“Do not waste time idling or thinking after you have set your goals.”
Miyamoto Musashi translated by Stephen F. Kaufman

The Martial Artist’s Book of Five Rings

Dancing with Allergy

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About 2 weeks ago first subtle signs of allergy appeared. It was a subtle itching sensation in the back of my throat. As the days went by the signs accumulated and gradually intensified … though for the most part subtle (in comparison to past years).

The most stable aspect of my life is my daily practice. It is therefore the most reliable point of reference and reflection for me. I can tell how I am by how I am in practice. In past years I continued with my daily practice as long as I could until it collapsed in the face of allergy symptoms.

This time, when first signs of allergy manifested I met it differently. I began to change my practice. Instead of pushing forward with practice-as-usual (until I couldn’t anymore) I modified it to accommodate the allergy manifestations. Instead of just accepting that allergy has arrived I took it in and responded to it. We started moving together … dancing.

I was sweetly and softly surprised by what happened. For the first 10 days my asana practice responded to the symptoms. I gradually modified my practice. First by gradually removing practices that had a brahmana effect – that consumed my breath. Then by reducing my time spent in forward bends which increased my sense of congestion.

During these first 10 days I was also considering modifying my pranayama practice, but there was no need to. Changes in asana practice made it possible to stay with my pranayama practice. But there was a subtle qualitative shift there too. In the beginning, at the end of every part of every breath I felt that even though breath was complete, there was less space in the echo of the breath. Where there was previously a round softness there was now a sharper turn.

YET, during these 10 days I noticed something new. My nostrils are typically somewhat blocked. This is not from mucus but from some kind of tissue inflammation. Then, when they are inflamed, it takes only a little mucus to cause a sense of blockage. What I realized, and surprised me, was that when the allergy symptoms began my nostrils suddenly cleared. It was as if allergy had released a blockage that was locked in place and the blockage was transformed into a more vague and moving presence. For the first time over these years of reflection around allergy, it seemed, amongst its clearly dysfunctional symptoms, to perform a specific function.

As the days passed I continued to be attentive to the quality of my breathing. By the end of these first 10 days my asana practice had become short and concise … a preparation for sitting in pranayama, no more, no less. And then I finally felt a change was needed in pranayama itself. I reduced the length of breath and removed holds (I stayed with the same technique, pratiloma, which is why I was able to notice the clear and open nostrils). These changes allowed me to stay in a good cycle of breathing practice.

Today, about 15 days in, after waking up at 4:30am. This is the earliest I have gotten out of bed during this cycle of allergy. During the allergy period I typically I wake up with a sense that my breath is locking up, if I stay in bed it does so quickly, less so if I get up, get vertical and start taking liquids.

I got on the mat one more time. I did not complete a practice sequence. Between a physical tiredness and a weak and fragmented breath the practice became uninteresting, uninspiring and unappealing. I stopped practicing.

I practice because I want to. Because the experience of practice engages me, reveals me and reminds me of that I am. I do not feel that individual practices are in themselves acts of healing or self improvement. I do feel that it is a continuous relationship with practice which takes me through healing, health and beyond. I do feel that when a disturbance such as allergy manifests there is a qualitative drop in energy and well being. What matters most in such times is not how far I fall, but where do I fall from. If I am higher up on a scale of well-being, when I do fall, it is to a better place than had I been in a lesser place to start with.

Now I don’t want to practice. The practice experience is unappealing. Maybe I could discipline myself into practicing for a few more days. Doing so, I feel, would be a denial of where I am. It would also undermine my long term development by re-surfacing qualities (forceful, controlling, fear, etc.) which I have witness soften through practice and the life that has formed around it.

And so, I softly got off the mat, rolled it up and put it away. I remain softly curious to see what the coming days and weeks bring. Regardless, I trust that in a few weeks, when allergy symptoms have passed, my mat, my practice and I will resume our relationship.

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