Saturday, March 31, 2012

Forget your perfect offering...

A month just flew by in the blink of an eye.  Time is strange here.  The days are impossibly long, and yet the accumulative passing of them goes by in a flash.  I still have another week in Mysore, and many people have already left or are in the process of leaving this weekend.  There is much to catch up on since my last post, but mostly, if there's anything to know, it's that practice is practice is practice, whether you're at home or halfway around the world in Mysore, whether you're strong and rockin it or injured and crawling your way through the vinyasas.

In the last few weeks practice has taken an interesting plot twist for me.  I caught the bind in supta kurmasana just a day or two after my last blog, got moved on to the next bit of primary, the garbha pindasana to kukkutasana bit, then the following week got to go ahead with full primary.  Doing full primary means I'd get to work on dropping back.  But then a week and a half ago, I felt something pop in the right side of my chest as I was doing backbends from the ground.  I wasn't pushing myself to my edge, I was very much working within the realm of what's possible and even comfortable for me.  As I came back down to the ground, I was in serious pain.  If the pain had been on my left side, I would have seriously thought I was a having heart attack.  I couldn't finish the rest of the closing sequence, so I sat up, did the closing mantra, rolled up my mat and went home to lay down.  Next day I was in serious pain, literally crawling through the vinyasas.  I rested for a few days, since we had a moon day, then led class which I skipped, then Saturday off.  Sunday I practiced at home and it was so painful all I could do was cry.  Later that morning, I went to an ayurvedic bodyworker to see if I could get some relief.  He told me, "Pain is good sign, noooo problem.  Only in mind is there problem.  Your heart is opening, madame.  Happiness coming soon.  Yes, love coming too... coming very soon, maybe three or four days only.  No worry, pain good sign..." *head wobble*  The second opinion I received was a little more sobering.  It looked like I may have separated the rib from the cartilage that attaches to the sternum, and that I was looking at a six week minimum recovery, and perhaps as long as six months.

Three or four days later, I was still suffering, and I was coming to terms with the more grim prognosis of a long recovery.  Things were rough, and I was doing my best to handle it with grace and surrender.  To add insult to the injury, I came down with some awful upper respiratory infection, coughing, sneezing, sinus pressure hell.  It already hurt to breathe, and then with every cough and sneeze it was like a knife in my ribs.  It was so painful.  I mean, what the fuck, Universe?  I come to Mysore, prepared for whatever is in store for me, ready and willing to suffer if need be, and yet, my predicament seemed beyond ridiculous (and somehow entirely appropriate).  Of all the sicknesses I could get in India, I get the one that hits me right in the chest where I was already injured?  (And as far as being sick in India goes, I think I prefer the coughing and sneezing over the alternatives... but still).  I was suffering so badly, and yet the irony was not at all lost on me.  I started laughing about it, which was also very painful, but I think that's when something shifted...

I found a little book called The Yoga of Beauty.  It talks of beauty as one part of the holy trinity of the Good, the True, the Beautiful.  The trick is finding beauty in things that are not pretty and perhaps downright ugly.  There is plenty of art that is aesthetically and/or emotionally challenging that I find beautiful.  Some of the most beautiful moments of my life were ones marked by hardship.  The thing that makes something beautiful is not a set of some formal characteristics which are pretty, but it is a whole accumulation and unfolding of moments that lead to an aesthetic experience.  The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi is a good example of how we can celebrate imperfection.  If a vase is broken, it is put back together in a way that adorns and embellishes the cracks instead of attempting to hide the imperfection.  And as the very wise Leonard Cohen says, there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in...

I went to talk to Sharath about modifying my practice and to get any advice he may have about my situation.  He told me to breathe into the pain, stabilize my mind on my breath, and to only do half primary and skip the vinyasas in between right side and left side.  And so I put my full trust in him and did just that.  Sharath said something in one of the conferences (I'll post full notes on those when I get a chance) that despite the ups and downs of life, Guruji always had an evenness about him.  He said life is like the streets of San Francisco, up down up down, you never know what is coming, but to find a steadiness and ease regardless of the terrain, that is one of the gifts and rewards of yoga.  And so I wondered, is it possible to have a great practice when I'm this down and out?  Can I find the beauty in this pain no matter how ugly things feel?  Whenever I've been in pain in the past, I always pick little projects for myself to focus on.  Like with my shoulder injury, since I couldn't work on building strength in the vinyasas, I decided to work on bandhas and lengthening in the forward bends.  With this current injury and sickness, I decided that I would find a steadiness and ease in my breath and mind and have a good practice the next day.  And I did.  To a casual observer, I'm sure I looked hobbled and suffering, but I would say the energetic quality of my practice was as sweet and focused as the days I feel strong and totally rockin.  Each day of practice this past week, I felt marginally better, just enough to renew my faith and not lose hope.  The measure of progress in the practice is not if I can get my legs behind my head or jump back with grace and ease, but it is if I am becoming a better person, more clear, more open, more loving... and I think that I am...

Last night it rained in Mysore.  First rain in many months.  The sun was setting, and I went for a walk to enjoy the thunder and rain.  I realized that the last few days the pain in my ribs shifted.  It feels less like suffering and more like opening.  Big opening, filled with much joy and gratitude.  And I realized that happiness is not coming, it is already here...

Every heart, 
every heart to love will come, 
like a refugee... 
Ring the bell that still can ring, 
forget your perfect offering. 
There's a crack, 
a crack in everything... 
that's how the light gets in,
that's how the light gets in...

~Leonard Cohen


  1. Thanks for this post, Laura! Very beautiful. From what I hear and read, it seems as though mysterious and illogical things happen to people in India, whether it's on the mat or crossing the street. I'm curious to see what happens to me when I finally make it! All the best in your journey of healing. I look forward to reading more!

  2. Beautiful. And as you know, I've been right there with you via my own experience - rib pain accompanied by anger, then desperate tears, through to sickness, through to gratitude for both things happening and realising that everything unfolds just as it should. So happy to hear that things have turned the corner for you now and that (of course) Sharath was able to offer you some words which helped the process.

  3. Home safe n sound?

  4. Your writing is exquisite. Thank you so much for sharing your stories and your truth. Best wishes.

  5. Dear Laura, I am anxious to hear how you are recovering and hope your divinity is speeding you on your way.

    I feel close to you in a way that only a raw food enthusiast/vegan ashtangi estranged from her family could, and sometimes muse at the possibility that we could have potentially been real life friends (I just moved from Houston to Hawaii with my boyfriend so he can pursue his studies, UT Austin was his second choice). Anyway, many blessings & thanks for sharing your thoughts with the world, you have been a true inspiration!

  6. You write like a poet. It's beautiful.