Just lately I’ve been thinking, and talking, a lot about the need for me to learn to go with the flow of life, rather than banging into it, like walking into a brick wall. And I was thinking about the analogy of water, which is so frequently used when describing the best way to approach life - and with good reason. Water has the incredible ability to get everywhere, and to dramatically shape and transform, but with very little effort. Just look at the Grand Canyon, an amazing testament to the power of water (and wind), to make astounding transformations over time.
Whilst in the middle of my yoga practice yesterday, it struck me that the reason I still keep hurting myself in yoga (and in life in general) is because I don’t flow like water: I flood. Not for me the gentle trickle of a babbling brook or a gurgling stream. Nor the soft, feather-like caress of a light breeze. Nope. I don’t flow, I flood. I am like a dam breaking, or a hurricane sweeping wildly across the plane of my existence, leaving in its wake more damage and destruction. I approach life like a whirlwind, attempting to flatten all obstacles in my path, ‘cos I’m in too much of a hurry to get to the other side – a force of nature, trying to force nature to bow to my demands. I should come with an in-built tornado warning device so that I can at least prepare myself for the approaching chaos.
My yoga practice is a perfect example of my impatience in action. I began doing it ten years ago, for the simple reason that I needed some form of regular exercise because I wasn’t getting any, but it had to be something which didn’t buy into my eating disordered mind’s obsession with weight loss and body image. So I chose yoga, because it’s gentle, and spiritual – well, at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.
At that time I had poor posture (from permanently slouching in an attempt to hide myself from the world), and such a weak back that I couldn’t sit upright without needing something to lean against. I didn’t find this out until I tried sitting cross-legged on the floor to do meditation. As I practiced yoga, though, both my back and my posture improved dramatically, and I gained other benefits. But then impatience, and goal-setting, reared their ugly heads. I wanted to move onto more advanced stuff: I wanted to be a ‘proper’ yogi, someone who could do handstands, and headstands, meditate perfectly, and float serenely through life without a care.
So the steady, gentle stream turned into a fast-flowing river, with regular flooding (the days where I would push myself over the limit because I’d been too impatient to slow down enough to identify what my limits were, and end up hurting myself yet again). I was constantly driven by the storm of emotion that said I had to keep pushing harder or I’d never get ‘there’, to the goal, to the end result, to the pinnacle.
The result of this whirlwind approach is that I have now acquired a whole new set of exciting injuries, to the same parts of my body – my weak areas, which I have managed to weaken even more. So, my back now hurts, but in a completely different way – it is stiff and unyielding, and I have back pain on a regular basis, and a delightful feeling as if it’s on fire, burning up on the inside. And my knees, of which only one was slightly on the dodgy side, giving me the occasional twinge, are now both knackered because I insisted on forcing them into full Lotus position before they had become pliable and strong enough to do so. Lovely.
To top it all, I now approach my yoga practice with a great deal of trepidation, as if I’m about to go into a lion’s den, wondering what new injury is going to befall me. It’s a long way from the unbounded enthusiasm and excitement that I used to feel; I no longer leap from my bed in the morning, eager to begin. If anything, I now find any excuse to avoid it. This is not good, on a number of levels: one of which is that I am so worried and tense about my back that I find it difficult to relax – and relaxation is central to the art of yoga, it’s part of what stops you getting injured. Relaxing and going with the flow, not coiling in on oneself, then unleashing it in a spiral of dammed up destructive energy, like a tornado.
So I have decided that I shall try to be more like a stream and less like a flood, and maybe then my life won’t frequently resemble the aftermath of a cyclone. Just an occasional heavy rainstorm, perhaps.