Last Wednesday morning I woke up and could not walk. I had excruciating pain in my left hip and with each step I felt sharp searing pangs shoot down my entire leg. There had been no previous symptoms. In fact, it was my other hip that had recently been giving me trouble. I immediately went to see a talented body worker who I recently met and she poked and prodded and created some release, but I was still hurting and had no idea why.
Being in pain is obviously no fun. As a yoga teacher who depends on my body for my career, I immediately fell into all these negative thoughts about never being able to do yoga again, not knowing what else to do with my life and on and on I fell down the rabbit hole of panic and fear. I was afraid and suffering mentally in addition to actually being in physical pain.
I was afraid I would never again do my fancy yoga poses like this one, Vishvamitrasana.
I once heard a teacher say,
“Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.”
Suffering is our attachment to pain. In my case, I was suffering because of attachment to some projected future pain that had not even happened yet! My silly little monkey mind got the best of me and I sat in my body worker’s office in a puddle of tears.
Pain can be our greatest teacher if we allow it to be. I like to think of it as Nature’s way of asking us to slow down, drop in, and discover what may be out of alignment in one way or another.
Although I pride myself on being an alignment junkie in my yoga practice, I started thinking about the myriad of other ways I might be out of alignment in my life. A short list came to mind: I have been under a lot of stress lately as I scramble to rebuild a career after living abroad for 8 years. I just launched my new website which was a huge labor of love (and stress!). I have had a steady inflow of company and out of town visitors streaming through NYC, which means more late nights out, eating later dinners than usual, and getting less sleep than I know is optimal. So while my misalignment might not be an easy pinpoint like “too much outer rotation of my thigh in Warrior 2 pose”, I knew inside that something was deeply off to have woken up suddenly unable to walk.
For two days I hobbled around the city to teach a couple of my yoga classes but quickly discovered I was not of much use to my students in that condition. Not to mention that as I limped from one part of the city to another and shuffled up and down the metro steps, the pain was getting worse and worse.
It could no longer be ignored so I decided to finally accept what life was offering me – a chance (whether I liked it or not) to slow down and pay attention. I got subs for the rest of my classes and spent the weekend laying low. I ate lighter and earlier meals. I stayed off of my computer and gave my inner entrepreneur a few days off. I read. I napped. I watched a movie. I did some very gentle stretching.
I woke up this Monday morning and guess what? I can walk virtually limp-free! I was able to sit cross-legged for the first time in a week (previously too painful) to meditate and after my meditation I even did some yoga poses. Nothing about my practice was Instagram-worthy, but it sure felt good to move my body again. Although I am not 100% healed, I feel my healing is certainly in process and my fear of never feeling normal again has subsided.
While I still don’t know exactly what caused this pain, I decided it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I accepted the invitation the pain gave me to slow down. The pain in my hip gave me a chance to check in and access a variety of ways I may have been living slightly out of alignment lately. The pain reminded me to rest, to do some inner investigation, ask for help, and make my healing a top priority.
If you are living in pain – either physically or emotionally – use the opportunity to slow down, rest, and dig a little deeper to discover what might be out of alignment in your life. Don’t simply pop a pill or push the pain away because it just might be the important wake-up call you need right now to make a big discovery about yourself. But don’t hold on to the pain either because that just creates unnecessary suffering. Get help from friends, doctors, teachers, and healers. But most importantly, help yourself by discovering where you are out of alignment and make a choice to clear it up as quickly as possible.
Pain might just be the wake up call you need.