mind body

Don't let limitations define who you are

Before I begin a yoga class, I ask new students to inform me of any recent surgeries or injuries so that I may help them avoid risky movement.

In one such class, a student advised me that she had undergone shoulder surgery, and was careful not to move the joint.

I asked her how long it had been since the surgery. Her answer: seven years.

I advised her that if she gradually tried moving her shoulder more, she would likely find that it would feel much less stiff and painful. You might think she would welcome this news, but she clearly was reluctant to even consider what I was saying.

I encounter people of all ages who label themselves with a disease or condition, wearing it almost as a badge.

"I am diabetic," "I suffer with sciatica" and "that aggravates my arthritis" are all statements that aren't just descriptive for these people, they are defining.

Certainly conditions like these can limit what you do, temporarily or even permanently. But should they limit who you are?

I also teach yoga to people in remission from cancer or people who live with serious pain from osteoporosis. Yet their disease does not claim them. They refuse to be labeled or limited.

Recently another student returned to class after suffering a stroke just 10 days earlier. I was impressed, but not astonished. For students like this, illness is neither the beginning nor the end of self.

Yoga teaches us svadhyaya, or self-study. This is the act of becoming self-aware, to the point of recognizing and accepting our limitations but not being ruled by them. We learn to be nonreactive, cultivating contentment and gratitude for current conditions, no matter what they may be. Living with any condition or disease is not easy. But, it is not who you are.

The same is true of aging. Of course there are limitations, aches and pains from aging, but is it your identity? Is it really what makes you who you are?

This is not about trivializing or negating the reality of whatever challenges you face.

This is about acceptance and turning off the mind chatter that convinces us that our limitations are all we are.

What can we do to change this way of thinking? What steps can we take to divorce ourselves from identifying with a condition and remarry vitality and zest for life? Try these steps to bring a shift in perspective.

1. Find a quiet place where you'll be undisturbed, and sit or lie quietly and comfortably. Become aware of the soft flow of your breath, allowing it to be free and unobstructed. Relax physically by scanning the body for any trapped or unnoticed tension. Breathe into those areas that feel stuck.

2. Ask yourself the question: What do I want? Then pay attention to the thoughts that cross your mind. Try not to indulge the thought or let it take you into other thoughts that may cause anxiety. Simply observe the thought. As you observe the thought, pay attention to how your body is reacting, noticing additional tension or increased relaxation.

3. Ask yourself the question: How do I feel right now? If the answer is "I feel fine," enjoy that and know that it is completely true and real. If the answer comes as "I feel pain,'' explore that further. Where is the pain? What is its quality? Spend a few minutes breathing into that area, even envisioning a golden healing light enveloping the area, easing pain or discomfort.

4. Ask yourself the question: Who am I? Let your thoughts come and go, without judgment, simply observing. Rather than trying to settle on a word or description, quietly feel who you are. Become aware of your existence, the fact of your self, without analysis. You simply are.

Turning the tide of our own thought takes time and patience. Repeat the steps above when you find yourself identifying with a particular idea, expectation or reaction. Remember, you are not your parts; you are not even the sum of your parts. Your being goes deeper than the physical self. You are not your pain; you are not your disease.

Just as you can send someone else a prayer or well wishes, so you can begin a process to heal your physical self and link to your true identity. You can rise above a part, mesh with the sum and transcend it all.

Diana Reed is a yoga teacher and writer who is co-owner of Gaya Jyoti Yoga in Hernando County. She can be reached at gayajyotiyoga.com or (352) 610-1083.

Don't let limitations define who you are 07/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 5:30am]

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