Recently after an emotional conversation I fell asleep in a tiny curled up position. During sleep I managed to pop a rib head out of its snug home by my spine. Unbeknown to me I woke up and felt that my breastbone was quite tight and uncomfortable. I wanted to open my chest so I stretched out into a gentle back bend and CRACK! A huge noise, followed by a surge of pain on my heart and a sudden inability to breathe took me. I lay on my back for one hour or so, feeling very sore and scared. I breathed gently and reminded myself that ‘I was held by the ground and everything would be fine’. In time I relaxed and was able to move. To cut a long story short I went to an amazing osteopath who popped the rib head back into place. And explained to me that due to the way the rib bends around making the rib cage, when it dislodged at the back it twisted the whole bone around and pressed heavily on my breastbone. When I did my little back bend I cracked a little the cartilage attaching the rib bone at the front to the breast pate. Resulting in a lot of pain.
This injury became physically and more so symbolically of great interest to me. As like most things the symptom is not the root cause of the issue. In this case I felt my breastbone but it was the back head of my rib that was the out of place.
In classes of often highlight to students that we are more aware of our front body and the space in front of us. Yet we lack awareness of our back body and the space behind us. Much like our inner world we see what is comfortably in focus but huge amounts of our being lie hidden in the unconscious out of sight. The more we practice the more we become aware of that which is hidden. The more sight we have of how we are, then the more we have choice of how we want to be. As C.G Jung puts it “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Through this injury over the following months I had to be very careful, I had to listen 150% to what was ok and what was not ok to do in every simple task. No short cuts, no laziness, no cheating if I put one movement a hairline wrong, I was back off the mat and in the pain of my body. This was at times so frustrating. I was initially unable to do 80% of my usual range of movements and asana practice. I had to modify my practice so drastically to not create more pain and problems; I started to think I shouldn’t practice at all, because it was damaging me. So I stopped my asana and well for me life without my practice is like a car without a steering wheel. So I dropped momentarily into the insane, manic and stressed part of my oh so human self.
Somehow in my chaos I found the breath and was able to step back. I remembered the words of a great teacher Susannah Darling khan “use what you have and it, will, grow!” So out rolled my mat and down I lay on my back making tiny sensitive movements, with deep breaths and lots of acceptance. Over the following weeks this practice grew and with a whole new strength of its own. I really grew out of the ground, rooted deeply in the support it offers. And as my practice came back to its full power I noticed that now I moved with greater integrity. My quality of presence in the asana practice leaped forward touching on pure states of focused attention (deep meditation).
It seemed so clear that my physical body was a responsive map of my emotional body, my psyche and my environment. In the 1st instance when I fell asleep after that emotional conversation my body responded by erupting at the back of my heart. I had refused to deal with this unconscious, unexamined emotional baggage one to many times and my body kindly decided ‘not again, the time is now, you deal with this’ It stopped me in my tracks and screamed for me to look at my load. I moved through pain, to denial back to pain and to frustration. Then finally I found the courage to Stop, Look and See myself. My weak upper body, my cracked breast bone, my sore heart, my emotional fragility, my anger and grief. Then and only then could I move into acceptance. From acceptance I could choose. I chose active repetition, which in this case for me was gentle asana and mantra. I transformed that which was pain and rubbished into an integrated power and strength.
I share this story because I know that often injury can inhibit us and put us off things. It can shrink our world, because of the fear it brings up in us. For me this injury had the possibility to really make me blame my yoga practice. Stories like ‘yoga has made me to flexible or put to much strain on my upper body resulting in this pain’. I could have repeated this story and stopped practicing. However I choose to accept the challenge with out giving up. Then my injury, my pain, my burden became the greatest yoga teacher I could ever wished for. It has been the best gift of 2013 so far. And it’s led me to a more expansive world on and off the mat.
Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015