Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pain is my guru...

Ganesha, the creator & remover of obstacles.
"New asana, new pain."  "If yoga causes pain, yoga cures pain." "Pain is your guru."  These are just a few of the peculiarly wise, often funny, and sometimes debatable Guruji-isms ashtangis like to rattle off as it suits them.  I guess these about pain are similar to my particular favorite, "no coffee, no prana," and, well, who the hell am I to argue with that one?! 

I've been thinking a lot about pain in relation to my ashtanga practice because, well, lately I've been experiencing pain that has resurfaced from an old shoulder injury.  A few years ago, I had a complete tear in the labrum and partial tears in some of the ligaments that hold the shoulder together.  I tried to rehab it for half a year with alternative methods like herbs and acupuncture and some ass kicking medieval torture physical therapy, and then went ahead and opted for the surgery my orthopedic specialist recommended from the get go.  He said there was no way to heal a complete tear like that with the level of edema I had, the labrum would not reattach to itself.  So, after a very painful surgery, I had a long road of recovery which left me completely immobilized for 2 months, followed by more than a year of intense, brutal rehab.  It sucked.  Big time.  I got really depressed during that time of my life.  I couldn't wash my own hair, or dress myself, or pull my pants up after I peed, or drive my car (stick shift), much less continue my tai chi practice which I was really in love with and totally committed to.  I gained a bunch of weight, having gone from very active and happy in my life to completely laid up and totally depressed.  I was on lots of narcotic painkillers, which definitely didn't help my mental state even though they helped with the physical pain.  Those were some very dark days that I'd prefer not to think about.  I've come so far since then through a lot of persistent, deep, hard work on every aspect of myself.  I've put in a metric ton of sweat and tears to be the healthy, active, joyful, and contented person I am today.  There really is no substitute for sweat.
Screaming Artist, lithograph by Fritz Scholder

And so I noticed something peculiar these last few days when my shoulder started acting up.  My temper started acting up too.  I was getting frustrated and angry very easily, for no particular reason really, and I was reminded very quickly how closely physical pain and emotional pain are tied together.  Pain is an interesting thing, even when acutely physical, it can have an even greater impact emotionally and spiritually.  I don't really mind a certain degree of physical pain, I've got a pretty good tolerance to it up to a certain threshold.  But all the attendant repercussions, or perceived repercussions, of it are where the challenges really lie.  The fear, the dependence on others, the asking for help, the cutting back or total elimination of activities I love, the feelings of weakness and vulnerability, feelings of failure, of not being good or strong or mindful enough.  All that stuff is totally bogus when you really take a good long look at it, but these things like to come up and rear their ugly heads when you're down and out.  Funny, that... Just remember to enjoy a nice cathartic scream every once in a while...

So where does this leave me with my practice?  On the one hand, I don't want to unquestioningly submit to the fear that I could re-injure myself and use that as justification to let myself off the hook in moments when I can push through and get to something deeper.  Pain can be an opportunity, a key, a doorway, and by confronting it and walking through it, it can lead me to places I've never dreamed of, in really awesome, empowering ways.  Where there is fear, there is power, and confronting pain and working with it can lead to all new, previously inaccessible, feelings of wholeness and health, strength and focus.  On the other hand, I really-seriously-for-real don't want to f'in re-injure myself and compromise a happy, healthy, strong body and mind ready for the intensity of daily practice in Mysore in just six weeks!

So, I just acknowledged to myself all this emotional stuff as it was triggered by the shoulder pain, patted myself on the head, and said, "you'll be ok, this is probably just old stuff purging itself and not indicative of a new injury."  And then I decided to give myself an extra rest day on Monday, which was the day after it started hurting.  I was feeling hungry and weak in general that day too (three weeks into my fast) and with my shoulder aching, I decided not to push myself, to just simply rest, peacefully, with no affliction or conflict about my decision.  I picked my practice back up on Tuesday and managed it with just a few minor modifications... not even trying to bind marichyasana d, and taking it easy in all the chaturangas.  That night my shoulder was aching again.  It felt dislocated and had a sharp soreness in the joint and behind my shoulder blade.  I had restless sleep that night and called my chiropractor first thing on Wednesday.  She popped me all back into place, and I went ahead to the new Mysore class I mentioned in my blog last week.  I decided to just be easy on myself, to just enjoy my practice wherever it is and not to push too hard.  And you know what?  I had an awesome practice, I felt more present in each asana, deepening my relationship to my breath and movement.  My heart felt more open, and practice felt very sweet in a new way.  I simply felt an openness and gratitude and joy to be there, to be practicing.  And I didn't even modify all that much, other than doing girly chaturanga (with knees down) and skipping the shoulder stand asanas in the closing sequence.  And I feel okay.  The shoulder may take some time to come back around and join the party.  I may not be able to push as far as I want with my upper body strength just yet, and that's okay.  There is plenty of room to grow within the practice in other ways, and I am open and look forward to those opportunities. 

