Steve and I have become fans of Philadelphia teacher David Garrigues without ever taking his class. Sure, we have friends who are students of his. Also, we watch his videos, read his blog. But I’m a fan because he speaks openly about a topic that is near and dear to me: Pain.
Forgive me but I don’t care about your pain, small or large, because it is infinitely tiny and nothing at all compared to the possibilities for healing that are right in front of you.
It seems Mr. Garrigues is a little tired of pain complaints. Seems this is the Number One thing Ashtanga teachers have to learn to deal with; David quotes some Guruji scenarios I’m familiar with from Tim Miller’s teaching, where the answer is always, “You take it you practice.”
Tim, it should be noted has a very particular way of dealing with it. He listens, and as he listens you can tell he’s deciding if he needs to be concerned, and when he’s made his decision, he has a very particular eyebrows-lifted-uh-huh-nod that basically means “you take it you practice” and carries on with the adjustment.
I was very lucky to have this lesson early on–the “you take it you practice” lesson–from teachers who treated pain as part of the process. Otherwise, I certainly would’ve quit.
If I had landed in any other yoga class, I certainly would’ve heard, “If it hurts, then back off.” Everything hurt. I would’ve backed off, and right out of the room. So I learned from my teachers Shayna, Diana, and Tim that if I were to be freed from the constant pain of the disintegrating disks in my back, I would have to ignore it as part of the process, in order to get stronger. As Tim puts it, “Sometimes you have to use a thorn to remove a thorn.”
It wasn’t long before I stopped reacting to pain, even if it was just for the short duration of my daily practice.
That was not easy. Which brings me to another bold (literally) statement in David’s newsletter:
If you expect success in yoga to come at a small price tag:
I didn’t quit. But there were many, many practices that I swore aloud, I’m not doing this anymore. Steve can back me up: I would come home from practice, sit on the floor, and cry.
So I guess the point of this post is to back David up with a true story of finding, as he puts it, “light, wealth, and beauty” in what once appeared to be a “dark, desolate cave.”
It is the great blessing of the practice that once the body is stronger, pain appears in the context of strength rather than weakness. This frees the mind, even in pain, to see beyond the pain—to the larger purposes of the practice, to the other seven limbs, and to gain a greater quality of life.
It requires dedication, application, discipline, and also (and I think this is key) humor. This is a pretty rare stew of qualities, and it’s why I think Ashtanga won’t ever be a popular form of yoga, why it will always be a quirky little corner of the many forms we have today. If it stays true to the way Guruji taught.
There is no doubt, Ashtanga will change your life. Not many people want their lives to change. Even the pain. Sometimes, we worship our pain, and it becomes an old friend. I have family and friends in that place, have seen them situate their identities as people who suffer life rather than live it, and I’m grateful to Ashtanga, to the practice, for granting me the clarity of mind to make wiser distinctions.
Posted by Bobbie