Pain! Yogic pain! Get your “pain as a guru” here!

Via Ricardo das Neves
on Apr 28, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

Unhappy Toe

I miss the pain in my toe. It was one of the most enlightening pains ever.

Walking fast at the library about a week ago, I failed to see a low-lying railing, tripped over it, and fell headlong. I was down for the count but rose after a while, asserting, to anybody polite enough to ask, that I was fine. I’m a guy, after all. This is what guys do. They break a major bone in the body and then get up and say, “I’m fine!”

Well, after a while, everything didn’t seem to be fine. Not my swollen shin, not my painful toe. When I finally got to Urgent Care, an X-ray confirmed that luckily there was nothing broken. A tetanus shot later, plus some cleaning up of the blood from the shin wound, and I was out of there and on my road to recovery… one slowly-taken step at a time.

Pain can be a very thorough teacher, let me tell you. Since the accident, I no longer jaywalk, because just like the little old ladies with their walkers, I need the entire cycle of a traffic light to cross the street. I also used to avoid the elevator at my building because I thought it was too slow. Now I take it, even if I can read the complete works of Shakespeare in what it takes to move along six floors. Before the accident, my mind drove my body; now my body drives my body.

I learned that if I walk s-l-o-w, I can move without triggering the pain in the toe. As a yoga teacher I can’t avoid thinking this is the perfect metaphor for expanding the range of what you can do physically: you practice often till you acclimate yourself to a higher level of functioning — without pushing yourself into pain.

I also learned that life is very different when it’s my body dictating its pace than when it’s my mind telling my body how fast it should move to conform with time and schedules. Mind-driven, I overschedule myself and then struggle to meet deadlines. Body-driven, I walk taller, I feel everything, I’m not stressed. I’ll get there when I get there. Yes, I’ll be late a few times, miss the bus a few other times, but so what? I wasn’t goofing off, I tell myself, so this is how long it takes to get where I am at the pace at which I can move.

This new pace is as though I had decided to add “quality of experience” to the first few items on my to-do list. If on a regular basis I only had those first few things to tackle, I’d be fine most days; but as soon as I get started doing them I either become overambitious or am reminded of more things that need to be tacked on. Adding “Have a relaxed time of it” to today’s goals bumps off the last few items, yes, but since no matter how much I accomplish, there are always more things to do, I might as well surrender my quest for Doing Everything in favor of Quality of Experience.

Now that Pain as a Guru is subsiding, I have to remember its lessons. A friend called me while I was at the hospital and we got cut off before I could tell her what had happened; absent a description, her mind rushed to the worst and she told me later that she thought maybe I’d had a heart attack. I’d like to think that what with yoga and a healthy lifestyle, I’m not a prime candidate for these, but just in case, I hope that Pain as a Guru (and its attendant, Quality of Experience) is helping to improve the odds.

The funny thing is, one of my students is an avid skier. I’d previously told him that I’d probably never ski because I felt the risk of an accident outweighs the fun of skiing. When I told him my story, he replied something to the effect of, “I don’t know. If I were you, I’d avoid libraries. They seem pretty risky to me.” 🙂


About Ricardo das Neves

Ricardo das Neves is the author of Unenlightened: Confessions of an Irreverent Yoga Teacher, and is occasionally known to tweet (@spirithumor). See more VISUAL YOGA BLOGS here. When he’s not trying to be funny, he acts very serious teaching yoga classes in and around Seattle. Subscribe to future VISUAL YOGA BLOGS here. Connect with him on Google+


5 Responses to “Pain! Yogic pain! Get your “pain as a guru” here!”

  1. Lisa Giuffre says:

    Ah yes, I have been a student at the feet of the great pain-master myself. It is, as expressed an enlightening, consciousness expanding (though sometimes demoralizing) experience. It always serves to remind me that if you take just a small step to the side your perspective is entirely new and you are required to rethink your former assumptions.

  2. Having pain as a guru, I have been intending for gentler lessons. Still, I often learn the hard way.

    Thanks for a fun and wise look at listening to our bodies.

  3. Ricardo das Neves says:

    Ah, yes! Nothing like those side-steps where you go, "Huh?" As far as demoralizing… well, as a friend of mine said, rather than adding insult to injury, the thing is to add insight to injury. 🙂

  4. Ricardo das Neves says:

    Learning the hard way seems to be compatible with living in a physical body… 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Kyczy says:

    Nice… I hope I can learn from your experience (why is that so unlikely?) – but maybe for the next hour our so – I can let my body move my body and find that "this is how long it takes to get where I am at the pace at which I can move". If I can hold onto a few moments of mindful locomotion – I can save my toes, shins, hips, elbows or what ever else I find I have whapped against a table, counter, doorway.. in my haste from here to there.
    Thank you