Is My Ego Trying to Kill Me?

Posted by Steven Russell on Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Is my ego trying to kill me? Sometimes I think I’m my own worst enemy. A long time ago I was digging out a stump in my back yard. My back started to hurt. I kept digging. I’m a man after all. We do things like dig up stumps no matter what warning signs our bodies try to give us. Well, my back hurt quite a bit for a week or two. Then it went away, more or less. I was young (yes, I consider 30 to be young). I would easily mend, or so I thought. My back bothered me now and then over the years until I started to get more active with yoga. A serious practice of yoga, no matter how safely done, can enable the body to surface issues that have been buried and forgotten. Also stress and emotional issues can further inspire those issues to surface.

In 2010 I was preparing to enter yoga teacher training. I was afraid not only of being the oldest person in the class, but also the least flexible and least skilled at yoga. There’s a typical yoga class move that goes from a somewhat intense backbend (Upward Facing Dog) to a forward bend (Downward Facing Dog) that I had been doing in class in the standard way, instead of how I had often adapted it for my tight hamstrings and (buried and forgotten) back issue, of momentarily dropping my knees to the mat to lessen the tension on my hamstrings and lower back muscles. I kept saying to myself that a yoga teacher should be doing this the standard way! My lower back would twinge slightly the more I did it, but I kept at it. One day in a class right after doing that same move my back felt weird. I kept with class since there was no real pain and drove home. The next morning I could barely get out of bed. My entire back was in a spasm that sent sharp pains like a knife being driven next to my spine every time I tried to move.

I went to the doctor. An MRI showed two herniated discs in my lower back (no surprise). Many people lead active, even athletic lives never knowing that they have herniated discs much worse than mine. But my levels of stress and worry must have played overtime in throwing my muscles into a tailspin. I worked through the issue with therapy and a softball that I would roll up and down my back while lying on top of it, and made it through teacher training just fine. I wasn’t the oldest in the class, nor anywhere near the bottom concerning flexibility and yoga knowledge and ability.

Over the past three months, since my back had been feeling so good, I started doing that move again. No twinges. No pain. Great! I’m a new man, I thought. I’m a yoga teacher. I should be doing such standard moves with my body! Then my lower back started to ache. Just a little. We were coming into the Christmas season (my least favorite time of year) and things were getting busy and stressful at work (church music work). I kept at my yoga move. Granted, it’s not the most aggressive move, nor was I following a very strenuous yoga practice. But I continued to marvel at my success. I went to the chiropractor to seek some relief from the tightness in my lower back when, lying face down on his table, he pressed gently up and down my spine to determine if things were in order. And all of a sudden my entire body went numb and I felt shooting pain in my lower back. I couldn’t get off the table. He had to help me up. I could barely walk. And any movement caused this tight pain to shoot up and down my back.

My buried issue has come surging back to the surface just in time to divert my thoughts and worries away from the holiday season. The lessons learned? My body seems to be wiser than my mind and tries to tell me, clearly, when to back off. I don’t have to prove anything by maintaining an image of a man or a yoga teacher that I have constructed in my mind. I should do things in my life and in my yoga practice that are good for me and my body at the time that I do them. I’ll work through this and any other stressful or painful time of my life and be a stronger, better person because of it. 


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