Support For Illness and Injury

by Paresh
(Carmel, California)

Health and fitness is a common expression. Certainly each impacts the other. But they don't always go together. Some people can be "healthy" in the sense of absence of disease but do no exercise at all. The Kapha type constitution in Auyerveda for example... Others can experience acute or chronic injury or illness and still maintain fitness. (Speaking from experience...) Famous athletes such as Lance Armstrong come to mind.

The Yoga Sutras list illness as one of the obstacles to higher consciousness and give us the 8 stages of yoga to overcome it. Indeed illness and pain may be an obstacle to the blissful states we all want, since they are not exactly uplifting. But our path is simply to recognize and work with the way things are, illness included. Norman Vincent Peale said it's not what happens to us that matters but how we deal with it. The Buddha said living in a body is like living in a house that's on fire. The Bhagavad Gita reminds us that sickness, old age and death are part of the cycle of change, even as the soul remains eternal.

Everyone knows that yoga is a healthy practice with widespread physical benefits. Iyengar advanced yoga therapy immensely and claimed phenomenal cures for many illnesses and injuries, not to mention similar references in the ancient yoga texts. This is good news. But what happens when yogis go through pain, illness, or crisis of any sort, that just doesn't improve with yoga? We can still use the broad context of yoga teachings as support for our experience:

letting go of concepts about the way life should be
working with our attachments
recognizing a healing of the spirit versus a cure of symptoms
continually aligning ourselves with reality - the way things are
understanding that our pain is a universal experience that binds us together with
all of humanity
using our pain to open the heart into compassion for all beings

Life in this day and age is so overstimulating that it often leaves us either wired or exhausted, and (like the Pink Floyd song) comfortably numb. Like it or not, it is often the pain that makes us feel more alive and opens us to a deeper level of experience and compassion. As Swami Kripalu said - "discomfort is my only comfort". It wakes us up and yoga is all about awakening on many different levels.

- Paresh

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