It only takes a moment for illness (or loss or an accident or <insert life here>) to disrupt your routine; when you start feeling better, it takes more than a finger snap to reintegrate with reality.
That’s where I’m at right now after a week with mono—the wanting to get “back on track” fighting against one of Newton’s classic laws of motion: a body at rest tends to stay at rest.
The worst part about being really sick, though, isn’t the illness itself (although that can be, and is, brutal); it’s the idea that we can’t afford to be sick. The pressure we place on getting well leads us to overlook the fact that we’re not well—and we’re actually inconveniencing ourselves more by doing too much, too soon.
Mono is the poster child disease for paying attention to your body. Force yourself out of stillness prematurely and the bug sticks around even longer. Think this only applies to healing the body?
Why you’re feeling anxious; why you’re surprised you’re not yet over that relationship; why you’re stuck replaying the “what if’s” in your mind about your career…
These are the result of mentally moving on too soon. Of not paying attention to what’s present right now in favor of skipping ahead to a time when surely things will be better.
Such strategies are like building a sandcastle close to the waves when the tide’s out and forgetting that in a couple hours all your hard work will disappear.
What is unnecessary suffering?
So much unnecessary suffering comes into the world because people will not accept the “legitimate suffering” that comes with being human. —Carl Jung (Source: Falling Upward)
To be ourselves is to feel well and unwell; to experience fits of passion and moments of burnout; to bury and unearth unmet desires. Living brings sickness and healing simultaneously, no matter how hard we try to run from one or the other.
This basic fact of being human is why I never trust people who say they “never” get sick—as if to suggest they are not made of the same matter as the rest of us. Never getting sick shouldn’t be a point of pride. It’s the never getting well that needs examining.
There are plenty of things that cause legitimate suffering: the loss of a loved one or pet, or a sudden lack of financial security. Unnecessary suffering happens when those events pass, but the mind holds on to the pain, manifesting in depression, anxiety or even physical disease. In other words: when the mind stops being present.
Unnecessary suffering is:
- Believing you are not whole as you are right now
- Thinking no one loves or will love you
- Allowing others’ emotions and moods to overcome your own
- Telling yourself you’re not worthy of love and happiness and success
- Fears you’re afraid to confront
In other words, anything our monkey minds can conjure that we eventually dig up on the yoga mat.
Getting back to well
Will we from time-to-time suffer because of our bodies? Yes. We needn’t make it worse by suffering in our minds.
The path to getting well begins by paying attention. These three questions give you permission to stop trying to force yourself to feel better and instead start viewing yourself as a work in progress.
- Where do you feel unwell?
- What makes you feel better?
- Will you consider that the ultimate goal is perhaps not wellness 24/7, but most of the time?
Because there will always be the 1 percent of us who gets mono twice in our life. But by gosh, we can still do everything in our power to keep the monkey at bay.
Try it: Raised Hands Pose, Urdhva Hastasana
This deceptively “easy” looking backbend can be quite challenging. Often, it feels like your upper body is barely moving. Then, you snap a photo of yourself (see above) and realize you’ve got more backbend mojo than you gave yourself credit for.
Kind of like recovering from illness or loss—you often emerge more flexible and strong though going through it gave you hell.
- Stand in Mountain Pose, Tadasana. Lift and spread your toes, then set them back down as you engage your kneecaps up. Tilt your pelvis forward and, on an inhale, lift and spread your ribs as you raise your arms overhead. Soften the shoulders away from the ears.
- Take another inhale and lengthen through fingertips to toes, softening the upper ribs on your exhale. Interlace your fingers, except for the thumbs and index fingers. If this is uncomfortable, keep your arms and hands separated.
- Keep the legs engaged and hips moving forward as you inhale again and begin to arch up and back, leading with the arms and upper chest. Tuck the pelvis up and forward to lessen any lower back aches.
- Breathing smoothly, continue to bend backwards while remaining deeply rooted in the feet. Maintain your head between your upper arms, chin in line with the chest.
- Stay for two to three breaths, then inhale your way back up to vertical. Bring your palms together at the heart, tuning in to the rush of energy in your heart and headspace.
Your turn: How do you tame the monkey mind? Wisdom in the comments.