December 30, 2016
Santosha, Asana and Injury: Finding My Way Back Home
I have an on-again-off-again relationship with my vinyasa asana practice. Although this is the style that I predominantly teach, my own experience reflects something more like a tumultuous high school romance. One day, it is fiery, sweaty, filled with awe and inspiration as my breath moves my body into more “advanced” postures. I sweat. I breathe. I listen. My heart beats, steady and rhythmic, my focus razor sharp, my savasana sweet and my meditation? A dream.
Other days, though, old injuries, pains and thought patterns come to play. I am unsure, insecure and frozen. Chronic sciatica sidelines my asana practice. The same body that moved with ease into inversions or arm balances and held standing postures feels broken. We lay on the mat together, my body and mind, feeling a desire to meet my expectations of my practice. We argue about what to do.
“Extended savasana, breath work and gentle restorative poses!” my knowledgeable self pleads. Roll-on-the-floor-asana becomes my peak posture.
“But progress!” cries my ego. “You’re falling behind. Come on! We’ve come this far.”
It is a noble pursuit to take care of your body and mind. It is a difficult path to walk. To know who to listen to. To know what is true for you and what is not. To navigate the twists and turns with no road map, no GPS. This is when we look beyond the physical, to our teachers and their teachings. Enter: the Niyamas.
This is where we turn to Santosha: sacred contentment.
I see it in my students as well as myself. We come to the mat to experience, to feel, to drop in. But where to start? How to know where to go if not by using maps we’ve previously laid out?
Through intelligent teachers and our own inherent knowledge, we can move safely. We can explore the intricacies of where we have been, of feeling like this adho mukha shvanasana – this downward-facing dog – is brand new. Drawing on our curiosity and our creativity, we can create a practice grounded in Santosha.
Contentment: an acceptance of one’s circumstance.
Drop the expectations of where you are in your asana practice. This becomes difficult as you continue over the years. There is a push and pull between “but this is what I know about my body and my self” and “right now I know nothing, I am here to explore.” Striking a balance between the two is a constant dance. Equilibrium is not a destination, but a happy (and ever-changing) medium between self-knowledge and lack of expectations.
To know this each day, each hour, each time we arrive at the mat… we must accept what is, not what was.
To greet injury and stagnation at the door, inviting it in.
To allow space for progress without a timeline.
To be comfortable with where we are.
To revisit old practices with new eyes.
To step back on the mat and move, without anticipation.
We must accept what is.
Be kind to your self and your body. That is the work.
See you there.