Three weeks ago I sprained my right knee. It happened when I was practicing a class that was much too fast and advanced for me; It happened when I was doing yoga. It happened, and my ever-evolving relationship with yoga has been flipped upside-down.
Every day since the injury I have been wondering what lessons I would be able to share from this experience. It’s been (and still is) a challenging recovery, and the silver lining has been the promise of a brilliant blog post—one that somehow transcends my frustration and provides a deeper message that makes it all worthwhile. Where, I have been thinking, is the pearl of wisdom inside this swollen, wobbly knee??
The truth is, the cause-effect relationship is not always so crystal clear. There have been many lessons in this injury—some, of which, I should have learned before. Others, a bit more murky. Still others, just now rising to the surface. As the process of healing has been slow, with many ups and downs, so have the epiphanies of what this knee is teaching me. And to be honest, some days I’ve just stewed in my own emotional slurry and done little more than feel sorry for myself.
Pain is the body’s signal to pay attention. Pain is designed to wake us up. It wasn’t until I finally accepted the injury, committed to take care of myself and learn from this experience, that I began to recognize the lack of attention that led to my pain in the first place.
Earlier this year, I acknowledged some forceful tendencies in my practice. What I didn’t realize at that time, was that forcefulness was a symptom of something deeper: My practice had become a means to an end. My practice had started to lose its depth. That was true then, and it was true when I pushed myself through a fast, advanced practice without a warm up and ignored my knee. That truth never changed, and so its symptoms continued to manifest on my mat—in small muscle pulls, in rushed, detached practices, in finding it impossible to sit and be still without a teacher telling me to do so.
The implications of this revelation are still coming into focus for me, but I felt compelled to offer this tip-of-the-iceberg lesson: when we lose attention in an experience, we are not fully present in it. We are simply moving through ritual—following the same old routine and only half-experiencing it. When we go through the motions, inevitably part of us is asleep. We miss the nuances of what is happening, and if we do it for too long, we begin to grow numb.
When we go through the motions, inevitably part of us is asleep. We miss the nuances of what is happening, and if we do it for too long, we begin to grow numb.
When I reflect on my yoga practice before the sprain, I remember rushing home to “squeeze” it in before everything else that demanded my attention. I had the routine down: change quickly, roll out the mat, fire up Yogaglo, pick something that would make me sweat or work hard in the least amount of time…. then shower, then dinner, then… Yes, I was going through the motions. I rarely went to studio classes. My practice had been boiled down to the most bang for my buck—I didn’t have time to devote to lengthy classes or meditation. I had stuff to do! I had grown so blindingly numb to the needs of my body, that I didn’t even feel the sprain until two days after a practice that lad left me feeling wrecked—sore, contracted, and spent.
It wasn’t until my knee forced my routine to a grinding halt that I finally arose from my slumber. In retrospect, it is disturbing and saddening that I had become so disconnected from my body and the yoga practice I love. But all relationships take time and commitment, and without careful attention, my relationship with yoga had grown a bit dysfunctional. Slowing down, doing much, much less, and taking days off to rest has helped me reestablish the sense of connection and attention to my body that had grown muddled. The process of healing has been a process of renewing and relearning my yoga practice—a process of returning to a beginner’s mind.
I know there will be much more to learn from this momentary detour on my yoga journey. My knee is still weak, my body off-center and out of balance. Each day, I struggle to find ways to experience my practice without being able to stand steady and even on my own two feet.
But if seven years of practice has taught me anything, it’s that the lessons we learn on our mat directly reflect the lessons we need to accept into our lives. Taking the time to feel, breathe, and truly experience a pose and its subtleties reminds me to do the same in daily activities, no matter how banal or routine. And inevitably, there will be happenings in my life of greater magnitude than this inconvenient injury—happenings that surely knock me off my feet and test my balance. If I can find steadiness now, it’s comforting to know that when greater challenges arise I’ll meet them with the grace and equanimity of someone who’s found her footing and fully awake for the ride.