Monday, February 14, 2011

Sometimes the obstacle is the path

One of the most surprising (although I’m not sure why) things I learned when I began teaching yoga was that almost everyone has some kind of physical injury or pain going on—all the time.

A few months ago at an “all levels” yoga class I teach once a week, I noticed a man sitting on his mat who I had not seen before. So I went up to him, introduced myself, and asked if he had practiced yoga before and if he had any injuries that I should be aware of. He looked up at me and said, “Just a broken heart. Can you fix that?”

Having nursed my own broken heart, I know that the recovery process is not much different from a physical injury. It can be long and fraught with ups and downs. And physical injuries are sometimes a manifestation of a hidden emotional wound. I’ve had a deep-muscle hip injury (from doing yoga poses improperly and chronically in my early practice) for probably half a dozen years, and for many of those years it was a rollercoaster of pain. A pain in the butt to be exact.

When the injury was first diagnosed I went to physical therapy several times a week. With the help of stretchy bands, scary exercises involving big plastic balls, heat, ice, and painful elbow-jabbing massage, my hip and buttock muscles were worked to, what do they call it, “failure”? While there was initially a big improvement, it eventually slid back into a low-grade, nagging ache.

Sometime later at a yoga retreat, I saw a yoga therapy specialist to see if she could help. She quickly diagnosed the problem and gave me a handful of targeted exercises and yoga postures. More importantly, when I asked if I should stop my yoga practice or do these as part of that, she said, “For now, this is your practice.” That wisdom is what finally allowed me to rethink the way I was looking at my injury, ask myself just what was causing this “pain in the butt,” and over time emerge nearly fully recovered.

Sometimes the tendonitis in a knee, frozen shoulder, or lower back pain that we allow to sideline us is the very thing we need to bring our body to a stronger, more whole place. An injury may also signal an emotional hurt that needs attention and healing. For example, just what needs “thawing” with a frozen shoulder? Then, instead of avoiding movement because of an injury or its pain, it becomes the core of our daily practice. Letting that dictate our actions, our attention, our regular exercise, may prove the gift to finding a better path—to a healed heart and body.

If you want more insight into the mental causes for physical illness or “dis-ease,” check out You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay. Some people think she’s a little nutty, but I’m more of a fan. And for whatever ails you--heart or hips--treat yourself to Aztec Hot Chocolate, appropriately described as a "sweet-and-spicy recipe that is just what the love doctor ordered." Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How did I come to write this blog?

Warning to readers: the path is circuitous. It also involves whales.

On December 31, 2009 when I typically plot my intentions for the New Year, I couldn’t do it. It’s a ritual I’ve had for about the past five New Year’s eves—after a string of too many always-a-let-down “celebrations.” An acquaintance had told me how she burned things to be free of them, meditated, and did other rituals to rid herself of the old and ring in the new, and this sounded like something I could try. So, I flung myself into this personal celebration. And for the most part, it has been a success.

But in my heart of hearts, I’m really not the goal-setter type (or the type to burn things), and that year I just didn’t want to reprise the whole enterprise. I really just wanted things to be different. Preferably, by magic. 2009 had proven that not much was within my control, even with clear intentions and a lot of discipline.

On a work trip in late fall 2009, I was on a ferry between Seattle and Victoria, BC and we were treated to the sighting of, at first, two orca whales on the star board side. As the boat paused to let them pass, they surfaced on the port side to join a pod of orcas, moving in an easy alliance alongside us. It was beyond magical, especially since when the ferry left it was overcast and very foggy, and the prospect was a crossing without seeing a thing. I took this as a sign. A few years earlier, a friend had identified my totem animal as the whale. And once home, Google turned up the following:

"When whale totem appears it may very well be a sign that it is your time to shine, and also to inspire others. If you are lucky enough to witness a whale's breach in the open sea it could indicate it is time to turn a page.” [Source]

A month later, in early December 2009, still in a mystery of confusion about how to move forward, I contacted a friend who is a certified life coach. Several hours later and Meditation Secrets for Women: Discovering Your Passion, Pleasure, and Inner Peace in the mail (check out the cover photo), I felt I had some guidance on how I might “turn a page”.

One of the meditations in the book asks you to identify an animal and then see through their eyes. Hovering under the covers in my bed, I took a virtual tour through what I believed a whale might “see”. It was surprisingly quiet and deep and slow. The whale wisdom to go inside, to listen.

Several days later while sorting through some old papers, I had yet another, and final, encounter with whales. If whales are your totem animal, it read, “you are called to go deeply into your intuitive and creative psyche and then use this whale wisdom to heal.”

At that moment, I released all my ideas for what I might be able to achieve in 2010 and instead chose the whale's path: to go inside, to listen, and to heal. And many unexpected—and also very mundane—twists and turns later (much later as it turns out), I’m writing a blog. Listening. And sharing what I hear.
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