I was injured doing yoga a few years ago. I was doing a somewhat rigorous series on YouTube, attempting a video on most days. I remember the moment it happened. Lifting my hips upwards and sideways, I thought “hmm… this feels weird.” I was intensely sore for two weeks afterwards, and then that soreness never really went away, it just shifted. I have never felt the same. Pelvic misalignment, perpetual low back pain and hip achiness- it’s even morphed into additional foot pain, 3 years later. I’ve been to two different chiropractors, had a round at physical therapy, tried massage, somatics, as well as my own research and nightly rolling around on the floor trying to “crack the case.” While I would say I’ve improved, my former physical state still eludes me. I’m grateful to still be able to do most things that I want to around the farm, but it has slowed me and been difficult at times dealing with the emotional and physical ups and downs of chronic discomfort.
I don’t know what happened recently to shift my perspective. Perhaps I really needed the 3+ years of pain to hear a fundamentally new message. I was talking to a friend and it dawned on me- I think I know the real source of my injury. While my retelling of the pivotal moment in time always included the strange yoga position, it didn’t include my relationship with myself and my body at the time. I suddenly remembered how I was doing that yoga, and all the yoga and exercise before it. I was doing it for “health”, in theory, but underneath all of that I was doing it with a spirit of coercion enabled through deep disconnection and really harmful cultural narratives. I was doing it with the same old self-hatred that I’ve carried with me since I was a teenager. In full honesty with myself, I see that I was primarily motivated by those voices that say “not this body, but the one you’ll get if you ignore/push/discipline/etc.” I’d lie to myself and say that this time the disconnection from my inner wisdom and from my body was for health and reconnection. But it never was. How could it have been? The honest truth of it is, I can only get into that particular motivational mode from a place of ingratitude and disembodiment. It’s just how it energetically works. Anytime, even if it’s unconscious, that I’m saying “I’ll listen to your messages and needs *after* you do this thing for me, *after* you change, *after* you’ve met the culture’s requirements…”, well, the fact that I hadn’t sustained injury earlier was more about luck than about whatever physical practice I’d taken on.
This realization has convicted me. It’s a pattern I also know well in my history with food. I struggled with deeply disordered eating all through my teenage years. When I came into adulthood, I recognized it wasn’t sustainable and I committed to healing, but years later I found that it had just morphed into a similarly disconnected version of “healthy”. Obsessed with food rules and defining what’s “good” and “bad”, I’d merely repackaged the same old fears and habits of control into something the culture would reward. Of course, all of those beliefs I’d held hinged on the same deeper belief: that I couldn’t truly trust myself, that I wasn’t whole or good enough, that if left to my own devices I’d be lost.
I reached a similar point of realization after embarking on a well-known elimination program that takes place over 30 days. I followed it perfectly and completed it the first time I tried. I ended it 10 pounds lighter, and with more anxiety than ever. I came out of it initially feeling lots of pressure to have gained wisdom about what particular foods are a problem and which ones bring me into my truer and more enlightened and smaller self. I chose my scape-goats and attempted to bask in my success for a few months, but the real yield of the program became clear soon enough. I had further damaged my relationship with food and my body. I’d again committed to a version of life that required so much external force that I was doomed to be perpetually exhausted and unsatisfied. I’d confirmed my fears that my body wasn’t good enough or wise enough to trust.
The experience of grief after this final dietary experiment was so important in my life, I can’t say that it was the wrong thing to have done. I think it was how I finally hit bottom. I started to entertain new stories. I began to discuss my criticisms of these things with friends and family, and a common pattern emerged. Almost everyone in my life shared some version of the same belief/fear: Sure, self-hatred is bad, but if we toss out the rules and cultural pressures, won’t people just turn into (insert scary bad thing here)? I’ve been studying this phenomenon ever since. Underneath it all, when we get really really honest, it becomes clear that we are holding the fear that we cannot be trusted with our lives, our bodies, or our souls. I wrote the following in a small online support group I started to discuss these things:
“The way I see it, this is the engine behind the mass acceptance of diet culture- the insidious belief we cannot be entrusted with our own bodies or lives. It’s the idea that, if left to our own devices, we will fail. This is the seedbed for the psychological and emotional conditions that perpetuate a lifetime of disconnection from one’s own intuitive wisdom.
The more time I spend on this path, the more I come into the realization that there is literally no way to be trustworthy without relationship. That’s antithetical to the concept. So, every time we disconnect from our desires, our feelings, our bodies, and instead defer to an “expert” or some rules or a toxic cultural norm, every time we objectify our food or our bodies, we detach from our relationship and we make the above premise *more true*. This is the revolutionary part. I realized that the less I do that, the more trustworthy I am in the world. The more relationship I have, the more I’m even able to listen, to care, to feel, to intuit, to gain a lasting and loving wisdom. It’s a lost battle if we don’t ever empower ourselves to do it. What a sneaky message to impregnate us with- we’ve lost before we’ve begun!”
In my attempt at healing from this physical injury I realized that the same pattern has been at play. Even in my push to get better and experience more ease, earnestly working to get to the bottom of it, I’ve daily been looking at my body with such criticism, such fear and anger and entitlement. I’ve sought outside help and looked to the internet far more than I’ve sat curiously and quietly with my own body. I’ve said, with every dissatisfied twist and yank and groan and desperate attempt to fix everything and just make it WORK again, “I. Don’t. Trust. You.”
This is the source of my injury. Waves of grief are continuing to hit me as I absorb this truth over time. The promise of grief, though, I’m learning, is that there is a clarity of purpose on the other side. When what needs to die has been let to die, we open to what comes next- what wants to grow. We are perpetually reborn in relationship with what has died. This is an ancient and trustworthy truth.
What is on the other side of these deaths, for me? So far, I’m a bit gentler and more curious. I’m feeling a little more gratitude and I’m able to see better what has been supporting me all along. I’m starting to surrender old stories that don’t serve. I’m feeling a physical pain that pops up sometimes deep in my belly that, when I touch it, it cries out “I’m the part of you so afraid of not being worthy.” This is heavy work, I’m finding. No wonder I clung to the old stories for so long. I’m beginning to hear my pain delivering a fundamentally different message, and it’s scary and full of new responsibility. It says: I am trying to tell you something. I am your faithful friend! I am the measure of the disconnection. I am the informant. I am your navigator. I am the way out if you want it.
What does this mean, in all areas of my life and my experience? I have to be open to the idea that the cause of these hurts were never exactly what happened, it was how it happened. It’s imbedded in the endless war stories and our continued retelling of them. It’s the refusal to let die what needs to die. It’s the refusal to let grow what wants to grow. It’s our collective disembodiment- the divorcing of our souls from our bodies and the greater body of the earth. This is the source of our injury.