Last time I discussed my unlikely entrance into yogic practice, as well as my injured right shoulder and how it has been a perennial weak link for me -- especially so in the past couple of years. Physical therapy did not resolve the situation - at least not quickly enough - and once my insurance company pulled the plug on further visits, I found myself left to my own devices. I remember that last day of therapy and how there seemed to be an elephant in the room: saying my farewells to the staff when everyone knew I was still in a lot of pain. Yet, that was somehow beside the point and we all knew it. I suppose we have come to collectively accept how business is done in the modern age … that’s just life, right?
I was not too worried about my shoulder leaving therapy, as I was beginning to make huge strides with yoga and breath-work. Still, the experience caused me to reflect on all the people who do not know such healing modalities exist; how many people simply limp home in pain, their prognosis a life of steadily increasing self-medication? The experience bummed me out in that regard. However, I did learn a great deal about the human shoulder and my own issues specifically, which has come in handy as I continue working with the injury some 10 months later.
As I discussed last time, I worked my way into yoga in my typical, autodidactic fashion: in isolation, just trying things out ... experimenting. You see, that is how yoga slipped past my radar: I did not know it was yoga. I laugh about it now, but yoga pulled one over on me. By the time I knew what I was into it was too late. (Admittedly, the involvement of a yoga mat should have been a huge red flag.)
My work with yoga was enhanced in many ways, which allowed me push experiences to their maximum efficacy. This included practicing in a solitary space for long periods, low light, candles, occasionally incense, and typically listening to binaural beats through a set of headphones. Also, I found that “medicinal assistance” was particularly helpful in the beginning, as it acted to quiet my mind while simultaneously allowing me to process painful moments gracefully, as well as amplifying all those little things my body was trying to tell me.
Simply calling my practice “yoga” is likely a misnomer, as its form differs radically from the things I do in formal yoga classes, which I now attend twice weekly. However, because I have integrated yogic postures throughout my practice, I find it easier to refer to it as such. Someday, I suspect to find that my practice - although arrived at through solitude and experimentation - is an existing type of yoga, or perhaps qigong, or maybe a combination of many things. For now, I simply know that with continued practice and sufficient time spent in a single session, I found it was possible to, hmmm … reverse my perception, shall we say?
I found that by spending long periods of time in focused breathing/relaxation, a person can train their mind to prioritize inner signals, such as: tingling, muscle pain and soreness, and breath moving through the body, over outer signals, such as: air/clothing on the skin, pressure between the body and the mat, etc. Learning to reach this altered state of perception opened doors for me, as well as bringing a lot of healing. It continues to be a subtle progression, but it was surprisingly easy to begin exercising real control over muscles I had not known existed previously. I had simply never tried … I didn’t know it was a thing.
My process was simple enough: send both breath and conscious attention to a certain part of the body - somewhere that hurt - while slowly relaxing into the pain; quieting the outside while amplifying the inside. As I did so, it seemed there was always a way to address the pain - a way to breathe - which would cause the pain to release. Once it did, there was often a deeper pain behind the first. The process would continue like that until the root of the pain revealed itself. Once underway I found I was able to work with my muscles very differently - interact with pain in new ways - and in the end, we all need a good way of interacting with pain, don't we?
Perhaps this all sounds a little … masochistic? It isn't. Simply put, I came to know pain differently: as purposeful. In learning that lesson, I began to understand that I'd been looking at pain all wrong, a viewpoint that caused me to avoid pain when I was meant to move towards it -- through it. With this change in perspective, I began following pain to what lay behind it - interacting with it instead of sharing space with it - not just physically, but in all areas of my life.
When I began approaching pain in this way, I found that in many cases I was able to dismiss it, given sufficient time. It seemed that once I had followed a pain to its source, it no longer had reason to be there, as if its job were done. That may sound crazy, but I am simply stating that which I have observed, and from all I have observed, the pain I experience seems to exist as a sort of navigation system: a trail of breadcrumbs that leads to the source of a given dis-ease. Once I had addressed an issue at its source, it was as if the pain had served its purpose or outlived its usefulness.
Is it really so crazy? We live in a system, and that system is governed by rules. In today's society we seem to have convinced ourselves that life is just too complex to understand, so we let others - experts - provide our answers for us. Yet, the entirety of this system operates on the simple concept of action and reaction. Therefore, the experience of a symptom is by necessity a reaction to something. If you blow a fuse, you don't go to the store and buy candles, you open the fuse box and replace the fuse. So too, the pains we experience may best be understood as reactions to underlying issues seeking our attention.
When it comes to chronic pain, this type of thinking flies in the face of western medicine, whose primary interests lie in effects rather than causes: in rendering patients deaf, dumb, and blind to the messages their own bodies are sending to them. Yet, everything has a cause. Therefore, when I experience pain, my curiosity awakens.
I first begin practicing this new relationship with pain in dealing with emotional matters. Later, my entry into a mind-body practice showed me that the same principles applied to the physical. As discussed in my last blog, the kinds of progress and renewal my body was capable of amazed me. Yet, my shoulder issues persisted, and when examining my shoulder while in deep states of consciousness, I observed what seemed to be an energetic density inside of it, somehow located everywhere and nowhere at the same time (which is how I experienced my shoulder pain as well, incredibly sharp, yet nowhere). This “density” affected not only my shoulder, but my neck and upper back as well, as if exacting a gravitational pull over the entire area. In other areas of the body, I could breathe into the hurt, loosening the tightness and allowing healing to start. There was no such success with the shoulder, however, at least not at the level needed.
Given this state of affairs, I opted to continue working in other areas of my body under the assumption that the improvements would eventually “bubble up” and cause a change in the state of my shoulder injury. Rather than getting discouraged, I chose to focus on what was working, trusting that I was laying the groundwork for healing by improving the overall health and alignment of my body.
Leading up to my spring release show, the work I had done over the previous months seemed to be reaching my shoulder, as I could feel it transforming in some way: opening. This took the form of significant pain day-to-day, and caused a permanent kink in my neck and shoulder blade. Whatever was going on with the shoulder, it now seemed almost angry. I know that sounds bad, but I did not see it that way. In my mind, the shoulder was finally “talking” to me, being more direct about how bad the situation was. I viewed that as progress, truly. What’s more, it was happening in the days leading up to my western road trip, and I saw that as an interesting coincidence. Something told me that the shoulder was an important component of the trip, so I welcomed the pain as a kind of confirmation of that feeling … although it did make shoulder checking on the highway a real nuisance.
That which I have observed regarding pain has reshaped the way I look at the world. For, just as my body is a system, so too is the Earth, the galaxy and the cosmos. All of these systems operate by the same rules. Still, we lament the pain and suffering in the world, often blaming deity or the unfairness of life for the woes of humankind. Yet, do we really believe life acts randomly? Is it rational to consider this as a possibility given the nature of the physical systems we inhabit? I do not consider it so. Simply put, I see a world that is increasingly trying to get our attention, saying, "there's an issue here you might want to pay closer attention to." Yet, we wash our hands of our collective responsibility and conveniently put the blame elsewhere, going so far as to question the sanctity of life for all the suffering it brings us. I see no issues with life, only with the erroneous fashion in which we perceive it. Yes, "bad" things happen to "good" people. But we do not see the totality of this existence, only a mere fraction we call the "observable universe". For my part, I'm willing to give life the benefit of the doubt -- it has carried us this far. More to Come!