And so I am learning something very important.  Pain in and of itself is not a bad thing.  It is a teacher, and it is a healer.  I'm not going to ever say, "I'm in pain, no practice today," because that will not serve me.  I will listen to my body, and if I am legitimately injured, I will recognize that and take time to heal.  But there is no reason to turn away from practice altogether.  It's all about finding the intelligent edge and backing off just a bit when necessary.  Pain is an opportunity, so instead of asking myself if I should practice, I will ask, "how can this pain guide me today into a deeper understanding of myself and my practice, how may it be of service?"  And I will follow it to wherever it leads me, and I will revel in what I find there.  Pain is a guru.  It is a key.  A doorway.  Walk through...

Novantatre, from the Me + You series by Laura Lea Nalle
Pain is a treasure, 
for it contains mercies.
The kernel is soft 
when the rind is scraped off.
Oh brother, 
the place of darkness and cold
is the fountain of life 
in the cup of ecstasy.
So also is endurance of pain 
and sickness and disease.
For from abasement 
proceeds exultation.
The spring seasons are 
hidden in the autumns.
And the autumns 
are charged with springs.


  1. Happy New Julian Year, Merry Merging with Divine Feminine Year, and most of all - congrats on furthering your self-realization via yoga practice! Beautifully written blog. I hope you don't mind my commenting.

    I interpret the crux of this most recent transformation to have manifested with the chiropractor's you know, technically speaking, what actually occurred during and following that treatment to allow you this sensation of allowing & increased range of motion? Was it muscular tension and release of said tension? I am entering an Anatomy course in the Spring, toward a new degree path in Medicine, and I am curious about what aspect of the injury was treated to bring about new strength (?)

    Another point of interest I found in this story is with regard to the unsuccessful treatments/therapies prior to your surgery. I hear this more and more from friends/colleagues - the Eastern methods, and some of the newer PT therapies - are just not getting results in serious injury & chronic pain cases. It is so so frustrating for patients, and their families, as many of these regiments are not covered by insurance, and require multiple, weekly visits to really 'move qi' effectively. In the last year living with PTSD and fibro-esque pain bouts, I tried homeopathy, Chinese herbs for various symptoms, acupuncture, PT, aquatic exercise, you name it. Nothing, aside from muscle relaxants & good company, worked. I felt the very best about my situation when I agreed to allow time to plug distance btwn me and the trauma. Allowing healing - what a slow, tedious process, but an attitude that makes a whole hellofalotta difference when holistic health is being nurtured to equilibrium.

    I'm not so much into embracing pain - though I see it as a powerful arising, and impermanent, thankfully. I have worked with trainers in the past who immediately augmented my workout if any knee pain started (I tore my ACL years ago). From their perspective, it was too risky to 'push through' and ignore the signal. I would insist that I was tough enough to withstand a little twinge, or a spike (!), bc surely it wasn't going to re-injure, and post-injury like that, it's always going to feel scary when the brain recalls the original blowout. Right? But what I found was, again, I had to gracefully attune to what remained of old pain, and find new ways to listen that kept my goals on track.

    Cha cha cha! XO

  2. Hi, thanks for commenting. Since I wrote this blog a few days ago, I was still having a considerable amount of pain, so I went back to the chiro for another visit right away. I think we determined I had tweaked my infraspinatus muscle, which is one of the four that operate the rotator cuff. It is responsible for the external rotation of the arm, and I think all the down dogs and chaturangas in my yoga practice aggravated it (I have been actively working on developing my strength in that area, so I had been pushing myself beyond my current capacities, and I reckon I pushed too far). My chiro adjusted me again and then hooked me up to the e-stem machine. It was painful! And I was really sore all day but I think it relaxed the muscle enough to help facilitate the healing. I've taken two days off my practice to just rest it, and today I'm planning on picking it back up and just going as easy as necessary. The shoulder feels ok, maybe 80% back to normal. I hope it stays that way after my practice today.

    The thing with this injury is that I think the shoulder joint as a whole is weakened and that creates the potential for a whole slew of other problems. At the root of the problem, I need to strengthen all the muscles and ligaments that support my shoulder. The thing is, I've been pain free for more than a year, maybe two, and have been very active during that time with no problems. I'm hoping this is just a blip on the radar in the scheme of things.

