By now, I think you have all heard me say time and time again, how much yoga has changed my life and how grateful I am for all that I have learned, and yet, the really beautiful thing about life and about yoga, is that we never stop learning, we never stop growing and we are never ever above change.
The last few weeks, I have been learning something new in my yoga practice and in my life in general. It began one morning as I moved through the primary series. This series and I have had a love hate relationship in the past, but today, I am head over heels, madly in love with my ashtanga practice, and I thank God every day for it.
But this particular morning, as I moved from pose to pose, I began to notice something. I wasn’t counting fully to five and then moving to the next pose, I was breathing and counting to 4, and when I knew that 5 was coming, I began to transition to the next asana. I tried to remedy it and continue, and just as I had made it to the floor for dandasana, I realized, I was thinking way ahead. I was in dandasana, my bandhas were engaged, and the breath and gaze were steady, but my mind was skipping ahead to the next couple of poses. I inhaled and lifted my chin up, and took a second before moving into the first forward fold and decided to change something. I was going to change my anxiety of the poses to come into presence of mind. The problem was, it was easier said than done.
When my practice ended, and I went on with the rest of my day, I decided to try to stay present and stop anticipating. So, the day started out great, and before you know it, a sharp pain on my toe indicated that I would be in need to go to the foot doctor; and all my intention of non-anticipation, went out the window.
Exactly a year ago, I had been forced to pay a visit to the foot doctor due to a hugely embarrassing, can’t believe it happened to me, ingrown toe-nail. (yes, you can go right ahead and think it, YUCK! And for those of you who have been, ahem, blessed enough to experience this your selves, yes, OUCH!)
So, subconsciously, I began to do exactly what I have been training my poor body to do in these circumstances, I panicked with the full on fear of anticipation.
My palms got sweaty, I entered a stage of denial and I ignored the poor toe for a few more days, sustaining, though knowing better, that this was only a mild infection, and it would heal if I kept soaking it and cleaning it every day. However, by the 4th day, the true concern and reality of it all set in. I asked my dear mother and sister in-law about it, and they both said it might be time, then I asked one of my dearest yoga teachers, and she said much the same, so; I resigned my self to the fact that this was happening. No more hiding the truth little me, it was time to make a call.
And so I did. I called the doctor, and made an appointment, and began to panic internally because I knew what was going to happen, and I knew how much it was going to hurt, I was in full anticipation mode, and full story mode (you know, that place where you tell your self something is so just because you have perceived it to be so in the past; like thinking that just because you stubbed your toe on your mom’s end table once, it will keep happening if you so much as look at the darn thing; that story mode)
So, the day went by and I kept trying to breathe, and meditate and focus on my practice, but the second I stopped meditating, or ended my practice, the reality set in again, and I began to panic all over again.
The morning of the consult, I did some restorative to calm my nerves and headed over to the doctor’s office with my mom (I told you I knew what was coming, and heck, I wanted backup). As soon as the nurse took a look at my toe she had a look in her eye that said, “oh, you poor girl, here you go again” and my heart sank to the floor. Then the doctor came in, and with out even inspecting the toe in a detailed manner, announced, the nail is in-grown, it must come out. So, she sits down, and before she even touches my foot, I begin to get light headed. My body was frozen, my mind, and soul, trapped by a memory of the same doctor performing the same surgery on the same toe a freaking year ago! In my mind, the pain was already there, and so, when she finally began, all the memories of the pain, plus the actual pain of what was happening and what had happened seemed to meld together in a perfect symphony of real and fabricated pain that culminated with my embarrassing near fainting.
My mom was worried, the doctor had to help me lie down, the nurse gave me some water and put some cold compresses on my neck and forehead while studiously pointing out how pale I was, and then, it hit me. I had sabotaged myself in this moment, much the same way I had been sabotaging myself while practicing a few mornings back.
Except, instead of anticipating breaths and asanas, I was anticipating pain; so when what was happening in the moment happened, I had dragged a pre-conceived notion of what it was going to be like with me and made things a hundred times worse than they needed to be.
As the doctor sat there telling me I should never even think about having children because I probably will never be able to handle the pain (hey! Don’t anticipate on my behalf lady haha) I began to ponder (funny how after I started doing yoga these little cathartic moments and lessons are just so clear to me form time to time) and look back on certain things in my life, and I began to realize how adept I had become in the art of anticipation.
As a child, if I ever took a tumble, I would anticipate a repeat, and would therefore, be extra cautious, and, honestly a scardy cat about it, and most likely avoid that thing again (which is why it took me so long to learn how to ride a bike, and why I have not been rollerblading in years)
Then, I started to create stories in my head, and think them to be facts about life, so, some kids in school shunned me for being fat; but the second I drastically lose weight due to a triple case of salmonella (yup, not fun to come close to death either) I am queen of the school? So in my mind, I made up this story that therefore, being fat was evil, and I needed to find a way to remain thin forever; no matter the cost, lest I be shunned again. Also, due to the salmonella, I became quite scared of stomach related issues. I was in such a state of anticipation about the whole thing repeating again, that I thought a small case of whatever meant death; and so I was super terrified to ever get any kind of stomach problem. (I am over that now, but you get the idea)
A tragedy happened, and I would tell myself (subconsciously) to anticipate the same outcome every time should something similar even hint at happening again.
My heart was broken, and I decided all relationships would end badly; but was proven wrong thanks to the amazing love my husband has provided. Seriously, I anticipated things to be so terribly wrong in the end, that he had to fight for me for years before I became present to the fact that our love was solid and we were going to be ok.
[Think; can you see this happening in your life? Have you been through something and then kept anticipating the same exact result in an entirely different moment and/or time?]
So, the doctor finished and I went home feeling silly and decided to make it an even bigger point to become present and stop anticipating, both in life and in my practice.
So, the very next day, when I unrolled my mat and began my practice, I became aware of the anticipation, kindly patted it in the head, and pushed it aside, and remained present. I started with the little things, like fear that the toe would hurt if I did x, y or z; instead of fearing and anticipating this, I gently moved through the practice, and through each breath and pose moment to moment, if something hurt, I would adjust in that moment, not before. I would not think 3 or 4 poses ahead, but instead, took to holding certain poses longer than usual (like warrior 2 for about a minute and so on) and to not anticipating the exit of the pose but experience all the sensations that the pose brought forth, all of them, happy and comfy as well as intense and shaky.
And honestly, this little practice of cutting anticipation off before it becomes a full on panic attack, and the presence of mind that come with practicing and trying to live this way as much as possible have made a huge difference in my life.
It is always said to live moment to moment, and you can say this all day long, but until you can find a way to gently stop anticipating; the presence of the moment will elude you. You have to be able to let go of the past and future influences and open up one hundred percent to the present moment in order to love, live, and exist fully.
"You got to let go of the stuff from past - because it just doesn't matter! The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now." PO Kungfu panda 2