I have been a bit quiet recently, but there is a reason. And I have to say, Chanukah could not have come at a better time for me. These past few weeks have been intensely painful for me, and I have not been sure how to write about them. My hip pain became debilitating sciatica essentially overnight. A trip to Urgent Care, a failed MRI, medication, yoga, breathing, stretching, relaxing, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage all ensued. The pain just got worse.
And all I keep thinking is, “I’m a yoga teacher!!! How am I in this much pain?!”
But then this beautiful and deeply personal post arrived from Roseanne at It’s All Yoga Baby. In it she describes her own recent depression and writes:
Underneath it all, however, is a vague sense that I’m failing at my practice, that I’m as broken and f[‘]d up as I was before I committed to yoga (chronic and clinical depression was what drove me to practice in the first place), that the practice isn’t working. There’s also the vague sense that I’m not allowed to be feeling this way – there are many stories of miraculous healing from depression (and everything else) through yoga, but nobody talks about the relapses. I feel like I’m doing something wrong.
While my issue has been more physical (though I fully believe physical pain can and does stem from emotional pain), I fully understand her sentiment here. I have been feeling embarrassed about the pain on several fronts, but mostly because I’m 30 years old, and I’m a yoga teacher. How can I be in such debilitating pain, especially from what appears to be really, really tight muscles.
It is extremely easy to get caught up in the pain and ignore the lessons. I would say I sort of have been living in that space. But there are brief reprises, brief moments where I can take the time and not only cognitively, but energetically and emotionally, see the gifts and lessons the pain has to offer. And the Festival of Lights has helped me see that.
First, as discussed before, our darkest places bring us closer to compassion and connection with others. I never fully understood how debilitating physical pain can be until the past two weeks. As a yoga teacher and a lawyer, I deal with people suffering from all varieties of pain. Having had an experience to relate to that pain changes not only how I interact with the person, but how they respond to what I say. It is very easy to stand on the outside, look at someone, and give them all sorts of ideas of how to make their lives “better.” It is quite different to look at them and say, “I feel what you are experiencing. I experienced something similar myself, and you are right. It is debilitating.”
This pain has taught me a different level of compassion as well. I often get upset with people who turn everything into a story about themselves and their own experiences. But these past two weeks, it has been comforting to hear from people who understand how painful sciatica is. I get a bit overwhelmed with everyone offering different advice, but the sympathy and understanding has been greatly beneficial. As a result, I have learned the importance of connecting with others through our own stories. We can offer our stories less as a way to say, “Look at me and my suffering” and more of a way to say, “I understand, and I know you can get better.”
And of course, this pain has been the universe’s way of telling me to slow down. That is a lesson I am not heeding so well. But I have learned where I feel comfortable letting go and where I still need to work. I have said it before, and I believe it even more today, meditation and yoga are “easy” at an ashram. I put easy in quotes because they are never actually easy, but they fit a structure and their lessons come more quickly. But try meditating in Times Square. Try meditating when the pain is searing through your leg. Try just breathing when you feel like all hope is lost.
And amazingly, in those moments, sometimes the breath does come. And for a brief glimpse of relief, the breath softens whatever is currently hardening us. It may be one breath in a hundred, but that one breath can be what keeps us going. And that has been the greatest lesson so far. Even when I feel as divorced from my practice as ever, something (or someone) always manages to bring me back.
It may feel like it needs a miracle similar to the miracle of Chanukah, but the holiday can help remind us that we all have that light within, and even when it feels impossible to reach, we can turn to it, and it can offer us a little hope that things can get better.
What lessons have you learned from stress, pain, depression, etc.? Are you able to find those brief glimpses of coming back to yourself? What helps?
© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.