I arrived with a steady and evolving on-the-mat practice. It came to a sudden stop when a spring allergy suddenly kicked in. It took most of July for me to settle back into a practice … and then a lower back problem started.
It felt like a muscular pain in my left-lower back … so not quite a spine issue. It started gradually but quickly became very disruptive. One morning I got on the mat and I was able to do a delicate (cikitsa version) of a practice. The next day forward bends were no longer possible. Very soon, the only comfortable position was standing up. I continued to do things that didn’t place physical load on my back and didn’t require any twisting … basically standing facing forward. Resting became an issue … I found a sitting position that I could hold for a while … but lying down was uncomfortable and I developed a fear of getting up because that required very careful manipulation and still hurt.
The peak came the morning after Annelieke arrived for a visit. I woke up early, uncomfortable and wanted to get up without disturbing her. I decided to get up in one swift movement … bad choice. It hurt a lot – though I am still not convinced there was a slower path that would have hurt less. I bit my lip to contain the pain and after a few seconds started walking towards the bench where my clothes were. I made it just in time to place a hand on the bench. Then I feinted and fell to the floor … the sound of me hitting the floor woke her up. I came to after a few seconds and was barely able to make my way back to standing. Eventually I did, and I sat on the bench … where I feinted again … this time with Annelieke holding me.
My aching back kept me off the mat for most of August. When September came around I slowly my found way back to the mat. I was surprised by the improvement I felt in my practice every day. within a week I was back to almost full mobility. There was still stiffness in my lower back and shoulders and three weeks into September those were almost gone too.
Then my family arrived for a a first visit in Romania and I was again away from the mat. Annelieke also arrived to be with my family and brough some slight illness with her. It seems I picked it up and shortly after my family left I fell ill. This was the end of September. A week later Annelieke and I traveled to Portugal – where I am now writing this post … just now starting to fell like the sickness is behind me. I may be able to find some practice time here, but I expect a stable practice will resume when I am back in Bhudeva (in about two weeks).
When I look back at these last few months I encounter two perspectives. One is of a period of sickness … too much sickness. I have become familiar with the recurring allergy period … but this continuous cycle has been unpleasant, demanding and disheartening. The other perspective is one of wonder. Though the sickness has kept me off-the-mat is hasn’t kept me from practice … maybe even practice that touches on a deep and subtle place. As always, my “patience” muscles have gotten a good workout. I have also noticed that when I do find my way back to the mat I “heal” quicker than I expect.
I am also finding that my sense of physical being gets subtly refined in every off-on cycle. By being patient with my breath during allergy my breath gets slightly better … softer, more spacious, more steady. By being caring with my back when it is hurt I am able to move it with more depth … more movement in more places, more directional support, more abdominal support. By allowing sickness time to fade and practice time to heal I feel self-trust and acceptance being reinforced. It is as if the periods of sickness-of-the-mat are not obstacles to practice but detours of subtle learning on my practice path.
I have over recent years come to realize that my aspiration is not just to return to the mat when I am away from it. It is to return to a stable and continuous practice. For example, right now I don’t feel a sense of urgency in getting back to the mat because I am here in Portugal in an unknown day-to-day setting. I may get on the mat if I want to and circumstances allow it. However I am just as content waiting to meet-the-mat only when I am back at Bhudeva. I am not interested in a one-off practice … I am interested in resuming a continuous practice. This summer has showed me that I am fairly well established in this pattern.