A few weeks ago I was quarantined in my apartment with the flu. Yuck! My body ached, my head pounded, my throat was red and dry and swollen. I would muster up just enough energy to use the potty, make breakfast, check a few emails… then within that same hour I was crawling back into bed with debilitating fatigue. So needless to say, my regular asana (physical) practice was on hold.
However, I’m a firm believer in the popular notion (and hashtag), #practicedaily, and I made sure to give myself no excuses for skipping a meditation and/or pranayama (breathing) practice. It had been a long time since I did either one of these exclusively. I usually weave in both before or after, even sometimes during my asana practice, but I couldn’t honestly say I had a separate meditation or pranayama practice. Regardless, I was pretty confident it would come easy.
I propped my meditation pillow against the wall so I could use it for spinal support. I placed myself into Sukhasana with a blanket wrapped around my legs. I put on some soft and gentle background music. I locked Mila (my cat) in my closet so she wouldn’t try to make biscuits out of my thighs (its super cute, but SO uncomfortable). It was a perfect set up! I dove in. I started running through my checklist – How’s your breath? How’s your body? How’s your overall energy? What brought you to your practice this afternoon? The answers were…well… interesting:
- It hurts to breathe deeply. My ribs are achey. When will I breathe normally again?
- My body hurts. Its tight. Its sore. I hate having the flu. Jesus, when I get back to my Ashtanga practice I’m going to be in bad shape!!!
- Umm terrible. I’m certain I will return to bed as soon as I’m done with this. How many more days of this sleep-all-day nonsense?
- I don’t know. I don’t even want to do this right now. This is a waste of my time. I’m going back to end.
*Eyes blink open*
“Well, that sucked.” I tell myself. I try again. The same stuff came up. I yearned for my physical practice… I yearned for my sun salutation routine that quiets my mind within seconds. I craved the feeling of a well-deserved savasana after pushing myself through 75 minutes of sweat and challenge. But that wasn’t happening for at least another week or so. I knew that, and it frustrated me. The viscous cycle of self-destructive thoughts started to churn. I was pissed about being sick. I was pissed at myself for getting so sick. I was disappointed in my practice and myself. I felt like a failure! (Sound familiar?). Then I remembered something short and sweet that I heard in passing, “practice curiosity, not criticism.”
This created a shift for me. When I teach yoga, I use the same format of questions that I used in my home practice. I wondered if any of my students struggled with what I had faced during my meditation practice. I wondered if me asking them to check in and be aware brought them to a place of being critical and judgmental. Its so easy to go to that place… especially when you’re injured, sick, intimated or just feeling crummy. Its so easy to want to define, or make sense of what you’re experiencing. Its tendency to want to change, fix or justify things… or in my case, become frustrated with what is not happening.
So I gave my meditation practice one more shot; this time as a witness, rather than a judge. I rephrased my check-in questions as if I was looking at myself from a bird’s eye view; as if I was someone else witnessing my struggle with the flu (I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it lol). I found I was more gentle with myself. I really sat examined my breath, body and energy. This time I actually wrapped my mind around what my body was going through physiologically. Of course it was hard to breathe and of course my body ached. My body was fighting like hell! The fact that I got out of bed and created the space for myself was enough. There are so many people who get the flu who don’t even leave their bed… there are people who get the flu who end up in the hospital! I was happy to be in the comfort of my own home, in my jammies, breathing on my own. I became not only curious, but grateful for what was happening. I let my mind connect with what I was capable of in that moment, rather than what it was used to. And then voila, it all went quiet. I floated into my stillness, calmness, and quietness. I wasn’t there for long – as a coughing attack and a headache soon followed – but I was content with what I had accomplished. I finished my practice, crawled back into bed, and fell right asleep with no guilt or frustration about what did, or didn’t happen that day. I didn’t know what the next day would bring. Maybe my body would be more capable of things, maybe not. Maybe I’d feel worse tomorrow. But what I did know was that I adopted a practice to be okay with whatever happened!