    Regardless, I am being proactive as possible in healing it. I have been looking into other rehabilitative therapies which look promising. There is something called prolotherapy where a doctor injects the injured area with a solution that causes the area to trigger the healing response. It helps promote the body's natural response to strengthen weakened tissue. Here's the wiki link and google will tell you a lot more, including videos of the procedure:

    One version of prolo uses your own platelet rich plasma (PRP) which is a more aggressive therapy for more severe injuries. Had I known about PRP during my original injury, I would have tried that before surgery. I have a prolo appt at the end of this week and will report back in earnest! It takes a few sessions to produce the desired results, so I have just enough time to do 2, maybe 3 before my trip to India. They say you know if it's working after the 2nd treatment.

    Also, I am a big advocate for kinesio tape! Are you familiar with it? Check it out, it's helped me a bunch for running injuries, and I've been using it for my shoulder too. There are a lot of youtube videos showing how to properly apply the tape for various sorts of injuries. Definitely need to learn how to use it properly, and I've had great success with it.

    And just one last thought on the difference btwn curing and healing... Curing comes from the outside, taking a pill, or having surgery... healing comes from within, using the body's native mechanisms to fix the problem. I try to stay focused on treatments that work with the body's innate healing ability. Sometimes those take longer to manifest benefits, but in the long term, I think it is probably the most effective route to go when working toward long term, sustainable health and wellness.

  3. Karma?
    The word karma would mean much to all of us, for some it is the result of all the deeds done in the past, and the results we caarue from them and so on, If we deeply study the scriptures , Karmas are differentiated into as many as 24 types or even more , But for the understanding of the masses it is generalised in to 3 as Prarabdh, Sanchit and kriyamaan,
    praarabdh; is the karma , we would be exhausting in this life of ours.
    Sanchit; is the sum total of all our past Karmas
    Kriyamaan; is the set of new karmas we wud be performing.
    Praarabdh , decides our birth ,parents, education , spouse, career etc, Some of these like parents and place of birth cannot be changed, But if a person takes on to the path of spirituality then he can with effort +Grace of God alter certain factors like education, careerr and so on. It is said of Panini the ancienT sanskrit grammarian, that he did not have any education line in his hand and a palmist said that he would never excel in studies , But Panini took a knife and drew a line , and showed the palmist and said, i with my hardwork make this cut on my hand transform in to a line.

    One need not literally take a knife and cut or carve a line as Panini did, for merely carving a line on palm did not just bring the change , but the sincere hardwork that accompanied it.
    In the case of Buddha , an astrologer who learnt the science for 12 yrs traced the foot steps of Buddha and said him, your feet bear the marks of a monarch of this world, How then do you walk barefooted, Does this mean my 12 yrs of study is untrue?
    To this The Buddha replied, no what you have read is correct , Iam a monarch but not of this world, but of a world that is far superior to this , and if only you could know the other world , You could know , what i speak about .
    The most important set of Karmas on which we should focus and have a say is the Kriyamaan Karmas, This is the set of Karmas which we perform consciously, though we are prompted by Praarabdh and Sanchit , still if a man exercises his will properly then he can alter the course of his Kriyamaan Karma,
    Seeking guidance of Divine being goes on a long way to alter our Kriyamaan karma,
    The easiest way of understanding the philosophy of Karma is 'As you sow. So you reap'. On the other hand apart from the human factor if any man can make up to call upon the providence to cruise through his Karma, it would verily be possible for him to steer through .
    By the grace of H.H.Ashutosh Ji Maharaj many sadhaks who are earnestly pursuing this path of sadhna have seen the lines of their palm altered for better, There are even some sadhaks whose lives have been saved , thereby extending their span so that they can accumulate their rseve of good karmas and destroy their bad karmas in the fire of divine knowledge or GyanAgni.
    LordKrishna has stated in the Gita ,
    Yathai dansi smidha agni basmsat kurute arjuna
    GyanAgni sarv karmani basmsaat kurute tathaa.
    Which means as the fire in the sacrificial altar consumes all the offerings poured in to it, similarly the fire of Knowledge, (the lght of God perceived through ThirdEye ,) destroys all the sins commited by jivatma in the past.
    So scriptures state that each and everyman should seek initiaion into BrahmGyan which leads to kindling of GyanAgni within the inner portal of a human being , so that he can be relieved of his sins and attain salvation.
    for such a path one can approach any of the centres of Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan , near to their place and get initiated into BrahmVidya , and attain salvation.
    log on to

  4. This post spoke deeply to me... I'm still recovering from tearing my supraspinatus. It has been a long, painful, effective teacher. Thanks for sharing this and I wish you much healing and all the best in your practice.