So I have to admit it: I've been a Bitter Betty for the last couple months. Before yesterday, I hadn't practiced in well over a month. What happened you might ask? LIFE.
On April 19th of this year, I lost a very special person to me. My Aunty Barb passed away suddenly. Coincidentally, I suffered a knee injury in Janusirsana C the very same morning. A bigg'un. That morning I was at practice group like normal. I was doing my practice like I had been for the last year. Almost every single morning I woke up at the ass crack of dawn, grabbed all of my practice and work stuff, headed to the studio, practiced for about an hour and a half, and then headed straight to work where I put in a good 9-10 hour day. This particular day my knee just wasn't feeling what I was trying to put it through and I felt and heard something pop horrendously. My husband was in Encinitas, CA (where I was to join him just a few days later) studying with Sharath and Saraswathi. I was devastated that evening, to say the least. A few days later, I traveled to Flagstaff, AZ to attend my aunt's viewing and funeral. Not only did I have to cope for the first few days after her death without my husband by my side, but I had to witness my entire family completely torn apart by grief. After the funeral, I flew directly to San Diego where I was to study with Sharath and Saraswathi for a week. With a knee that didn't work and a heart that hurt.
I practice primary series. Almost everything in primary series requires the use of my knee. It was terrible. While I was so grateful to be able to study with these amazing teachers, I was bitter and angry that I couldn't do my practice how I was used to. I am a naturally flexible person. From day 1 of my practice, I have been able to access pretty much every pose in primary series. I became very attached to the physical aspect of my asana (I know, I know... my ego). I associated my practice with these poses and the movement of my body.
When we returned from Encinitas, I became angry. Angry at God, the world, my husband, pretty much everything. I felt like I could barely breath. I didn't want to practice. Shit hit the fan in my life. I was grieving, I couldn't do my practice, and other aspects of my personal life began to fall apart. I also associated the pain of my aunt's death with my practice and my injured knee.
Instead of leaning on my practice and using it to get through this tough transition in my life, I just gave up on it. I refused to do it. I didn't like the uncomfortable feeling of not being able to bend my knee without feeling like it was going to dislocate. I began to blame my unhappiness and stress in my life on my practice and on practice group. I was tired of waking up so damn early every day for something I felt like failed me. I was tired of not having a teacher in town to instruct me and guide me. I felt like my practice and the Ashtanga system let me down. I was heartbroken.
A teacher from Singapore was also coming to visit for the 2nd year in a row in June. I wasn't planning on going to see him. What's the point? I can't do my practice and I hurt. I was a complete wreck emotionally and physically. The week before James arrived I went out for tea with a good friend (James' student). She encouraged me to come see him, even feeling as fucked up as I did. I was apprehensious, but decided it couldn't hurt. The day he got into town she texted me to see if I would come the next day. I went. And it was the best decision I could have made.
I went into the room and began my warm up. I did my sun salutations and went through the standing postures. James didn't even glance at me. I thought, "That's ok, there are at least 10 other people here. He has a lot of students and I am just another person (who he has only taught a handful of times. mind you)". When I sat down to begin my seated postures, he came over to me and gave me the biggest and most heartfelt hug I may have ever received. He held me tight and patted my hair. The world stopped. I could feel that he cared and was concerned for me. He said something to the effect of, "I know you have a lot of problems right now so lets start with your knee". He spent a few minutes just massaging it and reminding me that injuries aren't permanent. He went through every seated posture with me and showed me every modification to make my knee work with my practice.
I felt so incredibly blessed and restored by the end of the practice. I did get stopped at Marichiyasana A, and I decided that that was ok. I came to the brink of tears multiple times during my practice. I realized that it isn't about what my body can do for me or what kind of contortionist I can be: it is purely about showing up and being present. James and my friend who encouraged me restored my faith in the practice and the method.
Bad things in life will happen. Suffering is inevitable. I will, one day, lose another person that I am close with. I will also probably suffer another injury at some point (from the practice or just from daily life). Maybe, if I have my practice and continue to cultivate it, it will make these bad things a little bit more bearable. I can't blame the bad things in life on my practice and how it has let me down. A practice doesn't guarantee a pain free life. It just helps you get through the pain a little easier.
It is not any easier to get through each day without my aunt here on this Earth. It wont be for a long time. Sometimes I think I am ok, but then I just lose it. These things will happen. Death is going to happen to those I love and to myself. The best thing I can do for myself is to grow as a person and just learn to be ok. I cannot expect to have a perfect life, because I will be let down.
It has been a true test of my ego to not be able to do the entire primary series this week. It is hard knowing that James will only be here for a few more days, and I will not progress any further than I did last year. But that is ok. It isn't about what series I am practicing or whether or not I can stand up from my drop backs. I just need to be there.