Yoga and physical pain: the process of detachment

Just like every other process that we go through in our lives, yoga is here to remind us that nothing is linear. There are different stages that we go through in our yoga practice that bring joy, enthusiasm, injury, physical pain and other extraordinary emotional or physical struggles. Although they are here to communicate with us, we are most likely to resist them. But the thing is that what you resist persists, which inevitably capture us in a never-ending circle of frustration.

Experiencing physical pain in yoga practice

Depending on the type of yoga you choose to practice, you’ll be more or less prone to get injured. Injuries and physical pain are likely to happen in one way or another, and instead of trying to push them away, we should welcome them and try to understand the message they’re bringing to us. Although yoga speaks to us in many different ways, emotional and physical pain are one of the most common ones.

Recently, I have been experiencing a lot of physical pain in my body. I practice Ashtanga yoga which means showing up on my yoga mat almost every day and doing a physically demanding practice. Since the beginning, I have been obsessed with backbends. By observing my extremely slow progress, I got so attached to them that there came the point when I started to hate them. Not only the backbends, I started to project my frustration on my back, judging it for being so stiff and trying to make the impossible. One day, without any particular reason, I started to experience severe pain in my lower back, which moved further up to the middle of my back a few days later, and then moving down again, and up, and down and so on ‘til this day. My first reaction to this severe physical pain was anger. Frustration. Disappointment. I used to push my back very hard during the practice, but now my hands are tied: I haven’t been able to do a proper urdhva dhanurasana for three months now and there’s nothing left to do but to accept it.

Physical pain is really just emotional pain undercover

After I tried everything to get rid of the pain, from resting to trying different types of massages, I realized that instead of resisting the pain, I should start communicating with it. I started to observe my emotions after experiencing physical pain in my back, and my most common reaction to it was anger. Slowly, I started to go deeper into this emotion and suddenly realized that my back pain was nothing else but a culmination of all the anger I’ve experienced throughout my lifetime. One morning, I got deep into the meditation, reviving every single moment in my life to which I reacted with extreme anger. It took me about half an hour trying to remember all those moments from the last one to the first one in my very early childhood. Then, I went through the same situations in my mind, but imagine I’m reacting to them with love and acceptance. The whole meditation lasted about an hour, and I woke up reborn. I was surprised that, I as a yoga practitioner was still able to bear so much anger in my physical and emotional bodies.

Detachment is key to overcoming physical pain

This was the first time I was actually able to let go of my asana practice. The pain in my back is slowly going away, but still kind of remaining there to remind me of everything I’ve learned in the past three months. The funny thing is that at the time I started to experience the lower back pain, I also injured my collarbone doing supta kurmasana, and that too prevented me from doing certain asanas for a couple of months. I got through this injury with a calm and steady mind, respecting it and not frustrating over it and right after I thought I was completely over it, it happened again. It’s like receiving a test from the Universe to see if I really learned what I was supposed to learn. Have I let go of all the anger inside? How am I going to react to this repetitive injury which seems to lead me backward in my practice instead of finally going forward?

So here I am, with the same injury I experienced three months ago in my collarbone, and the unexplainable physical pain still remaining in my back, preventing me from doing any of the advanced asanas in my practice. The question popping up in my mind in this situation is: “Am I able to enjoy my practice anyway? Am I able to enjoy doing the simple asanas just as I enjoy doing the advanced ones?” Here’s the thing: yoga doesn’t discriminate. The simple asanas are just as important as the advanced ones, and if you’re not mastering the basics, where are you rushing to?

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