I didn’t want to go to my yoga class last week. I usually look forward to the hour and a half of time spent on me and me alone, but this time I just wasn’t in the mood. This time of year I usually work three days a week, but I was working a full, 40 hour week. The change in my routine had made me crabby, and a night vegging on the couch sounded much more appealing. My right elbow was crabby and sore as well. The idea of doing poses that would challenge its comfort seemed like torture.
“You should go” said Mr. Maid. “You know you’ll feel better if you do.” Even though I suspected he was looking forward to a few hours without my grumpiness, I knew he was right. It seemed that whenever I didn’t want to go to class, I would end up having the most enjoyable practice. So I reluctantly gathered up my bag and drove to class.
During the 20 minute drive across town, I started thinking about my aching elbow. I reminded myself of the concept of Ahimsa that my teachers often mentioned. The term has special significance in several eastern religions (it’s very interesting – you can read about it here), but in very basic terms, it means “non-harming.”
So, as I started my practice, I was particularly mindful of my elbow. I babied it along through class, taking special care with every movement. I limited my planks and skipped the Chaturanga dandasanas altogether.
Something really interesting began to happen. I was practicing yoga the way I should always be practicing. My focus was entirely inward, noticing how each muscle and joint was reacting to each pose. I wasn’t paying attention to my classmates. I wasn’t noticing how much deeper into the backbend the person in front of me was going. I wasn’t peeking between my legs at the person behind me and envying how her hamstrings allowed her heels to descend all the way to her mat – something my tight hammies will never let me do.
When it was time for Shavasana, (known as corpse pose,) I was able to turn off the usual chatter in my brain and fully relax into my mat. My elbow felt better, and sure enough, it was one of the best classes I’d had in a long time.
On the drive home, I was pondering my experience. Because of my concerns about my elbow, I conducted my practice differently. Rather than just going through the motions of each pose, or letting my ego take over and comparing myself (either favorably or unfavorably) to my classmates, I was truly present. I moved from pose to pose mindfully and carefully, modifying my postures and pushing each stretch only as far as it was meant to go in my body at that time.
Why did it take being in pain to force me to practice yoga the way I always should? Was I doing that in other parts of my life too? I think we all do it to some extent. I remembered that an alternate meaning of Ahimsa is “compassion” – for yourself, for others, and for the world around you.
Do we eat right only after feeling awful from overindulging?
Do we finally slow down and get some rest only after burning the candle at both ends?
Do we treat our partners with extra care only after snapping at them or hurting their feelings?
Do we only pray when things are going wrong and we need help?
I think we can all learn something from my crabby elbow. Instead of just reacting to what happens in our lives, we need to be present and aware of what we do to ourselves and to others; be mindful and careful about our actions and our words.
I only get one body in this life – I need to take care of it. I need to listen to it and do what’s right for it all the time, not just if I’m feeling ill or in pain.
I need to be good and kind to Mr. Maid and everyone else in my life. Think how wonderful it would be to never have to apologize to anyone again for being hurtful, rude, or impatient!
Most of all, I need to practice gratitude every day. Gratitude for this healthy, strong body, and for this (reasonably) sound mind. Gratitude for Mr. Maid and for my family and friends. And gratitude for the ability to learn lessons every day that will help me be a better person. God – or whomever or whatever you believe in – has given us all the tools we need. It’s up to us to use them.