Back pains. Life lessons.

Yoga is not about self-improvement. It’s about self-acceptance.

– Gurmukh

I was awoken last Thursday at 5 am by a terrible shooting pain up the right side of my neck. I wasn’t able to turn my head or bend over. I was overcome by fear for my health, but also worry that I wouldn’t be able to do all the things that I had committed to for that week. I have been working a lot lately and admittedly have been quite caught up in the busyness of life at the expense of my well-being. When friends from back home ask me how I’m doing, I find myself responding with: “Good, but I’m so busy.” Why do I do this to myself? Why do I feel the need to fill up every moment of the week and run myself beyond capacity?

Maybe it’s society convincing me that success come from being busy. Maybe it’s my insecurity of needing to prove my self-worth without checking in with my capacity first. Whatever the irrational fear behind my drive to be busy, one thing is clear: my body, mind and soul can’t keep up. Something’s gotta give, and it seems that something was my back.

Lately, my perfectionist personality had begun using my intense Bikram yoga practice as a means to self-improvement, a forceful inward expectation that eventually led to exhaustion. I have mild scoliosis, a slight curvature in my spine that often leads to irritating back pain. Yoga certainly helps, but only if I let my body guide my practice rather than my mind. Forcing myself into postures and willing my body to bend in a certain way can often lead to more damage than the healing I am intending. Patience can be the most difficult virtue, especially when my ego is telling me to push just a little bit harder.

The intense pain in my back was a pretty loud message that I needed to take a step back from my current routine and re-evaluate. The result is, I’ve taken some time off from Bikram to engage in a new type of challenge: turning down the intensity and checking in with myself. I am taking it slow by following Rachel Brathen’s Release & Let Go*  and  I am already feeling the benefits of this new pace both on and off the mat. The pain is not gone. However, instead of it being a frustrating limitation, the pain has transformed into a beautiful reminder to slow down and be more present, rather than mindlessly busy.

Limitations and set-backs are not always negative, but rather can be opportunities for growth and enlightenment. If it’s no longer serving you, don’t fight it. Embrace the practice of letting go.

*Check out Rachel’s new practices available at http://practice.rachelbrathen.com/