June 10, 2010

Of Yoga, and working with Pain.

The Benefits of Opening to that which we Seek to Push Away.

Students often complain about and share their pain with me.

From my own experience, I see that we all initially reject pain, wish it away.

Every time I work with someone in pain I wish I could just take it away—and yet, over the years, I’ve been forced to work through my pain. I marvel at the courage, the transformation that can take place within all of us through accepting pain.

Pain often has complex origins that defy simple explanations and remedies; its voices speak to all dimensions of my being—physical, mental and spiritual. Pain slows me, restricts my movement, forces me to change my routine, demands that I find different patterns to explore, compels me to focus on unexpected aspects of my practice…aspects that I otherwise wouldn’t choose to go into.

Resisting pain can frustrate me, challenge my resolve to practice. Thus it’s essential to see that the obstructions that appear in my path, whether physical or mental, are meant to be there for my learning and growth. Somehow I have to trust the process, let go and see the potential openings, the advantages and new directions within the hardship. Often, this is how I find my way deeper into my practice.

For example, when I’m hurting, I learn how to practice more gently. I become more humble, less ambitious and goal-oriented. Pain forces me to deal with frustration, and the arrogance of thinking that my conscious mind knows exactly how to go further along my path. I’m inclined to be more caring, tender-hearted, happier with less. When I am a little blue, I’m more serious about important matters. I’m better able to withdraw inward and cultivate an open, relaxed mental attitude.

Ganesh is the lord of obstacles, a mascot of Yoga, a rotund, elephant headed, winking, fun loving prankster who loves laddo’s (yummy indian sweets) and rides a rat. Since he’s in charge of obstacles, he’s intimately involved in Yoga practice! Whenever I encounter an obstacle in practice, Ganesh the sly trickster is either the instigator and/or the remover of it. He deals in every phase of obstacles: creating, sustaining, and removing them. According to his assessment of my spiritual needs, he plays with obstacles to keep me on track to my secret heart.


He occupies a special place in my heart because he lightens the load of spiritual discipline. Looking within is often painful and unpleasant, in fact, facing my shadow and ugliness is much of what stands between me and Self knowledge. Ganesh portrays an image of playfulness and lightness; through his intervention, I confront and transform the pain, grief, anger, and other heavy blockages within me. His image, his habits, and even his vechicle all contribute to him disarming his devotees, catching us off guard with enough paradox and humor to set an optimal mood for us to tackle our darkness with empathy and grit.

One of Ganesh’s main celestial weapons is the noose. The noose symbolizes a physical and mental lassoing of my person, a yoking that happened to me when I became dedicated to a daily practice. This yoking involves tapas (heat, friction, discipline in service of Spirit). Each technique in ashtanga adds tapas, generates energy, and functions in a specific way to bring awareness to my movement and mental activity. Working physically with asana builds cleansing heat and makes me strong and flexible and able to stay in chosen positions for increasingly longer duration. Bandhas are ‘locks’ and are used for ‘sealing’ the torso in order to stoke the internal fire and gather Prana (life force). Vinyasa can be defined as sequential, sacred movement and posture performed with seamless concentration. Dristi is training my self to maintain my gaze where I choose.

I use these techniques like I use a pressure cooker, with attention and care. I utilize discipline, mental power, intention, intuition, and skill to go within and tap my resources. I apply pressure to my self, with the intention of generating creative energy to pierce through and perceive reality. It is important for me to use caution when working with life force in these ways. I must take the process seriously, care for and respect my self. It can take tremendous power and courage look within at anger, greed, and other my various forms of ugliness. And then Instead of condemning my self, or hiding or perpetuating the negative thought patterns, I use my life force to generate consciousness, love and empathy. I make it a practice toI forgive my self and go to the deep place where I see how unnecessary those patterns are.

And if I get the recipe right, I win the freedom to choose how to share the infinite gifts I’ve been given.
Here’s a line from a poem by Rumi:

Stay in the joy of now
The way is usually downward,
through humility and grief into union.

That center is a flowing spring,
a love and clarity.

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