of ourselves to take place. When thinking of the koshas, I often imagine the self as one of those Russian dolls—the wooden dolls that you twist open to find yet a smaller version of the same doll inside?
The first doll, or sheath, annamayakosha, is the house we live in—our physical body—flesh, bones, organs, blood, muscles, etc.
The second sheath, pranamayakosha, is the energy body, or the breath body. This is our life force, our vitality.
The third sheath, manomayakosha, is our mental body- the conscious software that we live with that guides our behaviors and decisions.
The fourth sheath connects with vijnanamayakosha, which is our higher intelligence and emotions, and the forth sheath, our inner guidance, our intuitive, visioning self.
Inside lies the fifth sheath, anandamayakosha, the bliss body, the essence of us that can not be destroyed, our soul.
Inside all five sheaths sits jiva, the golden thread that connects us to all living things in the universe, or spirit. Each sheath has intricate effects on the others.
If our breath is shallow, our energy is affected and so is our physical body. If our mind is stubborn and stuck, this will reflect our energy and physical body. If we are not connected with our emotional and intuitive body, we may make decisions that put our body, or mind at risk.
When we give ourselves moments to connect with our different layers of bodies; when we slow down, deepen our breath opening space inside, we can connect to our core. The connection to the true self allows the perception of ourselves to shift.
In yogic philosophy there is also the law of karma. We come into this body with layers of karma and continue to create more in this lifetime. Karma is a complex system of “what goes around comes round” and is woven into the fabric of our cells, our memory, our actions and thoughts. Karma accumulates from past lifetimes and the universal wheel of karma, called Sanchita Karma. We can investigate by looking deep at patterns that continue to haunt our lives, such as finding ourselves in the same type of destructive relationships time and time again, reoccurring addictive behaviors, etc. There is Agami Karma, or all the karmas we start accumulating since we were born in this lifetime only. These are our the actions, thoughts, and intentions that we choose that will either help us to clear karma or create more, which is the karma most of us think of when we hear the word.
Lastly there is Prarabdha Karma, or the purpose of this life, the experiences that your soul needs to grow in the here and now. These are the “there are no mistakes” life events, the magic moments, albeit painful ones, that help us to grow, such as an accident, in an illness or injury, a loss of job, a lover leaving, or other life events that sometimes feel out of our control. Our problem, is we often get stuck by such life events and fall into the “why me?” trap. The idea is to instead, seek the lesson, the blessing or the “ah-ha” moment, be grateful for the experience and let go, what is important will stick.
There is a deep calling to be free from our karmas, which will continue to present experiences through this lifetime and beyond, until this freedom happens.
A classic fable about clinging to our attachment comes from India, where monkey trappers carved a hole into a tree trunk just big enough for the monkey’s hand to fit through. The hunters put food inside the hole (via the backside of the tree). When the monkey put her hand through the hole and reached the food, she was unable to pull her hand with the food out of the hole. She stays there clinging to her food until the hunters capture her. All she had to do was let go and she would have been free. Instead she chose to cling to her death. Many of us live our lives similar to the monkey. Clinging on to our ways, our karmas—when we have the choice to let go and we be free.
What techniques can I apply to allow my body to heal? How can I get out of my own way? Re-write my subconscious? Release the samskaras from my many sheaths? Shed my karmas?
“Be within“, I hear my inner voice shout, “or be without“.
Here is where I sit still and still sit. I ask for protection with prayer, with breath, with laughter. Guided by nature, love, my family, my teachers and the releasing of my old ways that keep me stuck. Deepak Chopra reminds us “to resurrect your soul, you must do the opposite of what your past conditioning tells you to. Instead of turning to a higher power, you turn to yourself. Instead of leaving your body behind, you take it on the spiritual journey.”
Pain is a great teacher. It is a key back to our true nature. Pain may be felt in one region of the physical body, but it vibrates from and through the energetic, intellectual, emotional, wisdom, soul and spirit bodies. From the western or eastern philosophy or medicine, aside from trauma, almost all injury can be traced back to patterns that were ongoing leading up to the injury or illness. Thus I continue to dig deeper to examine patterns. From the way I stand or contract my muscles, to the way I react when I feel threatened, or the way I respond to love and affection. My physical pain, as I see it, is begging me to, “live in the layers” of my self, and to rehabilitate from the outside in, and the inside out, and everywhere in between.
I go into the pain. And I find myself there waiting.
The sanskrit word “sukah” translates as, “to be in a good space, to be in light”. “Dukah” however, means to be in a bad space, to be in darkness. My teacher reminds me that the difference between sukah and dukah is no more no less then a state of mind. The circumstance is the same on the outside. There is a choice to see it as light, or see it as dark.
This has become my yoga. Accepting it all. Finding what works for me. Finding the sukah.
I am grateful for the gift of being humbled this year. I am learning to be kinder to myself and listen deeper to my body’s calling, instead of pushing myself beyond a healthy place. I am compassionate towards others who may be suffering and in pain. I am releasing the pressure of other people’s impressions of me and my need to “be strong”. I am reminded that my worth is not determined by strength, but by my ability to ask for help, and allowing myself to receive it. I again meet my yoga practice, the study, my meditation, my breath.
I have been able to work with handful of amazing healers from all traditions, east and west and am beginning to find my personal expression of how I choose to balance the two. I am allowing my husband, my son and friends to cheer me up and bring me back when I go into the dark crevices of why me? I am reminded by how truly devoted my family is to me, allowing that deep feeling of love to penetrate every cell. I welcome the moments of physical relief, saying yes to faith, being grateful for the gift of yoga.
I am still learning to let go, to be with what is. To find my inner grace when these challenging moments crawl into the every bit of it all. To be with my experiences as they unfold in me and to face them with an open heart and a generous spirit and lots of laughter.
My beloved husband Robert has said since the injury came through me last year, that this experience is meant to take me somewhere, “to my calling” he says.
And today, I feel he is right. It is meant to take me on the long journey back home to myself.
Sherry Sidoti founded FLY Yoga on Martha’s Vineyard, MA and Southern California. She teaches Vinyasa, Holistic and Prenatal Yoga & Soulful Fitness Programs, and produces Yoga influenced events and concerts via her business, FLY Events. Sherry’s hope is to remind us all that “the cage is not locked”. Spread your wings.
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