24 May The importance of subtlety, timing and faith in pain and fibromyalgia
Like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable, slow and steady wins the race in fibromyalgia, pain and the pursuit of a meaningful life. Here are three things yoga can teach us about taking it slow without getting stuck at the startline.
Timothy McCall introduces us to Jill, a woman with fibromyalgia, in his book Yoga as Medicine. He tells us about Jill’s experience with yoga: ‘”I’m someone who’s thinking of ten things that have to be done at all times”. But yoga, she says, took “the sharp edges and rounded them.”‘
Jill also says that because the yoga practice had to be so subtle and slow to avoid exacerbating her pain, it took her some patience and observation to notice when it was having an effect. What motivated her to keep going was the relaxation “which was deeper than anything she’d experienced”.
Because Jill is not racing towards the finishing line, she is able to notice subtleties that add richness, depth and understanding to her yoga practice.
Yoga for Pain practitioners encourage students to develop a daily practice they can do at home. This saves money on classes; it also asks the student to take responsibility for their own learning, and embed the regular habits that make progress possible, over time.
Daily yoga practice also reinforces that yoga is not a quick fix. In a period where social media and modern life offer the perpetual hope of the quick win, perhaps yoga offers an alternative way to thinking about being well.
Test out theories for yourself (once you’re informed)
Yoga doesn’t ask you to blindly accept its theories but does suggest you learn from someone who knows the path.
Devadatta Kali, translator of the Devimahatmya in In Praise of the Goddess – The Devimahatmya and its meaning uses the term “working hypothesis” to describe a new idea that can be tested.
He explains there is a Sanskrit word shraddha which is usually translated as faith. Rather than blind trust (as we may commonly think of the word) Shraddha is understanding that your teacher offers a working hypothesis for a technique or path they know to be effective from their direct experience. You as the student then prove it (or not) through your own practice.
Pain is not a problem to be solved
Perhaps the working hypothesis offered here is not just that pain can’t be answered with a quick fix, but that it needn’t be. Just as Jill’s yoga practice progresses because she is forced to slow down and notice, the experience of pain can reveal learnings we may miss if we run too quickly ahead.