Ashtanga and the House of Pain

A while back there was a movie called Secretary. It didn’t show in  main stream theaters. An 80s star was in it and the subject matter was BDSM, something most people didn’t want to spend two hours watching let alone thinking about that much.

I have never forgot that movie though, and not because I particularly enjoy watching BDSM.

A few years later a yoga student came along, and she was into BDSM. I can say this here and talk about it because she was like that movie, not afraid to talk about it. She would talk about what it felt like to be involved in the experience, and she would do it during our sutra discussion group. Needless to say out sutra discussion groups became a little juicier for a while.

And it made me think of the theme of that movie. Secretary is about a girl who falls in love bondage style, while around her the folks who aren’t “into” S and M are doing incredibly masochistic things. The movie indicates how ironic it is we don’t want to hear about it when it comes to masochism and yet many of us practice it in our lives.

With all the talk lately about pain and ashtanga yoga (Thanks David G it is a great discussion to start), it has made me think about the movie and the student and the practice of ashtanga yoga.

There was a long time for me practicing, not all of the time, but a good deal of it, that the practice just hurt. I spend my first trip to Mysore having torn a hamstring insert before going. It meant that together with a lot of adjustments from Guruji I really did wonder that first trip what was wrong with all of us and especially me. This was not an idealic spiritual journey, this was pure raw pain and it was not only painful it was exhausting. I really was suspicious that Pattabhi Jois was a crazy man and we were all crazy for going to India to go through this. And as many will tell you, he didn’t really explain much to you, he just did it. So there was a great deal or room to wonder.

The thing was, and thank God, this part of the practice wasn’t forever. This magic thing happened where after five years of practice my hips opened. After seven years of practice, my knees stopped hurting. And as people will tell you or you can see if someone sticks with the practice over time and through these things, the body is made new. It’s not a perfect transformation in all cases and the limits of it are dictated by how we take the practice. But as much as we let it the practice will change us for the better.

The even better thing is that other things will change too. Again, it is dictated by what the student practices, but it is possible to become calmer through this practice. To lay down some of somatic crap we have accumulated in the lives we have survived so far, and actually become happier people. We can become calmer, and better able to breathe and face the rest of what we face in our life. Face it and not run from it.

There is a reason they want teachers to take practice for a long time before teaching. There is a reason Pattabhi would say, “Slowly, slowly.” It takes a long time to see beyond that breaking down of the body that is the initial phase of the method. To see that the method is not crazy. And to get beyond that initial phase of practice that can seem rather masochistic.

I certainly know I am not everyone. Some never experience pain. Some go through years without ever practicing with an injury. If that is you bless you. I’m not writing this to tell everyone’s story.

I am writing this to say that everyone at some point has an experience of pain. We each have an attitude towards our own pain. To me the practice is a good way to start looking at how we approach pain. This discussion isn’t always comfortable, but it is one that a lot of us need to have. To work out how to not seek it, avoid it, or fear it. It’s gonna happen this pain. Just like life is gonna happen. Sometimes it calls on us to do something, and sometimes we just need to let it be what it is and not try to fix it.

What the practice teaches me is how to let go of fighting the pain and to move on and through it without hanging on or becoming identified with it. To let pain become another sensation that educates me, to change my behavior, or to accept what is. This, rather than just putting the foot behind the head, this for me is yoga.

3 thoughts on “Ashtanga and the House of Pain

  1. Annette T.

    This is a brilliant little article about yoga and pain. What I in particular like, is the analogy drawn between yoga and other aspects of life. This creates a deeper understanding of yoga.

  2. Pingback: Procrastinating & Projecting | Savasana Addict

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