There is a saying in Hebrew that has been quoted to me on a few occasions. I don’t quite understand it fully as my hebrew is still a work in progress – as is the rest of me – but it has something to do with a “shoemaker or cobbler who goes in the street without shoes.”
I have been teaching Yoga for a Happy Back (and neck) now for the last 10 years or so and have built a great deal of this work on my personal experience with physiotherapy, Yoga, scoliosis and a disc herniation in my lower back.
Now, 10 years later, I am suffering from another problem, a likely disc bulge in my neck (around the c6-c7 region). It happened one day when I turned my head to look behind me, in the few days after my father’s death in Montreal. At first, i thought it was just my muscles responding to the stress of the recent events by going into spasm, but now, a few months later, I am feeling tingling, numbness and weakness in my right arm and fingers in addition to pain in my shoulder blade and anterior chest.
I have had the opportunity now to use all of the techniques I teach for the upper back, neck and shoulders and have experienced a great amount of relief (at least 50%), but I see that this work goes deeper. I teach my students that pain in the neck has a direct emotional component of “carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders” and that a great deal of letting go needs to happen in order to release tension in the neck muscles that contribute to cervical compression.
It is one thing to teach this and, as I am learning, another thing to practice it. I have now become the student instead of the teacher. I have been forced to stop pushing myself in my work and physical activities and have been faced with all of the recent stresses that I have been carrying on my shoulders.
I can see that I do not want to look at these things and feel them. It is hard and it makes me sad. When I slow down I can feel the grief not only of my father’s death, but for the father and mother that I never really had. i never had someone’s shoulder to lean on, to cry on or to rest on and consequently I have learned to be strong and maintain a sense of control from a very young age.
I feel the sadness of the news that my best friend has cancer and although her treatment is going well, I am faced with the impending reality of impermanence and the realities of growing older.
I feel the intensity of moving to a new country and becoming a foreigner in culture and in language. I feel the vulnerability of not knowing what to do when my car breaks down or if I am in pain.
I feel the self inflicted pressure to be superwoman – and the disappointment when I tend to fall short, which is an inevitability of being human.
I also feel the anger and resentment at my body – that although I dedicate a great deal of time to my Yoga practice and body awareness, I still find myself struggling with physical injury. I often look at my friends posting their beautiful handstands on Facebook and find myself envious of their physical prowess.
I feel the realization that I am, in fact, growing older, and finding myself relating to a new group of friends, those whose parents are dying and who are also experiencing injuries and illnesses.
And, at the same time as all of this, I am feeling deep gratitude for all that I have, for the wonderful, adventurous and fulfilling life that I lead, for the amazing people I have the opportunity to call my friends and for all that is healthy and functioning in my body at this time. When you have pain in one area, it definitely makes you appreciate all the parts that actually do work.
All these conflicting emotions come up when I am still, when I have to accept that I am not in control. They come up when I practice my pranayama and meditation, and when I place my feet on my Yoga mat, reluctantly at times, to begin my asana practice.
Yes, I am a teacher, but I am also a student. We all are. And without the kindness of others around us, we are lost.
I am so thankful for the guys at the local coffee house in Herzliya for helping me with my car this morning. I walked in, overwhelmed, with tears in my eyes and when the owner asked me how I was, I took a deep breath and said, “today I need help.” This is something that is very difficult for me to do and it brings up a vulnerability that makes me weary. But I needed his help, and he was there with a smile.
Instead of moving forward with a busy agenda, I am taking the time to sit with all of these feelings. To let them wash over me instead of running away. To surrender to the lack of control I have in life and to give myself the opportunity to heal.
This is my practice today.