A Painful Experience

painI received a very intriguing and insightful text this morning and on reading it, I knew I needed to write about it for two reasons.  First, I had more to say than a text reply would allow.  Second and more importantly, the insights in this text are important for us to understand.  Here’s some quick background.  This student had been experiencing shoulder pain.  So much pain that she went to the doctor about it.  Doctor said no more Yoga until you’ve been to physical therapy and they give the OK.  She went to PT, experienced no real relief, had other choice things to say about the experience and returned to the Community Yoga class yesterday morning.  She immediately let me know that she would be slow and gentle with all of the postures.  Here’s her text:

My shoulder thing was prana. There have been so many feelings that I haven’t wanted to feel and practicing today just made them ooze out. So I’ve been a weepy mess all day but it’s good and my shoulder feels completely normal. I have been trying to avoid practicing because of all of this but I am going to accept your challenge to practice every day.

My shoulder thing was prana.  What, exactly, is prana?  The ancient Yogis identified prana as the energy of life, the vital life force or animating spirit.  When I first started practicing Yoga, if you had started talking to me about prana I would have thought, “Here’s the woowoo” and then ignored the rest of what was said.  The body uses electrical impulses to carry sensation along the nerves to the brain.  The brain is full of electrical activity.  The whole body is one amazing electrical network.  The ancient Yogis recognized the basics of this and named that energy prana and called the entire network the prana or energy body.  That electrical network can develop shorts and blockages that show up as ailments of one kind or another like shoulder pain.

There have been so many feelings that I haven’t wanted to feel. . . .  Make a fist and hold it tightly for at least 5 minutes.  You will quickly discover how difficult that actually is and you will notice a good deal of discomfort, if not pain, in that hand.  Releasing the fist will also be uncomfortable and possibly painful.  Those shorts and blockages in our prana body can come from physical injury, obviously, but they can also develop from held/trapped emotion.  If you have ever experienced a stress headache, then you have firsthand experience with this.  Gurudev, Yogi Amrit Desai who is my guru, often says, “What you resist, persists.”  The energy of that emotion becomes trapped in the energy body and that, in turn, affects the physical body.

[P]racticing today just made them ooze out.  When students begin their journey into Yoga, I often point out that the body is like a sponge, it soaks up everything we experience, and that postures are like wringing out the sponge, everything starts to ooze out.  While it is a helpful metaphor in the beginning, it is not entirely accurate because it lends to the idea that specific postures treat specific ailments.  While there is some validity to that, the truth of the matter is much more subtle and infinitely more powerful.  Yoga postures are intended to do one thing and one thing only:  Still the mind.  Yoga happens only when the mind is still.  Postures are only a tool to still the mind, nothing more.  All of the 8 limbs of Yoga are merely tools to still the mind.

SunRiseBe Still.  When the mind is still, all of the walls that we have built—those that keep sensation (thoughts, feelings, emotion) trapped inside and those that keep sensation out—begin to drop.  As the walls drop then everything in life that we have been trying to avoid starts to move.  The physical exercise of Yoga postures is extremely beneficial and can definitely shape the body into a healthy, fit version of you but that is kindergarten level practicing.  True courage is required, absolutely essential, to allow the inner work of Yoga—dismantling our walls—to happen but the reward is magical:  So I’ve been a weepy mess all day but it’s good and my shoulder feels completely normal.

I have been trying to avoid practicing because of all of this but I am going to accept your challenge to practice every day.    Every blessing, every benefit of Yoga, is available through regular practice.  Practice, practice, practice.  Is every ailment of the body or mind a symptom of or creating a problem in the prana body?  Yes.  Is every ailment going to be removed by a steady practice of Yoga?  No.  If you break your arm, please don’t think downward facing dog will make it better, go to the doctor!  Still, continue to practice yogic techniques, such as pranayama and postures if that is available.  Keep bringing the mind to stillness and the body will, with help as needed, heal itself.

Practice, practice, practice.

Jai Bhagnwa