Struggles by Kristy
Why do we put ourselves through the struggles that come up in our practice?
Why do we put ourselves through struggle? I’ve been asking this my whole life but until now, I couldn’t find an honest answer. I’ve found plenty of answers throughout my life but none of them were honest. Still I believed the answers that ranged from because I deserve to struggle… I’m not good enough.
I believed that I deserved to struggle so I did… through years of letting an eating disorder eat away at my body. I remember lying in bed at night and being so weak that I felt I was slipping into a coma. But I told no one because I believed I deserved it. I deserved to struggle.
When I was in my early twenties, I was raped. I still to this day don’t remember a lot of what happened but I do remember that I never went to the police and I kept quiet. Not because I was too afraid but because I believed I deserved it.
Then I found Ashtanga. I had given up on finding an answer to my question and had settled for struggle being a part of life. However, my practice had a different perspective. You see, our practice has a way of bringing to light what’s hidden in the dark of our unconscious. Things we are too afraid of so we keep them safe where they can hide from our awareness. But to experience true freedom, we must let go of everything that weighs us down. Finding the courage to face these dark things and let them go is struggle.
I remember when I started second series, I wasn’t paying attention to my nutritional needs. My practice was now considerably longer. I should’ve been taking in more calories to keep up with the physical demand, but I was so immersed in my practice that I didn’t pay attention to how I was treating my body. I quickly lost a lot of weight and it wasn’t until my friend had me step on a scale at work that my first dark skeleton began to claw its way out of my unconscious. I never knew anorexia nervosa was a type of addiction, but I quickly spiraled back into my old habits and beliefs. Suddenly I deserved pain, hunger and I deserved to watch my body fade away; even if it meant that I could die. I began only allowing myself 500 calories a day and I wouldn’t eat in front of others. I was able to keep up with my practice for the time being but every time I stepped on my mat, I felt like I was standing in front of a mirror and my reflection was asking me why I was doing this to myself. It broke my heart, but I felt hopeless to stop spiraling back into that dark hole. I was at a crossroads. I loved my practice so much, but I couldn’t face the shame I felt every time I stepped on my mat. My practice embraced me in honesty and love and my addiction hated it for that. I was at work one night hiding in the bathroom and standing in front of the mirror. I held a package of graham crackers and I was struggling to bring myself to eat them even though I had hardly eaten all day. I was so weak. I don’t know what came over me, but I started to cry, and I said “This is it. I’m either going to die from anorexia nervosa or I’m going to practice.” The next morning, I did the only thing I knew to do at that point. I drove to the shala, laid my mat out next to my friends and silently prayed to God to show me through this. He did…through my practice. If I hadn’t found this practice, I don’t know that I would’ve every been able to let go of the hold anorexia nervosa had on me. Now with every breath I take in my practice, I welcome my addiction because it’s no longer fear. It’s wisdom.
I was working consistently now in second series and growing stronger and more peaceful with every practice. It seemed my life was reflecting the peace and grace I was finding within my practice and it made me so grateful to be able to practice every day. Then one day while I was practicing, the image of hands around my throat unexpectedly stole my breath. It scared me and I knew the image all too well. It’s one of the few images that had haunted me ever since the rape. I fought to stay steady, but I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and tears blurred my vision. I was suddenly afraid to be in that room with all those people but this little voice in me told me to be still. To let the fear come and to let the image come because it wouldn’t stay unless I resisted it. I wanted to do what I had always done before when I would have flashbacks or nightmares. I wanted to run home and lock myself away from the world until I felt okay again. But I knew better this time. I knew that my practice was digging up another dark skeleton so that I could have the chance to free myself from it. I remember the days that followed were scary. In the past I never knew when the nightmares or visions of that night would show up but when they did, I would hide from people and only leave my house when I had to. But I was now at another crossroads. To give into fear or to practice through it. I decided to face my fear so I could learn to no longer be afraid of my past. Day after day I practiced as images of being strangled and standing outside trying to call for help but not being able to because my fingers were shaking too much to dial numbers played like a movie through my head. But I kept practicing and I didn’t fight the images. I did, however, learn to breathe peace into the fear and my fear transformed within me. I realized for the first time that I was raped, not because I deserved it but because the man who raped me was hurting so much. Through this transformation I found it in my heart to finally forgive him and to forgive myself for not speaking up. A new image began to play itself in my memory. The image of his face and how full of rage it was. But now I could see that rage for what it really was. Pain. A lot of pain. Now when I see the images, I no longer feel fear. I feel forgiveness and love.
Those of us who practice Ashtanga know what it feels like to struggle. We come across it when we are attempting a new pose, dealing with an injury or when pain from our past manifests. Why do we put ourselves through the struggles that come up in our practice? Having gone through my own struggles, I’ve finally found the honest answer. We go through the struggles so that we can learn to believe in ourselves. The lies we tell ourselves such as we deserve to struggle or we’re not good enough cover our truth with its mud. But as we practice consistently no matter what comes up, we find the courage to transform our mud until our truth blooms just like the lotus. Through our struggle, we find our truth and our truth carries us to freedom.
“The only way out is through” Robert Frost