By Shameem Akhtar
Enduring bodily pain on the mat equips you to bounce back faster from emotional and mental suffering
People think that as a yoga teacher I must be above feelings. Or if I do have feelings, I have learnt to suppress them effectively. I have surprising reactions to this combination of yoga practice and feelings!
My understanding of pain in life and yoga’s relationship to it is different. This comes from the experience of my body, its pain, its resistance on the mat. Possibly, due to regular sadhana, this offers insights into the mind also. Perhaps that is why our gurus insisted that without practical yoga you simply could not peep into the murkier aspects of the mind or its underpinnings. Or talk of emotional culturing.
Pain is not only inevitable, but also desirable in certain situations. For example, if you are turning a doorknob, it is the subconscious pain mechanism, which tells you that you can only go that far with your wrist. Lepers, whose nerves have been desensitised often lose parts of their body because they do not experience this sort of ‘friendly’ pain. Where yoga or any other discipline helps is on deciding how fast you may recover from such pain, and revert to homeostasis, harmony and balance of body and mind.
I felt this most intimately while packing off my daughter to the boarding school. It hurt to send her away. It was her right also, in a manner of speaking, that I miss her. Yet, while away, she would be happier to hear that I was not just coping but also happy. I could not deny her that either. So, even where one has no choice but to feel pain one is simultaneously expected to return to harmony. I brought this up because it is a common experience, but even in the case of other pains that are more specific to my life.
The body itself, in every cell, works on such a need to return to this fragile balance of homeostasis. Too much protection, as with the immune gland, causes autoimmune disasters like arthritis, or asthma where the body attacks itself. Too little immunity and we suffer all sorts of infections. Moving into increasing challenges on the mat and being able to return the body to a state of balance soon is what you learn with yoga. So too with emotional drains. We all hurt. But not just how we hurt but how well we bounce back is what yoga teaches you.
Tolangulasana (Balance pose)
Sit in the classic padmasana or lotus pose, with feet firmly crossed. Inhale. Exhale, lift knees off the floor. If balance is shaky, use a firm support behind until you gain confidence. Place hands in any mudra of your choice, on your knees. Focus your attention on any spot in front of you. Hold for as long as you can. Gently ease knees back to floor, unfold legs to emerge from pose.
Avoid: If unable to do padmasana, or if you have knee problems.
Benefits: Is a great pose to improve focus. Strengthens upper body. Creates mental and physical harmony.
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