It wasn't until I fell into the trash can that I gave myself a talking to. The tumble into the bin came just moments after I crashed into the wall. Twice. I'd been upside down on my head, one arm out in front of me for support, the other in the air reaching for my foot behind me when I fell. I was trying to recreate a pose I'd seen a remarkable yogini do on Instagram. In her photo, she seemed a delicate sprite, effortlessly balanced on her head and suspended in time. In my kitchen, I breathed heavily with effort then toppled in a crash, bang, boom kind of way.
"This is ridiculous," I may have said to myself.
For the past two days, I've had to suspend my typical vigorous yoga practice because of an injury completely unrelated to the headstand fiasco. I developed pain in my back lower rib over the weekend after a restorative yoga practice, of all things. It started off as a bit of a nagging strain but quickly turned to full on evil by Monday morning.
When I realized how severe the pain was, I spiraled quickly into an ugly pity party. I wrote and deleted no fewer than half a dozen Facebook status updates because they were dark and full of negative energy I didn't want to spread. Wallowing in self-pity is how I described myself to one friend.
I immediately jumped to the worst case scenario and imagined the pain would be as bad as when I herniated my disc and linger as long. I despaired that I'd no longer be able to practice as hard as I do now, that I couldn't take the classes I've grown to love and look forward to.
I actually cried when Kent came home and said something that showed he completely understood my anguish - and I'm not exaggerating, it was anguish.
The intensity of my reaction got me thinking about the headstand incident and just what I'm playing at here. What compelled me to do the headstand? It certainly looked beautiful. And challenging. And fun. But is it yoga? Is it serving some benefit or simply stroking my ego?
Someone in my teacher training program once asked why we were required to meditate daily. Because yoga without breath is just gymnastics, the teacher said.
Maybe the headstand was just gymnastics. Maybe it's something more. But when I read an old post today by Kino MacGregor on the presence and power of pain I realized it's time for me to examine my own practice.
"If you find yourself faced with a debilitating injury one of the hardest things to face is your own ego," she wrote. "The egoic mind hates to feel like it is slipping from the front of the pack and will cringe and twist when you lighten your load to go easy on your body."
I've never felt competitive about yoga. My first studio was tiny and our mats nearly on top of one another, so, by necessity, I learned to look inward rather than at others. I close my eyes often in practice even now.
That said, I've certainly looked admiringly - longingly, even - at photos of yoginis in spectacularly beautiful positions, especially the back bending poses I'll never come close to finding.
While I'm not competing with others, it's certainly true that I'm competing with myself. Pushing myself to conquer, to achieve. Why was it so hard yesterday for me to accept my yoga could be different than what it was last week? What am I attached to? The high of a strenuous class? The accomplishment of holding challenging poses?
"Injury demands that you ask what your every-moment priority really is and requires you to be totally present," MacGregor wrote in the post. "The question you must ask is at the core of your dedication to yoga. When you can no longer do the “cool” moves you must determine whether your motivation is truly finding inner peace or just the advanced postures. The honesty that yoga demands forces you into an honest relationship with yourself. Only in the clear light of pure consciousness can you make peace with who you really are underneath your need for achievement and perfection. Only when you release the egoic mind can you actually practice yoga as a healing modality. For when you have passed ambition, goal-orientation, attachment to outcome and the need to achieve you can just be in a state of acceptance and listen to your body. Then you can make whatever modifications are needed and experience the free space of acceptance and non-attachment where all healing happens."
By luck, I had a previously scheduled Rolfing appointment today. Cosper took a brief look and suggested there was something amiss in my tenth thoracic vertebra near my rib. It could have happened while I was sleeping, he said. He gave more refined details, but the details always escape me. He worked on my back, shoulders and neck for 90 minutes and I left feeling much relieved.
I came home and resisted the urge to turn upside down or play with any back bending postures. I got out my block, sat in virasana and meditated for 25 minutes. I listened to my body, Kino. Thanks for reminding me.