“Weave your parachute every day, don’t wait until you need to jump out of the plane” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
So I jumped out of the plane this week.
My hamstring niggle combined with a temporarily-absent husband, some long-running emotional family stuff, a failing project at work, plus the usual hormone cycle to create the perfect storm. I fell apart emotionally this week.
I thought I’d been weaving my parachute pretty diligently since I first started Mindfulness meditation a couple of years ago. But this week, when I needed it, I discovered that actually I’ve been hauling round a huge amount of baggage along with a very messily-crocheted parachute.
In the last week or so I think I managed to break every single yama and niyama, the yogic observances that are basically the guidelines for looking after yourself and others. I can forgive myself this, since they’re only recently a significant part of my yoga practice. Not much weaving time yet. But I also abandoned my meditation practice and with it all the skillful responses that Mindfulness teaches. My world reduced down to my right hamstring and associated anatomy (of which — silver lining alert — I now have a greater understanding) as my brain went into free fall catastrophising the situation into something beyond remedy. Ever. Googling hamstring injuries pretty much convinced me that I’d never practice asana again and it was all my fault for having poor technique (something about the hip tilt in forward folds and not pulling my kneecaps up in straight-legged standing poses…) and for demanding too much more from my body, when I should have stayed grateful for everything it was already doing.
Enter three players into this drama (or farce) who showed me the love I couldn’t show myself and in various ways set me back on my feet again:
1) My mum offered what she always does — unconditional love, pure and simple. Sometimes that’s all you need. A simple phone call, the sound of her voice. Oh yes, and some good advice: you don’t need to compete even with yourself in yoga, your practice is beautiful as it is.
2) My oldest girlfriends heeded the call and did what they do best — offer bit of girl-power support over a bottle of red and a whole lot of empathy based on really knowing me over many years.
3) My teacher excelled even beyond his usual excellence and gave me just the right combination of facts (the anatomy books), warmth (a tear-inducing hug), and tough love (“stop looking morose and get back on the mat”). Plus he gave acres of his time for me to lay out all my anxieties on the studio floor and then helped me pick over them to see if any were real, and graciously met all the questions that bubbled out of me, even when they probably sounded more critical than curious.
So what’s the prologue to this drama? What set the scene for a trivial muscle strain to assume such epic proportions in my head? We need to flashback to when I was 15 and was diagnosed with ME (now known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Back then it was little understood, and there was no recommended treatment. I was sick, weak, in pain, and very scared. I felt as though my body had given up and I gradually lost faith in it myself. Fastforward through two tedious decades, when improvements happened gradually in a stop-start kind of way, until we pick up the story a few years ago when my GP slightly sceptically suggested Mindfulness. I think this worked because the practice not only cultivates a sense of self-compassion and acceptance but also provides a subtle way of tuning in to how you feel at any moment, allowing evasive action and pre-emptive rest, rather than falling into the common cycle of over-exertion and collapse. For the first time since diagnosis I felt that I was doing something to help myself. I improved steadily and started to fall in love with life again. I became increasingly curious about the connections between mind and body since I was desperate to use this connection to cultivate better health.
Cue the entry of a very gentle yoga teacher who taught me how to listen in to my muscles and bones, explore gentle movements, and begin to have confidence in a body that had let me down for a long while. As my body grew stronger so did my yoga practice, and I moved from static hatha poses to dynamic vinyasa. And I loved it. I had arrived back in my life. The joy of being able to expend energy doing nothing more useful than making sweaty shapes in a room full of energetic people to a crazy soundtrack of souped-up Sanskrit chants was fantastic! I didn’t know what I was doing, but it felt right and my body was clearly thriving.
And now, a year and half on, the hamstring niggle totally stopped me in my happy tracks. I felt as though it was curtain-down although the party had only just started. Frustration yes, but also a fear that this magic spell of meditation and yoga asana would stop working if my practice had to accommodate an injury.
Like any good Greek tragedy there’s no conclusion to this drama, but there is a certain catharsis. I’ve finally stopped over-dramatizing. I’m determining to heed the good advice that seems to have been delivered sometime while my ears and brain were messing about back-stage — from my meditation teacher “have love and faith” and from my yoga teacher “it’s just about shapes. and remembering to smile”.
With thanks to the unpaid protagonists in my little drama. xx