This is a continuation of the series of posts I have been writing on pain. Emotional pain, physical pain, spiritual pain. Pain.

Yoga is painful. There is no way around the fact, that one of the goals of practicing yoga, is learning how to be comfortable in uncomfortable physical situations. I have already written about how that is applicable both within and outside the studio, but there is another aspect of pain that I have not discussed.

A question I have been playing with in my mind is why people do things that they know have the potential to cause them pain. For me, in my specific situation, going to a place of pain tells me where I am on my way to healing my heart. I know it’s stupid, because I don’t want to be brought to my knees by something that is really nothing, and I don’t want to hurt. At the same time, I want to feel something, because so much of what has passed feels like a dream, or a vision from another world. I want to know that it was real, and I want to know how I feel.

Pain is one of the most acute sensations. Emotional immediately centers you. It can take over your world in an instant. For me, pain can bring clarity to my life. It can help me place myself in this crazy mixed up world of ours.

Going to yoga can have that same effect. If you make your body hurt, there is no question that it is real, and it is there. Your body is reacting in a normal healthy way to certain stimuli. Health, life, and vitality are all confirmed by pain.

-C

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There is a moment in every yoga class where I am convinced that I am not going to make it.

It usually comes right before we hit the floor. At the end of the standing series my muscles are shaking, there is sweat dripping into my eyes, my feet slip on the mat, my lungs threaten to burst, and, if I’m doing it right, I don’t even know my own name. This is the crux of the class, and I always know if I get through that few minutes, that it will all be downhill from there. If I can handle those few minutes of pain and suffering and exhaustion, I can handle anything.

Life, like yoga, come’s in series. There is a crux of each episode, and if you can get through it chances are you will have a moment to breathe. You will finish the standing series, hit the floor, and take your two-minute savasana. The problem is, life isn’t a set. You don’t know what pose is coming next, you don’t know when you will finally get to lie down. You have to just plug along, and be satisfied knowing that eventually you will make it through the crux of the situation.

I feel like I’ve hit the crux of my current situation, struggled through it, and I’m starting to wind down. I might not be in savasana yet, but I’m getting close. I am happier than I have been in a long time, although that happiness is tinged with a distinct pain sensation. Remember not to assign value to sensation, simply feel it, and allow it to wash over you. Winston Churchill said, “when you’re going through Hell, keep going.” Has anyone read Dante’s Divine Comedy? Dante kept going, he travelled through the depths of hell, into purgatory, through that, and do you know what he found? True love. So anytime you think you can’t make it, relax. You’re savasana is on its way.

-C

I am going back to yoga. If peace is the baseline of the spirit, the measuring stick that we can use to assess where we are emotionally, then both pain and happiness are impermanent.

Things, people, places, all can inject us with emotion. Being around someone makes you happy, being away from someone makes you sad, being in a certain location makes you sad, buying shoes makes you happy. Me happy anyway. These items are band aids. These items aren’t good for the spirit if peace is the goal.

The person who said this to me said that he strives to live by this mantra, and that the material items he does invest himself in, are vessels through which he can reach permanence. Of course I immediately am trying to define for myself what permanence is, and all I can come up with is that it could be a personal sense of peace.

I’m going back to yoga, because it gives me peace. It allows me to reach out to something greater than myself. I have talked before about the energy of a class, the seemingly ironic sense of intense introspection coupled with the distinct feeling of being a part of a greater, moving, entity. The class moving together, sweating together, experiencing sensation together, yet each person having a deeply personal experience at the same time.

I need this feeling that I am not alone. I need this feeling that I am part of something bigger, and I need something that brings me peace in the midst of uncertainty. I have forced myself back into a place of deep thinking, and it has brought with it sadness, but also a sense of hope that is flickering but bright.

-C

I can’t believe I’m back here. After moving to Vancouver for UBC, finishing UBC last year, and moving back to Seattle (I thought it was for good – but only lasted for a month or so), and getting a job in Vancouver and moving back there, and working in 3 different positions, I have arrived back, full circle, in Seattle. With a job.

I’m not sure how I feel about this… I haven’t been to a yoga class here yet. It’s been over a week since I’ve been in the studio, but I’m looking for something different. I went to a metal show and loved how loud it was, it drowned everything else inside out. I want a workout that drowns everything else out. I know at some point I will go back to Bikram, but right now I don’t want to deal with the introspection yoga has to offer.

I know this is so unlike me. I’ve been accused of being in a yoga cult, I am a yoga devotee, I am a yoga enthusiast of the greatest extreme. Maybe I should head back and follow my own advice. Yoga can fix everything, it allows me room to experience my emotions within the safety of my practice. As Bikram says, the hardest poses are the ones you need most. Maybe the hardest time to go to a class is when you need it the most too.

I think I’ll go to spin class instead. They play loud music there, right?

-C

Yeah.  I said it.  This blog has been about…. the physical and mental challenge of yoga so far.  I have avoided talking about personal things.  I have avoided discussion of the emotional impact of yoga.  Now it’s time to get personal, because that is a big part of how this class tonight went for me.

I knew it was going to be a tough class from the start.  We began with the breathing exercises and 6 breaths in I was gasping for air already.  Partly I think it’s that I’m a little bit under the weather (with a cold no less and only allowed to nose breathe? ugh…), but partly it’s that yoga makes you release all the toxins out of your body.  Yoga makes you release all the toxins out of your body, but in order for that to happen, they have to flow through your body, which means you have to experience them and that can often be painful.  Bikram always says that the poses that are the most challenging, the ones that hurt the most are the ones that you need the most.  I have always kind of thought of this as being purely physical, but tonight it got very emotional.

Maybe I have been holding on to a lot more than I thought I was.  I actually made it through the standing series, but right after tree pose, lying in my savasana (dead body pose), it was all I could do to not burst out crying.  I am not a person who cries a lot, or who cries easily.  I am a person who distracts herself, moves forward, dislocates herself from her problems, but I found myself lying in my yoga class with tears in my eyes and I didn’t know why.  Then I started thinking.  I started accepting that this pain that I was feeling (and it was a deep, emotional pain) was just like the physical pain I was in during certain postures.  I thought to myself that in order to get stronger, I was going to have to be present and feel this pain… and do you know what?  I started realizing (really really realizing) that it was ok to be sad… because I have done a lot the past few months.  I am coming off of a broken engagement, moving away from everything I know and love, missing all of my best friends in the world, jobless (and other things but let’s not wallow too much)… and aside from all that, even if none of that was there, it would still be ok to cry.

So this class, tonight, for me, was about realizing the appropriateness of being sad sometimes, and crying sometimes.  I thought a lot about the importance of being present, and allowing one’s self to feel whatever is there.  My very first yoga instructor ever once told us to stop  categorizing our feelings.  She said there are feelings.  There are no bad or good feelings, just feelings.  She said if you are feeling pain, allow yourself to experience those sensations without categorizing them, and you will be suprised how much you can handle.  I’m allowing myself to be present now, and I think that will do a lot for my psyche.  I didn’t just expel physical toxins tonight, I expelled emotional toxins as well.

So why get personal now?  Why expose my innermost feelings to the world wide web?  I guess I hope that other yoga practitioners, and anyone else who is reading this, might realize that it’s ok to expel some toxins of their own.  Maybe I am looking to see whether or not I am alone in feeling this way.  Maybe I am running out of people who will listen and I am throwing my thoughts out into the ether in hopes that someone will catch them and say “I get it.”  Either way, it feels like the right thing to do tonight.

Sincerely,

-C