Friday, May 25, 2012

The View From the Sidelines

Image from the awesome Broga Melbourne

Yesterday when I was standing at the top of my mat in Samasthitihi, reciting the opening mantra, I noticed  subtle sensation in my lower back, right around the sacrum between the two illiac crests of my hip bones. Normally, it takes me a few sun salutations to loosen up in the early morning as I'm generally pretty tight when I get out of bed, so I didn't think too much of it. After a couple Surya A's it became clear that this wasn't typical morning stiffness. Every time I rose out of forward fold to standing, I noticed a sharper pain from the low back area. I used to have trouble with my back after injuring it moving a washer/dryer by myself, so this "pre-spasm" feeling was familiar to me, even though I've been free of any back issues since starting a daily practice.

Great. I'm a couple weeks away from finishing my teacher training and my back is messed up. I love routine, hate being forced to not practice and this happens? I finished out a very gentle, slow practice, spending a lot of time in forward folds and easy counter poses, hoping that I just needed to loosen up a little. When I finished, it was clear that this wasn't going away today and that I'd need to cancel the farm work I'd gotten called in for and take an unscheduled rest day.

I was feeling pretty bummed out, sitting in bed propped up with a pile of pillows, sullenly staring at a book, when Deb stopped in before leaving for work to encourage me to see this as a blessing and to enjoy the time out. She's right. I rarely take a true day off — I'm always buzzing around doing something, seeing a "day off" as an opportunity to get a million "other" things done — so I decided to give in to the situation and chill out.

A minor injury like this one really is a blessing, and the timing of it is kind of perfect. Just as I'm finishing my teacher training — having made huge strides in my practice, overcoming injuries I had before starting this training (I can't believe three months ago I was writing about my bum doesn't bother me at all now) — it's a great reminder that stuff does happen, and that we need to cultivate the internal flexibility to be able to roll with whatever unexpectedly pops up.

Here are some ideas for things to do if you're sidelined temporarily:

1) Read. I rarely make the time to sit and read anymore. When I was a kid, I used to lock myself in my room and spend the entire day immersed in whatever world I was reading about at the time — whether it was Narnia, Middle Earth or the latest Stephen King epic that my mom would pass on to me. Those were magical days and did a lot to open my mind's capacity for imagination, empathy and creativity. Yesterday, I finished reading Bhagavan Das' memoir "It's Here Now, Are You?", which allowed me to live vicariously as a saddhu in India, a used car salesman in California, and eventually as a guy who finally found peace and fulfillment as a musician. Great story.

2) Start a new habit. Today I woke up and my back still felt a bit tricky, so I decided to not take practice until later, which left me with the question "what now?". I decided to try making a green smoothie. I love greens and am always looking for ways to incorporate them into my diet, but I think I was a little swayed by the marketing and figured I couldn't do a green smoothie without a $700 Vitamix or Blendtec blender.

I washed up some spinach and kale in water with a splash of the super magical and multipurpose Apple Cider Vinegar (which is a good idea if you don't have organic on hand), threw a handfull of each (no stems or spines!) in our trusty KitchenAid along with half a Bosc pear, a 1/4 pineapple, a shot of hemp oil and about a 1/2 cup of water and started blending. To my surprise, our common $150 blender did a great job of breaking everything down and making a nice, tasty slurry.

3) Cultivate empathy. This week I've been working on a Yin Yoga sequence for teacher training, so this is a great opportunity to give it a test run and experience what it might be like for someone that doesn't have a daily practice and may be dealing with some physical limitations, and low back pain is pretty high on the list for the demographic around here — lots of aging labourers and farmer/gardeners.

4) Practice Ahimsa. I wrote about this back when I started training, but Ahimsa is the first of the 5 Yamas, or restraints, that we practice in Ashtanga — meaning "to do no harm". An injury is a great was to practice this obligation on yourself, which of course leads to empathy and compassion for your students who might be dealing with injuries themselves. Not taking my usual asana practice and spending half the day in bed definitely feels like a restraint.

5) Write about it. Not only does journalling privately help to put things in perspective, but if you can't publicly gripe and share your breakfast and bathing rituals with a group of faceless strangers, then what's the internet for anyway?



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