8 September, 2015
I’m a new yoga teacher but I’m barely teaching. I don’t have a daily (physical) practice. I decide not to attend classes at the last minute. And I’m fine with it.
For years I’ve battled with a severe digestive disorder, but it wasn’t until last year (right around the time I decided to enrol in a teacher training course) that I decided to tackle things once and for all. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I’d been sitting around twiddling my thumbs until then, but I’d only been managing my symptoms rather than deciphering the underlying cause. In fact, until last year, I didn’t know it was possible to decipher the underlying cause. But that’s a-whole-nother story. Sometimes things get worse before they get better, which is what happened in my case. My symptoms flared up worse than ever.
Alongside digestive upsets, I’m often exhausted and in pain. Yoga can help those things, but it takes a lot of inner wisdom to know what’s best for you in any given moment. It’s something I continually struggle with. Countless teachers (me included!) have told their students to listen to their bodies and accept where they are right now. Don’t compare yourself to others, or to where you might have been last month or even yesterday. This yogic concept of santosha, or contentment, sounds easy but for me it’s a constant struggle. One day I’ll be able to do something I never thought was possible – like scorpion pose – and the next I’ll be rocking little more than a child’s pose.
I turned up to the studio one day and had a sudden turn, just before the start of class. Thankfully the teacher is a good friend of mine and didn’t mind if I took a restorative practice at the back of the room. There I was, in the middle of a vinyasa flow, bolstered to the max in supta badha konasana. That was such a lesson in patience. Everyone around you is practicing the way you want to be, but your body won’t play along.
I think this was a turning point for me with the concept of santosha. I could either fight it, trying to push my body to the limit and potentially end up crashing and burning and needing to take more time out to recover, or I could simply listen to the signals my body was trying to tell me right there and then: slow down, surrender to the moment, be kind to yourself. As Darren Main writes in Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic (great book, by the way), ‘As long as you believe that contentment will happen sometime down the road, you will never find it.’
Everything ebbs and flows. As a child, I was caught in a rip current at the beach and I’ll never forget the feeling of panic that overcame me. But if you fight against the current to try to swim back to shore, you’ll tire yourself out. It’s not until you accept where you are and let the current drag you out that you can rejoin the natural flow of the waves that will return you to shore.
This concept is not only applicable to people with health issues. A women’s cycle is connected to that of the moon, for example. It’s taken me a while to realise that during mine, I get much more out of doing restorative and yin practices for the week rather than pushing myself to ‘maintain’ my vinyasa practice – mostly out of a strange fear that I’ll ‘lose it’.
I also turned down the offer of a regular teaching class. I mediated about it for a while, and realised the only reason I was considering it was because I was worried that the offer wouldn’t come up again and that I’d be stupid to turn it down. I then realised the very little energy I do have needs to go to healing myself right now. Teaching regularly (I’m subbing at the moment) will return to me when I’m well enough.
I’ve also found a great practice for contentment is to appreciate what your body can do. I honestly can’t believe how well I can operate sometimes given what’s going on inside. But I also need to remember not to push it. And to be as content doing those crazy arm balances as when I’m rooting myself in child’s pose.