I've been dealing with pain for about a month or so. This is not a metaphor. Yet. It started in my right hamstring attachment. Then it traveled to my right hip flexor and the right side of my lower back. Being well-versed in yoga, I begin to modify my practice: bending a knee here, engaging a quadricep there, et cetera. It was all to no avail. The pain, unfortunately, is perpetual, so much so that the simplest of poses -- for me, at least -- (seated forward fold, triangle, half-moon) have become quite debilitating. I even find myself limping when I walk my dog or crying when I stretch a muscle. The most obvious response is to chill out, back off, rest a bit. But I can't. I'm so addicted to asana that I'm unwilling to stop practicing and start healing. I'm a stubborn know-it-all and think I can solve my own body's aches. This, I'm learning, is untrue.
There is a common misconception that yoga is for the flexible few. People always claim they shy away from the practice because they can't touch their toes and whatnot. However, I counter, yoga is about finding balance between strength and flexibility and, quite frankly, those who are tight in their bodies are less likely to hurt themselves: their bodies tell them how far they can -- or cannot -- go. On the other hand, a bendy person can unsafely and improperly shape themselves into any pretzel pose, all the while ignoring the proper alignment that will protect the integrity of their limitations. So, as it goes, the flexible person (myself being included in this category) gets injured more often than the tight person. This is not to ignore the benefit of distress: I've learned a lot about my body with every injury and, more importantly, how to pull back from my flexibility and cultivate strength. Seriously. I've hurt almost every part of my body -- shins, shoulders, lower back, wrists -- in the evolution of my yoga practice. These samskaras serve as lessons, albeit painful, and transcend my asana beyond the ever-present ego attachment. If only everything else in life could be so literal.
Before my current injury, I became bored with performing the most difficult postures possible. After years of sweaty flow, I no longer needed to prove myself via poses. They're easy. I'm flexible. Instead of lifting into an arm balance, I became fascinated by sitting in the struggle of a squat (malasana as opposed to bakasana), which often yielded surprising results (such as crying, not out of pain, but out of opening). Or, instead of lifting up into a backbend, I started exploring the less-demanding (yet more laborious) prep of said backbend (setu bandhasana as opposed to urdhva dhanurasana). I learned that the prep is so much harder than the full pose (for the ego as well as the body) and that trying to perfect something is more rewarding than showing off the completed expression. Considering the transformation of my practice, it is quite ironic that I'm now dealing with my most debilitating injury ever.
So. It is said that what we do/how we act on the mat serves as an analogy to what we do/how we act in the rest of our lives. This, of course, isn't limited to yoga specifically or exercise generally. Instead, indicators are all around us: how we drive our cars through traffic, wait for trains on the platforms, eat our dinners, drink our booze, socialize with our friends, attend to our responsibilities. You can analyze one measly anything as it relates to a whole lot of everythings.
Repetitive stress syndrome is defined (by our good friends at Wikipedia) as "an injury...that may be caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compressions, or sustained or awkward positions. [...] Conditions such as RSI tend to be associated with both physical and psychosocial stressors." And there it is: psychosocial stressors. Let's define that, shall we. Again, according to Wikipedia, psychosocial stressors are "one's psychological development in and interaction with a social environment. The individual is not necessarily fully aware of this relationship with his or her environment. [...] This refers to the lack of development or atrophy of the psychosocial self, often occurring alongside other dysfunctions that may be physical, emotional or cognitive in nature." Ding ding ding. So, repetitive stress syndrome isn't only the manifestation of our bodies' movements, but also how we inadvertently behave in the world at large.
And there you have it. My drive to push push push through pain (regardless of its impetus) and do things that I know are bad for me (regardless of its harm-factor) is something I do in all aspects of my life. Take dating (shocking) for instance. I know that there are certain types of people who I should avoid (the list is ever-growing and ever-changing), but I don't. Whether a particular person is emotionally unavailable or disinterested or repressed to the point of needing three-times-a-week therapy (and not just of the I-can-fuck-the-repression-out-of-them variety), I ignore the warnings and go in full-speed ahead, thinking it will be different this time. But it's never different. We're addicted to the comfort of the delusion, be it of the mental or physical variety.
Just like with my yoga afflictions, I need to back off and let go and cultivate a little non-attachment. That's the only way to heal from any harmful symptoms, be it of the literal or symbolic variety. Only then will things start to mend and only then can you allow yourself to surpass the struggle of the strife. It's about respecting yourself. All of yourself. And, most importantly, it's about not needing to prove something beyond which you have control. Just because you did something once or twice or three times, doesn't mean you need to do it again. And again. And again. It will, more than likely, not yield different results.
With that, I'm awful at taking my own advice: I'm putting on my tights and popping a few Advil as I prepare for my second yoga class of the day. Some things (people?) never change...