I’ve never believed nor expected yoga to cure the multiple sclerosis I live with. I know there are a few yogis who swear that yoga has cured them or alleviated their symptoms to the point of appearing cured. But, that’s not why I started yoga. For me, yoga has been about managing the symptoms of both MS and fibromyalgia. Something to soothe both body and spirit. Maybe even to mitigate some of the symptoms. So, imagine my surprise when I recently realized that somewhere, deep down in my subconscious, a part of me had been expecting yoga to delay the progression of the MS — and was maybe even a little ticked off that it hadn’t.
That realization has been a long time coming. I haven’t written in a while because the last year has been challenging and its taken some time to figure stuff out. The fatigue that came with last summer’s flare up took forever to go away — in part because I didn’t want to listen to what my body was telling me. Instead, I began teaching additional yoga classes in the fall because students in the Modified Yoga Classes wanted yoga more than once a week. YAY! What yoga teacher doesn’t want their students clamoring for more classes? After a month, I began getting sick — I had some type of cold every month last October through April. And I was always tired. Still I didn’t listen.
Last Fall was about the same time I began to experience an emotional roller coaster ride every time I came to my mat to practice. During the first few weeks of this ride, I would get about half way into my asana practice before the strong emotions would arise. Then I’d become either very angry or end up sobbing. I’ve experienced tears on my mat in the past (but never anger) and when I did, I’d use my breath to ride them out. THIS was different. Riding it out wasn’t working for either emotion.. As the weeks progressed, the emotions surfaced earlier and earlier in my practice until I couldn’t step onto my mat without instantly becoming either angry or sad. So, I stopped practicing.
Seriously, that was my solution. I just stopped. My excuse to myself was that I was too tired or in too much pain to figure out what was going on. And, that was partially true. But, looking back, I was also avoiding messages I didn’t want to hear.
I quietly told two good friends about what was happening, but continued to ignore my mat. Then this negativity began to creep into my teaching. I would wake up on teaching days and find myself wanting to do anything but teach. [If you are one of my students, please know this lack of desire had nothing to do with you.] The feeling would pass once I got to class. But the drive there was long and painful. I knew I had to do something. But the holidays were upon me and with them came the grief of saying good-bye to our 11-year-old cat, Tasha. Sweetest cat that ever lived, bar none.
Eventually I reconnected with a therapist I’d worked with in the past. And with her help, I am finally at a point where I am willing to hear what my body has been saying: the MS is progressing and change has to happen.
There hasn’t been major progression — no canes or walkers or permanent vision or cognitive loss. But little by little abilities are diminishing. The emotional roller coaster ride on my mat came from two things: (1) my daily asana practice is where the changes in my physical abilities has been most noticeable, and (2) as my therapist says, my mat is my Place of Truth. On my mat, I couldn’t lie to myself about changes I’ve had to make in the way I do a particular asana or the time I’m in a pose or even the fact that these days, a lot of my physical practice is done from a chair instead of a mat. I also couldn’t ignore that I was feeling a bit betrayed that my practice hadn’t kept these changes from happening (who knew?). How dare the practice that was supposed to be my refuge, instead be the magnifying glass through which loss in ability/energy would be most visible! It’s been a while, but I believe my last post hinted at the possibility of a “dark side” to transformation on your mat. This was it, baby.
For the first time since being diagnosed in January of 2005, I have more than just moments of not wanting this disease; more than a passing fear now and again of what the future will bring; frustration that now I can count on my body even less than I have in the past. It has felt like MS was taking my practice and my ability to share it through teaching. Even though neither would be the first things I’ve lost to this disease, the grief and anger felt as fresh as the first time I had to alter my way of living to accommodate symptoms.
Two weeks ago what was supposed to be an evening of yoga and dinner with several gal pals turned into a reiki session and dinner with 2 of my dearest friends. Reiki replaced yoga because I’d been dealing with headaches that were exacerbated by moving my arms or bending forward and the friend that could get to my house before dinner is a reiki healer (my term for her). We’ve worked together before and sessions with her have always been healing. This was no different.
Thanks to things that came up during the reiki session, I now realize I have been trying to fit my practice and teaching into my idea of what these things SHOULD BE — how a yoga teacher’s personal practice SHOULD LOOK; what a career as a yoga teacher SHOULD BE. And that’s another thing. Somewhere during the last 2 years, as I began to teach more classes for pay, teaching yoga has moved from a calling or service to a career. Not that it can’t be both. It can. But I had turned it into an either-or as I followed the “shoulds” in my head. I’m always telling students not to worry about how the pose looks, but how it feels; to find the version of the pose that fits their abilities in that moment. Apparently, I haven’t been following my own advice on or off my mat.
Yesterday, I experienced another reiki session with a different healer. This time I received confirmation of several things I’ve been feeling I needed to do/work on since the session with my friend. The path ahead is not all clear. But, I do feel like I’m back on the path the universe has for me instead of the one in the “should” center of my brain. To paraphrase country music singer Lynn Anderson (and apparently also Martina McBride and Suicide Machine), “I beg your pardon, yoga never promises a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometimes.” And if you’ve ever walked through a rose garden, a few thorns as well.