This blog has been sparked off by my reading about Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. As an Ashtanga practitioner, I personally do my very best to follow these Eight Limbs in my daily life. I deeply resonate with these and as a devout follower of the practice, I hold these principles close to my heart. This morning, I was doing some deeper work into the first limb, the Yamas. These are referring to the behaviours which regulate how we relate to others. One of the Yamas is what’s called Aparigraha. This is about non-possessiveness, or non-attachment. In today’s day and age we are becoming increasingly impatient and we want what we want yesterday. Whilst I could say modern advances in technology are somewhat responsible for this impatience we all seem to have, (or some other ‘first world’ problem), the truth is we all have the ability to choose the type of person we want to be. How we want to live our lives. Patient or impatient. Calm or relaxed. Kind or unkind. So when I think about ways I can become attached, I realize it is possible in every corner of my life. From the clothing I wear, to the money I earn to the postures I can perform.
I will be the first to say I struggle with Aparigraha, non-attachment. I’m not a fan of change (owning a business has certainly pushed those buttons), I place huge amounts of pressure on myself to provide for my family, and the ongoing challenge of feeling limited in my body due to injury and pain frustrates the hell out of me. When looking specifically at yoga and movement – I’ve become attached to a life without pain, to postures I know I’m strong in, to being better at postures that I’m restricted in. I maintain poor, lazy habits because I have become attached to lazy ways of thinking about my body and my practice. For example, this morning my teacher showed me how my touching of my toes onto the floor before jumping from Bakasana to Caturanga is simply laziness. I’ve become attached to the habit, because I feel safe there, and so my mind is unwilling to alter how I transition between asanas. She can see I don’t need to do this, but years of poor technique and a reluctance to change is stopping me from reaching higher potentials.
I’ve also become attached to my pain. Sounds crazy, I know. But if I am completely honest with myself, and you it seems, I know this to be true. My pain has become a part of who I am. It has formed a part of my identity. I identify myself as a sufferer of chronic lower back pain and sciatica. By being so open about pain I feel it validates what I experience. That there is a purpose for it. It shows that I too am human and have struggles of my own on this journey of life. However, whilst this is true and there is no intention to gain sympathy or empathy for having a crooked back (or is there?), I am clearly attached to it, which is delaying my recovery and if anything, exacerbating the problem.
For years I worked with people who were so attached to their injury/illness that they would make themselves more unwell even when their doctors confirmed a full recovery had been made. Clients struggled to accept this medical conclusion and would often return with reported exacerbations physically or psychologically. A psychological sequale (think of this like a psychological condition such as depression developing as a result of a physical injury, like a broken arm), was extremely common to follow a full recovery from a physical injury. This raises interesting questions about why we can become attached to uncomfortable problems like pain. One theory I have is we seek validation. It gives us an excuse for being lazy, for not trying, for giving up. Reality check Jessica - it’s not pains fault. It’s mine.
I absolutely had this mentality this morning during my practice. I gave up in my mind and then like the flick of a switch – volia! Hello back pain! If I hadn’t given up, I would not feel it, my body would be supple and my strength like never before. But for whatever reason, today I chose the other. I’m not beating myself up about that but I’m sure as hell going to face facts and be honest about it. It doesn’t help if I put my head in the sand, as I would often prefer to do.
Don’t get me wrong, when there is an injury we need to be mindful of it and do what is right for our bodies. In my case, back pain, when given authority, stops me from achieving some of the simplest postures (i.e. what I believe I should be able to do daily without force) and equally some of the stronger postures I aspire to achieve. This leads to another form of attachment I know many people resonate with. That is, attaching to the mastering of postures. The perfect handstand. The beautiful jump throughs and jump backs. The steady balance. This type of attachment can only lead to dissatisfaction for it is never good enough.
What I need to do is take a big step back and remember to enjoy the journey. To let go of thoughts and behaviours that do not serve me. To remember that attachment to anything in life is a root cause of much pain (physical and emotional) and that there freedom in letting go. This is yoga; for me anyway.
Sending big, warm hugs on this frosty Melbourne day,