Letting Go

 
Jessica Dewar Yoga_Letting Go
 

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,

Jessica  

Turning pain into strength

 
 

This morning was one of my strongest practices for this month. It appears my back is beginning to settle down which is a huge relief. Whilst I feel, in part, disappointed my back gave me so much grief this month, I’m actually really grateful for this experience. In this mornings practice, I realized I had a control over my body that I’ve not experienced before. Guruji noticed this also. I had an awareness of the subtle sensations I’m unconsciously too lazy to notice at other times. How I lower into chaturanga, how I transition between jump throughs and jump backs – it’s all changed. And this is only because the pain has been so bad that unless I consciously activated every muscle in my body, especially my pelvic floor, then I was unable to move at all.

Sitting with Guruji on the floor, he would remind me that pain and injury only come due to a weak pelvic and abdominal contraction. He assured that upon learning how to maintain the simultaneous control on these parts of my body that the entire neuromuscular system would relax. That there would be no pain. And he was right. Every day I have worked hard to develop this strength, but more so my conscious awareness of these parts of my body, and this has been an immense challenge. But the fascinating thing is, now my back is stronger and the pain is subsiding, I realize my practice has become stronger, more focused, more controlled than ever before.

It is very easy as a teacher to give advice. To assure others that they can achieve great things, or overcome difficult times. But I believe this advice is of little value or bears little weight if it comes from a person who has not faced the challenges themselves. I’ve cried many times in the past month – pain related mostly. Even the fetal position became near impossible for me to manage. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen at times. A fluctuation as Guruji would say. And although it is not fun to feel pain, it is a lesson. A lesson I can pass onto others, where I can teach from this place of understanding. As we advance in our practice, we tend to forget what it’s like to be a beginner. To feel tightness, weakness, anguish. So I feel at ease with the month I’ve had here. I’ve not a missed a class as I needed to learn how to work with my body despite it’s temporary limitations. And I assure, all limitations we face are only temporary.

I fly home this Sunday and am so looking forward to seeing all my wonderful students. I have a Beginner Workshop commencing on the 1st of February that I cannot wait to get started with, particularly considering my very humbled way of practicing. An opportunity to meet people where they are and support them as they venture into this profound practice of yoga.

There is so much beauty in our imperfections. And whilst they can be extremely frustrating and upsetting at times, the reality is – they are what they are and we need to come to a place of acceptance. From here, life is brighter and more hopeful. If we dwell, then the opposite is true also.

So I urge you, if you are new to yoga or if you have an injury or illness you feel is holding you back, take a step forward. Don’t give up on your body and don’t allow illness to keep you from where you dream to be. How you dream to move. How you want to live.

Sending hugs to you all,

Jessica xx

P.S. See you soon!

 

If it's easy, is it worth it?

 
 

Everything hurts. From the top of my head down to my little toes, it’s all sore. I forget how challenging it is training here in Mysore, India. But in saying that, my aching body is a fabulous reminder of why I come here each year! No, I’m not a sucker for punishment. Rather, I understand it is through this intense level of practice that I progress. That I am coming to know myself a little more every day.

There is a huge misunderstanding in the west that yoga is easy. That it’s all about relaxation and some gentle stretching. This couldn’t be more wrong. Whilst these classes exist, and I LOVE to attend them occasionally, for me this is not what the practice is about. The challenge of the practice, continuing to attend class even though everything hurts, is all yoga. The discipline is yoga. And what I’ve personally come to experience through this intensity is how quickly my body responds to it. Yes, there are the initial aches. The initial, “I can’t get off the toilet seat,” moments. And it’s going to last a few days. I know this. But this is good pain, and its temporary.

Nothing in life comes easily. Nothing. I believe how we practice is a symbol of how we live our lives. Do we look for the easy path or are we open to the challenge?

Whilst I hate to say it, and accept in some instances, to live a life we are truly proud of, one we are truly connected to and that is meaningful, requires effort. Work. With yoga, we talk about bringing the lessons we learn on our mats into our daily life, a statement I fully support. I’ve found that the more confronting the practice, the deeper the lessons. Conversely, the more detached or ‘going through the motions’ the practice, the less I learn.

Yoga does not discriminate and it will ruthlessly illuminate the bullshit we tell ourselves and the areas we need to work on. How we move our body on the mat is a reflection of how we live our lives. Does the alarm go off in the morning and you think, “I can’t be bothered today, I’m going back to sleep,” or does the alarm go off and you still think, “I’m tired, I can’t be bothered with my practice, but I know it’s important so up I get!” BIG difference between these two mindsets and something to really contemplate as it will set the tone for your day and your life. I too, struggle with this. I am not some yoga machine who does not feel pain, get tired or want to run away and hide sometimes. As I mentioned earlier, my entire body is in pain right now. To sleep, to eat, to shower has all become an effort. If anything, I just want to sleep for the next month because I’m human and I’m bloody tired!

But I won’t give up on my practice as I would consider it an injustice to myself should I give up and allow the temporary aches dictate how I approach each day. Why? Because this would not just be a reflection of my practice, but it would also be a reflection of my life. Of my approach to life.

So with all that said – I figure it is a new year and let’s all take advantage of that. We have new ambitions, desires, goals we want to achieve – all of which can only be achieved through action. Even when you don’t feel like it, or it’s been a shitty day that you want well behind you – act. Don’t give up on You. Try not to allow external forces out there dictate how you live your life. Develop rituals to ensure each and every day is bringing you a little nearer to your goals. Try not to fixate on the goal either. Enjoy the journey. The struggles. The aches and pains. View these challenges as growth. Learning. An opportunity to deepen your connection with yourself. If you practice yoga and a posture is tough that day. Work with it. Don’t give up. Explore it a little more. Challenge yourself a little further. You might be surprised what you uncover in the process.

And remember, it is the moments when you want to run and hide that you need to face head on. Sure, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it may hurt a little. But at the end of the day, there is nothing more satisfying than achieving something you have worked hard for.

So get back on your mat, be present in the moment, don’t give up and enjoy the bumps along the way :)

Sending hugs from India

Jessica xx