How many times in the past year, month, week, or even day have you checked out of reality?
In the past week, I’ve checked out several times. There are the times when I consciously checked out, like when I picked up Breaking Dawn for the sixth time or immersed myself in a two hour season premier of Grey’s Anatomy. But there are also the unconscious check-outs. Those times when I’m driving down the freeway and suddenly realize I don’t remember the last five miles because I was lost in thought, or when I became so obsessed with finding a decent rain jacket that I don’t remember what I did at work that day. Often times, when we’re out of reality too often, some sort of force moves in to police us. For example, if you’re out of reality when you’re driving, chances are the actual police will pull you over and bring you back. In my own life, the TV show or the book comes to an end and reminds me that I’m not immortal or have a dramatic love life. In our yoga practice, Gates says, injuries often act as the reality police.
I’ve talked about my back problems before (which are healing very nicely, by the way), but this was a perfect example for me. For years, I was moving incorrectly in almost every sport I competed in. I’d strained my back before, but thought those episodes were caused by specific incidents, rather than from me being out of touch with my body. When my back finally gave up giving me signals, it pulled me over and gave me a sentence of 6 months to a year.
So often in our yoga practice, we become lazy in the postures we do over and over again. In astanga yoga, those postures are often the vinyasa (chaturanga, upward facing dog, and downward facing dog), and many of the common standing postures, like virabrudrasana I and II. When we just “hang out” in these postures, or get bored and lazy, we are mentally checking out of reality, just for a moment, until we get to the “hard” part again and need to concentrate. Then when we injure our elbow or shoulder, we wonder why. Injuries in the body are almost always a result of something happening in the entire self, or as Gates says, “the interconnected web of our mind, body, spirit, and relationships. Most often than not, injuries are lessons.” Or messages; metaphors for our life.
Not that we deserve to have our injuries, or that our subconscious mind is trying to sabotage our practice. Rather, our injuries are a reminder for us to come back to reality, to pay attention not just to the difficult postures or moments in life, but to the mundane – the chaturanga and the commute to work.