by Fay Inger
I am a yogi, but I am not invincible. I know this because I was recently injured in car accident and X-rays (and later an MRI) revealed a total of 5 herniated discs in my lumbar spine. Two in particular are pressing on a nerve, shooting pain in to my glute and down into my leg and knee. The painful throb feels as if a red-hot fireplace iron is constantly and firmly poking me. My injuries are relatively small compared to serious injuries people sustain in auto accidents, but hearing that this will never ever fully heal, and the best I can do is manage the pain, is a difficult reality to accept. And because my profession involves movement and demonstration, the first questions that came to mind were about my ability to teach and practice yoga.
Yoga. Yoga is the love of my life and has been my life since 2001 when I was first introduced to it, and especially since 2008 when I began my voyage into the world of teacher trainings. From that point on, I was on a trajectory of feel-good body awareness and meditation. My life orbited around yoga to the point where it was no longer a hobby and it became my chosen profession. I loved the way it made me feel and I became obsessed with introducing other people to how good it could make them feel. I became a teacher of yoga.
I was high all the time from feel-good endorphins, increased circulation, length, and expansion in my body, meditation, and deep yogic breathing. It was exquisite. But the higher we are, the harder we fall and this experience has brought me back down to earth’s orbit, where for the first time in 12 years I feel…mortal. I am now like Superman in the second film when Clark Kent gives up his powers to grow closer to Lois Lane, except I didn’t willingly submit myself to this. Now I am forced to deal with the truth that 1) I am not actually invincible, 2) I can bend and break, and 3) I am emotionally attached to the experiences of my physical body.
Up until now I (sort of, half jokingly) believed that being a yogi equaled being invincible. It is as if all the physical practice of yoga formed a protective shield around my body, just as Superman’s shield of invulnerability did. Like I said, as if.
Every point of opposition between fantasy and reality is an opportunity to grow. While I am mourning the loss of my imagined super powers, I, as well as many yogis connected to the Dharma Yoga Center, experienced the loss of a dear friend, mentor, and inspiring yogi, Bernadette, who recently passed away. Bernadette was a strong yogi who was known to practice Bikram yoga to warm up for teaching a class. She was warm and genuine and knew exactly what to say to someone in a given moment. I was lucky to have Bernadette as a mentor and I will never forget the conversations we had. She is and will be missed. Her passing is a painful loss to all who knew her, but it also served as a lesson to naïve yogis who think we are invincible: We yogis are not inoculated against life any more than non-yogis. We may have been armed with tools to deal with life and conflict compassionately and with non-attachment, but if you have a date with karma, it will find you despite all the yoga and meditation practiced in the world. In the end all we (yogis) can do is what anyone can do: deal with the matter at hand and make the most of the situation, and maybe keep a smile on your face in the process.
I always like to say, “Think good and it will be good.” Yoga has given me a lot to think good about. I can also see how yoga is a metaphor for life: How I deal with my stuff on my mat directly correlates to how I deal with stuff in my life. If I get bent out of shape when my “spot” in class is taken by an innocent and unknowing bystander, how will I react if I am cut off on the road? And on the days when my practice just isn’t strong and I allow that to ruin my day, how much more so will I come undone in the wake of an actual catastrophe? If I cannot breathe through the hard poses, how can I possibly breathe through the tough moments in life? And if I cannot be grateful in a 90-minute class, how can I ever be grateful for the blessings in life, big and small?
Yoga mirrors life and provides a safe space to exam yourself in the confines of a piece of a rubber yoga mat, 2 feet by 6 feet: the space is small enough to allow you to move but not large enough to get away from yourself mentally or physically. So I explore. I take those 90 minute intervals to be fully present with myself so that I can be fully present with other people in the infinitely large world. On my mat I accept my imperfections and injuries so that I can be compassionate and loving to others’ imperfections and injuries. But most of all I love myself so fully and completely so that there are no imperfections, just a collection of stamps in the passport of my life that prove that I am not “perfect,” but I am whole.
So when you next see me in class and on my mat or teaching you in class, there is no need to ask if I am okay, because I am and will be. Instead just smile and catch my eye and know that in that moment we will both be whole.
(This post first appeared on the blog Fay Inger)
Fay is an 800-Hour Certified Dharma Yoga instructor living in Los Angeles, California. Fay is a private yoga instructor, writes blog posts on yoga and wellness and is learning nutrition to better help her students reach their health and fitness goals. As she always says, “yoga is a gift” and it is her favorite gift to share!