November 7, 2013

In Sickness & in Health: Using Yoga to Get Through Sickness.

About a week ago, I was laid out with one of the worst colds I ever had.

To say that I was miserable is an understatement. Usually, I am the stoic sort who takes a few glugs of echinacea tincture and just goes about my daily activities.

However, it just wasn’t going to happen this time.

Instead, I ended up in bed the better part of three days only rising from time to time to occasionally eat and care for my daughter when there was no one else around to help me look after her. During those other times when I was rummaging through my medicine cabinet for anything—homeopathic, conventional, or otherwise—that promised temporary relief from my symptoms or wondering (half-seriously) if this was “the end,” I was cursing the fact that I was missing my regular yoga practice.

Despite the fact that intellectually, my mind knew there was no way in holy hell I should step foot in the studio, my body was craving some form of asana. (I’m sure it was probably just my imagination, but at some point, I could have sworn that I could feel my hamstrings tightening up.)

Eventually, I started to feel better. Despite the fact that my ears still felt like they were stuffed with cotton wool and I had a slight cough, I deemed myself well-enough to attend morning Mysore practice. I impressed myself by getting through the entire first series and thought, “Hey, not too bad!” I was back—or so I thought.

Turns out, I was wrong. The next day, my cold symptoms were worse than they had ever been and my entire body felt like it had been stretched on a rack.

I learned my lesson, but it was too late. The irony was not lost on me. As a yoga instructor, I always remind my students to listen to their bodies and not practice certain poses or practice at all if something feels off. I freely admit that I was a victim of my own ego and pride: I thought I knew better when clearly, I did not.

However, the experience did allow me to reflect on the many ways that yoga can be used to help get us through sickness.

By “yoga” I am not talking about “asana” but all the other eight limbs as well but especially the one dealing with the yamas including ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), and aparigraha (non-covetousness).

If I were really practicing yoga and being truthful with myself, I would have realized that my body and mind needed rest and relaxation. The truth is—thanks largely to my upbringing by my Protestant grandmother who believed that idle hands are the work of the devil—it is hard for me not to do something even when I “deserve” not to. Add to that the “mommy guilt” that I was feeling for not being able to give my full attention to my daughter, and I thought that I was really letting myself slide.

I wanted to be practicing at the same level I was at when I was well even though it was not possible. Coveting what I wanted rather than what I had further went against the true meaning of yoga but again, I was not aware of it until after the fact when my achy body was sending me a message that my mind had refused to accept.

Once I accepted that my asana practice was going to have to wait until I got better, I thought of the ways I could use my yoga to help my heal. To begin with, I thought of the whole purpose of yoga: the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. Granted, trying to still my mind considering all the physical and mental stuff that was going was hard, but once I got closer to it, I could tap into what what I needed: In addition to rest, I need quiet. I needed stillness both mentally and physically. As I already proved to myself, going against that was a disaster. At some point, I would be able to return to my regular asana practice but presently, I had to accept what is.

As I write this, I am still battling my cold. I am getting better, but I am still not ready to get back on the mat.

While I am still not happy about that, I am able to accept it and practice in my yoga in other ways. In some ways, being forced to slow down has been a blessing of sorts.

I cannot say that I am looking forward to the next time I am sick but hopefully, I will be able to listen to myself, slow down, and take the time I need to focus on me.

Plus, perhaps I am finally learning what that “middle way” is really all about.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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