My body hurts today.
Running four miles on day three after sitting for seven hours in a car was probably not such a good idea. (Especially since I haven’t run more than three miles in about two months). Working Taraksvasana A with an injured back, followed up by a stiff, three hour nap was probably not the smartest thing for my body either (it was a fantastically good time, though). I think I can feel about 80% of the muscles in my body when I move from a seated to a standing position.
But I can feel them, and through feeling, I can know my muscles better. In “Mediations from the Mat,” Rolf Gates talks about overcoming the difficulties associated with flat feet. Gates said it took him six months in order to build the muscles in his feet so that he was able to lift his arches. Now, I’ve never had a hard time finding the arches of my feet (you could almost stick a block underneath them), but I understand his message. When we practice yoga, we learn to focus our attention to a particular area of the body and keep it there–even when our mind screams otherwise. I have learned, through injury, how intimately connected my stiff hips are to the proper function of my low back.
I was born with congenital hip dysplasia, where my hip was frankly dislocated when I made my screaming entrance to the world. For 12 weeks, I was placed in what’s called a “Pavlik harness,” which held my legs in flexion and abduction (think: frog position) and allowed a very small amount of movement to occur. Obviously, I was not the world’s most snugly baby. My hips have been very tight for the rest of my life. I haven’t found anyone who’s studied any sort of connection between congenital hip dysplasia and tight hips, but until they prove me otherwise, I’m blaming my tight hips on my early life condition.
Normally, when you arch into a backbend, the sacrum moves forward, initiating movement at the hips. When hips are tight, the hip flexors remain stiff and the sacrum can’t move forward. Thus no movement occurs in the hips and instead all movement is taken in the low back. Repetitive incorrect movement can cause the low back muscles to move into spasm. That’s where my back has been for the past six months.
But thanks to a brilliant physical therapist, I’ve learned to forge a new relationship with my hips and low back. I’ve learned how to initiate movement with my hips first, and when to recognize that a movement isn’t safe for me. Even through all the healing work I’m doing, I’ve noticed that I almost always expect my back to hurt, which I realized today sets up a negative feedback mechanism in my brain. It’s kind of like the law of attraction–if you live in fear and expect bad things to happen to you, they probably will. If you believe that you will fail a test or meet new friends or get a big gut from drinking beer, you probably will. So if I believe that my back will always hurt, it will. I’m not saying it’s not injured or it doesn’t need rest and rehabilitation. But expecting pain doesn’t help, either. Like Gates says, “Through yoga, we learn to bring our attention to a particular area in our bodies, or in our lives, and keep in there–and the results are nothing short of miraculous.” What he didn’t add was that the results are only miraculous if you expect miracles.
My practice today was slow, gentle, flowing. Throughout, I focused on listening to what my body was saying in that moment, rather than expecting it to scream in protest. Instead of expecting pain, I expected my back to function normally–which is nothing short of a miracle. Today, try to focus on the present moment and to expect miracles and magic–only then can you change a negative thought pattern to a positive one.