How Yoga Helps My Chronic Pain
I don’t do yoga. Yoga happened to me because pain happened to me. I have no choice but to strive for some sort of state of bliss. My bliss is craving comfort and silence. Comfort and silence from the pain; comfort and silence in a world not welcoming of the weakness that pain brings. Because the alternative is unthinkable. Pain takes minds and lives, but it was not going to take mine.
I was brought to tears in yoga class because I had found a place in my painful life that made sense. Yoga made my painful body meaningful. And it was attending pain management that brought me to yoga.
Asana: To sit.
Sukhasana easy pose is interpreted as to sit with ease.
Yoga practice is a preparation to sit and to sit with ease.
Why does this matter so much to me? Why does this definition ring so true and at the heart of any yoga I practice?
I live with chronic pain. And most people interpret that as “an old injury,” a “bad back.” It’s not that. I do not and never have had back pain. I am strong, physically strong. I have never been unable to do a physical task. I danced several times a week, I taught many styles of exercise and fitness classes. My pain never stopped me from doing anything physically demanding. But my pain stopped my sitting down. For two years (before attending pain management) I could not sit down. I stood on the train and tube for my 1.5 hour commute twice a day. I stood in work meetings, I couldn’t go out to a restaurant as I needed to stand, I couldn’t sit at the table with my family for Christmas dinner. So Sukhasana, to sit with ease, is a major achievement in a painful body. And it is yoga in it’s fullest sense that enables this.
I have no injury, I have nothing wrong but my brain and nervous system are working like a faulty alarm. I have the sensation of hot, burning barbed wire wrapped around the top of my thigh. And it is there all the time. It never leaves, it is a loud sensation, blaring at me 24/7. And it has done for the last 13 years.
I am physically in pain but I am not physically damaged.
Pain management is about self-compassion, living honestly within your limitations, not desiring a life without pain, pacing – with moderation of everything, appreciating what you have.
My asana practice definitely does not have a physical goal. There is no end point to a particular asana. I am not achieving trikonasana, I am not mastering shoulder stand. I am using the shapes with my body to enable my faulty alarm to shush, to turn off. I feel everything, my body is alight all the time.
I am keeping this system dampened down by working towards sitting, working towards sitting and breathing. I’m working towards detaching from the pain, detaching from the senses attached to being in pain, allowing contemplation and thoughts away from pain (break the circuit, cancel the faulty alarm) and yearn for a state of removing myself from the pain. A state of bliss. Samyama.
And I have achieved this in small degrees. Tearful moments of realization that I can sit without wanting to pull my leg off, without feeling the heavy hard steel of the metal cilice that has imprinted itself on my thigh and my brain.
That I can sit and know my breath, that I can sit and not focus on the clock and when can I stand up. No, just sit. Simply sit. Sit.
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Getty image by fizkes