I started doing yoga to address living in a body in constant pain. Gentle exercise will help, said the doctor who diagnosed my fibromyalgia more than a decade ago.
As a former gymnast who could still touch her nose to her knees at forty years old, I should have loved yoga. And I did. Until I realized it was making my pain worse, not better.
Here’s the rub: I’m far more flexible than I am strong and that can be a real problem. I can’t tell you how many yoga teachers have glommed on to my flexibility and pushed me further into a pose, when it would have been far better and safer for me to hold the pose and build strength in a more neutral, less flashy position.
And it is partly my own fault as well. I’m one of those yoginis who just can’t stop herself from comparing myself to everyone else in the room, gauging my own limberness and balance, pushing myself to match or exceed the bad-ass rock-steady pretzel-person on the next mat. Yes, even when I know that in just a few hours I’m going to pay for it with increasing achiness and debilitating fatigue.
So, I stopped taking yoga classes and for a while stopped doing yoga altogether. But eventually I came back to it, though not as a public practitioner. Instead I created my own regimen, an oddball but effective combination of the exercises prescribed by my physical therapist, some qi gong work, and a few very gentle yoga poses. No sun salutations. No triangle or crazy wheel poses that require both precision and strength.
Instead, think mountain pose. In fact, that’s my signature move. Tadasana. Just standing, arms at my side, feet rooted, pulling up the fire energy of the earth. Solid, steady, grounded. Spine erect, shoulders and head relaxed, pulling down the ethereal energy of sky and stars. Vast groundedness. Grounded vastness. Aaah.
I’m on the road right now, visiting a friend with some land outside St Helens, Oregon. I found myself alone in the house (except for five dogs!) on this beautiful May morning so I spread my yoga mat out on the deck and did my own private yoga thing, looking out over woodlands to the white hulk of Mount St Helens on the horizon.
I’ve been so agitated lately, with all the evil being unleashed in the world right now, capped most recently by the House passage of the horrific healthcare bill that shreds the safety net and literally endangers the lives of millions of Americans. Especially those of us with pre-existing conditions. A term I find utterly ludicrous, invented by penny pinching bureaucrats with no interest in or understanding of the complex interplay of time, energy, bodies, cells…. We are all preexisting conditions.
That’s all I’m going to say about that today, but let’s just say that this healthcare bill might be the wafer thin mint that pushes me over the edge.
But this morning, standing in Tadasana, communing with that timeless mountain in the distance, I tried to let all that go. The thrumming wire of my anxiety, the miasma of despair, the clench and burn of my rage. Just Tadasana and my breath. The life source in this body that is what it is, that continues to support me and my spirit every day to the best of its ability. I think about flexibility and strength. About resistance and acceptance. And about persistence in the midst of all that is transitory. Vast groundedness. Grounded vastness.
Before moving on, I curtsied low in obeisance to the mountain, itself a preexisting condition that will outlast us all.
And somehow, that feels like a victory.