I am not my pain

I am not a gymnast. I am not a ballerina. Calisthenics? No. Martial arts? Nup! Growing up, I never did the sort of activities which helped children to gain amazing balance, flexibility or strength in their body. I tried ballet once (for about 8 weeks), when I was about 6, but the teacher told me I was fat and too old to start. You can imagine I left pretty quickly after that! (Hello life long self-esteem issues!). At school the Tri Skool came a couple of times over the years, letting us play on some temporary gymnastics equipment, but this was usually just for a lunch time. That was the extend of my gymnastics training!

Long story short - I played all the usual sports like netball, softball and basketball. I did sprint and cross country running at one point and even tried my hand at tennis (total fail here).  I was also a horse rider, which certainly didn’t help in the flexibility arena. Scoliosis also meant chronic pain in my lower back and limited flexibility in my spine… or so i thought.

You see - for much of my life I have defined myself by my past experiences.

I never did ballet or gymnastics so I can never do the splits.. or

I have a bad back so I will never be able to do a backbend..

On and on it went. I was my own worst enemy when it came to trying new things, or believing (which is more accurate) that I could try new things. I was extremely good at pigeonholing myself, labelling myself - making sure I did nothing outside of that label.

Turns out - these labels are not only extraordinarily unhelpful, but they are damaging too. Turns out, just like ballerinas and gymnasts learn early on, I too have the potential to move my body in amazing ways. Whilst this is a much slower progression as I’m about to hit 30 and my body is not as supple as a child or teen, turns out there is possibility to train my body to reach these new, seemingly impossible heights.

I never needed to be defined by my perceived weaknesses, because they are only that - perceived. It’s taken a little while, but I’ve come to understand (through experience) that I am the creator of my own reality. Should I want to be weak, then I can make it so. Should I want to be strong and flexible, then this too can be achieved.

At a time in my life when I felt like everything was falling apart, I traveled to India where I met a man, Guruji, who saw potential in me. Correction - he sees potential in all. One day, I went to this wise man privately, in tears, to speak about my back pain. How I felt so limited by it. He said something to me that day that I have never forgotten and that I will hold close for the rest of my life.

I am not my pain. My pain will only exist if I allow it to be so. Should I choose to be strong, then I will be strong. But if I choose weakness, then this is all I will ever know. Physically, mentally…. It will touch every aspect of my life.

An interesting thing happened after that conversation - not only did I begin telling myself positive messages about my back, about who I am in the world - but I began to notice changes. My body felt stronger, my mind calmer. I felt at ease with my body and mind, more confident.

This is not to say the back pain has disappeared. Absolutely not. It’s still there. But I am not defined by it and it does not haunt me the way it once did, for so much of my life. The pain fluctuates; but rather than give into it, I challenge it. I give it the most minimal attention.

So today I finally did Pincha Mayurasana on my own. The most difficult part of this asana, this posture, has been the bend in my spine. I’ve fallen more times than I can count and the pain in my back was intense at times. But finally, with a little self belief and determination, here I am. Every day my spine is becoming stronger and more flexible - because I believe it can be so.

 
 
 
 

This asana has been possible only because of three key things:

  1. Having the courage to face fears

  2. Finding the will to keep trying

  3. Being inspired by a man who could see beyond the surface. At the time, he could see what I couldn’t, and I will be forever grateful for his belief in me.

As a final note - we do not need to be our pain. We do not need to let it hold us back. If we do, then we lose the possibility of achieving amazing things in this lifetime. Ask yourself - “Why do you keep yourself small? Why do you play the safe card? What’s the payoff for this?” Whilst these questions are confronting, they could be key to unlocking parts of yourself you never realised existed.

Namaste xx

We are what we think

Presentations for our thesis’ have begun as of today. (I’m presenting tomorrow on migraines). Today’s topic, stroke, led onto many important discussions. Firstly, yoga can offer wonderful benefits to a stroke patient, helping them to regain motor movements etc. But bigger than that, is the person’s ability to challenge their mind and learn to believe in their own ability to become stronger - regardless of illness, disease, injury.

This is a fundamental problem, not only in yoga, but in life. When looking at yoga specifically,  people are often so fearful they will hurt themselves (myself included - don’t get me wrong). This fear stems from a lack of belief in ones own ability to do something, Chakrasana for example. But this fear stops people from reaching heights they never thought imaginable. “We are what we think.” This so important for people to remember. If we think we are ill, we are ill; if we think we are depressed or anxious, then we are depressed or anxious; if we think we have chronic back pain and will never be able to do Sirsasana - guess what, you never will and the pain will follow you everywhere you go. I’ve been there. Believe me. And it’s something I have to work on daily (in various areas). But it’s through a willingness to learn and trust the body that the monumental benefits of this practice can help people. When looking into illnesses or diseases, these are so many problems in the world which could be cured just from a more positive frame of mind (yoga aside).

My teacher was run over by a bus at age 19, with 36 passengers on it. He spent 44 days on his back in the hospital unable to move at all. He was told his yoga days were over. He was also told that if he didn’t agree to have surgery on his shattered left thigh (which had tyre marks on it for months later apparently) or shit shattered left ankle, then he would lose his legs. My teacher knew he could heal his own body - it’s ever changing. We have a completely new body every 200 days, and he knew this. He also knew he would return to yoga no matter what it took. Other than his legs and ankle, he had severe sciatica, slipped disc in his back, dislocated knee and also damaged left shoulder. Today, he experiences no pain. My teacher, Bharath, is now a world leading practitioner who travels all over to teach at international events. Here, I watch him fly into asanas which I dream to do one day. His strength, flexibility and stillness of the mind is inspirational, and this story is a fantastic example of what can be achieved if we want it enough. Remember - “we are what we think”

My commitment to myself is to always; challenge myself, think positively and let go of the fear. Infinite possibilities are on the otherside. For me, this is truly living.

Namaste xx


Life in Gokulam, Mysore