“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at our goals.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is all too easy to get trapped in a place in which we focus on areas of our lives where we experience a sense of lack or inadequacy. Much like when we note the sensation of a small cut, it can be hard to shift our focus away from a trivial twinge and onto the parts of our lives and bodies that are and feel just fine. Our perceived limitations often leave us in a place of feeling marked by our scars in ways that grow far deeper than cosmetic traces.
For myself I remember this manifesting in my life as I began my yoga teacher training with a touch of reservation. While I was extremely excited about it, I had some hesitation about the role an old knee injury would play for me. What's a yoga teacher if I can't do pigeon on both sides, I wondered. Upon going to the information session and sharing this with my teacher, Anna Gilbert Zupon, she instantly put my mind at ease assuring me that not only would it be ok, but that it could be to my benefit, as our injuries are often our best teachers.
I recall being instantly struck with this truth, wondering how it took me so long to see it, and recognizing how spot-on it was. This truth gave me a new lens through which to view my leg, and as I grow deeper in my practice (on and off the mat) it continues to become so obvious to me just how much we can learn from our "limitations".
The notion of limitations of any kind used to really bother me. In everything from art making to career implications I have always wanted to use all the colors and to be all the things. I couldn't fathom staying true to a specific palette or just sticking to one career. Though I am still working on it, I've since come to realize the value and beauty that comes with focus and editing. The reality is that in order to grow or excel in anything, we may have to scale back our focus, yet balance this with determination, steadiness, and healthy challenge.
One life event that taught me a lot about this was that time I got hit by that pick-up truck, as alluded to by the aforementioned knee injury. A broken tibia plateau meant that I was non-weight bearing for a good long while. I was [hula-]hooping at the time and was growing stagnant in my practice rather than actively challenging myself with new places to move and flow within and around the circle. After being down for the count for a few weeks, I realized that if I was going to hoop in this condition (which I wanted desperately to do) I had to get creative. Having previously avoided most off-body work that didn't come naturally to me, I had to hone in and focus on it, as my hands and arms were the working limbs available to me. After a lot of failed attempts, I eventually gained the muscle memory of the movements I was earnestly practicing, which continue to be to my benefit in my practice today.
Our injuries help us to continue to pronounce and grow in our strengths in a balanced way. We learn how to edit as we tailor a practice for ourselves. We grow in curiosity as time goes by, continuing to tune in to our bodies to see if we can do more or go deeper as we become stronger. Limitations can be liberating in that they provide a construct and a structure in which to work as we live and move and have our being in this world. As we work within that structure, our arrangement and rearrangement within it can be beautiful with blossoming creativity.
Our injuries also teach us the importance of slowing down. They require of us to mindfully make our way into postures, rather than militantly jamming our bodies into pose after pose. When we are made to take our time we can truly experience the benefit of each pose, and as a result experience the beauty of the world around us that we run the risk of missing in a rush.
Injuries also help us to grow in compassion. As we further discover the new bodies we are in and recognize our capacity for weight bearing or range of motion, it gives us better insight as to what it may be like to dwell in a different temple than our own. As we re-learn our limitations, it can actually be liberating. We become more creative in our new areas of possibility, we truly celebrate the small stuff, and we also become more patient with ourselves. We are offered the opportunity to be amazed by the ways in which our bodies do move and we can delight in resulting progress we see as our strength increases. Our injuries help us become more attuned to subtleties in the body, and as we tune into these subtleties we get to know ourselves better. We find new ways of giving ourselves grace and in turn become more gracious and nonjudgmental of others.