This weekend, I had lots of plans. Saturdays are usually days on which I work a full shift; however, this Saturday and Sunday I had no work and the weather reports looked more than promising. Excited by the prospect of two days spent outside soaking in sunshine on Seawall walks and North Shore hikes, I was dismayed to discover upon waking Saturday morning that I was undeniably coming down with a nasty cold. Dismayed is, in fact, quite the understatement—I was actively mad and grumpy. I was frustrated with my body, mad that it had chosen the most glorious of weekends to break down when usually my immune system remains so ironclad. I spent much of Saturday in a state of denial and insecurity while my poor boyfriend tried to console me with no idea how he could really help. I was a mess.
But I did make one fantastic decision. Around 5:30pm, I gathered up my yoga mat and headed out the door to a yin yoga class. It had been almost a full week since my last yoga class and I had wanted to get back on my mat. While it definitely wasn’t my first choice, I decided that yin would be a mellow enough class to handle in my weakened state. I listened to my body and thought that some meditation in a slow yoga class might do me some good. As soon as I settled into the first seated meditation and grounded myself into my decision though, I started panicking. My throat hurt terribly. My lymph nodes were sore. The sinus pressure was like a set of walls slowly collapsing in on themselves around my poor trapped brain. I was physically uncomfortable and I had just chosen to effectively lock myself in a mental prison for an hour and a half with only the company of my breath and my presence in my body.
You see I, like many of us, generally run away from the symptoms of my cold. I distract myself with comfort food, tea, and Netflix, looking for outside solace to keep me feeling human while I oscillate between pity for my ailing body and anger at how my condition has kept me from whatever it is that I planned on doing before becoming couch-ridden with illness. I blame, I deflect, I distract. And so it was extremely uncomfortable to realize that I had actively chosen to put myself into a situation where my only option was to really sit with these feelings, feel the discomfort, and seek to somehow draw strength from it.
And so I breathed in. And I breathed out. And I took note of how my breath felt entering and leaving my body. I paid close attention to how my throat, while sore, was working hard to function for me in the way in which I needed. I felt my hands lightly pressing upon my thighs, grounding me into the realization that while it might be weak right now, my body is a fighter. It is strong. It works hard to allow me to move through my daily life and sometimes it stumbles, it has a little failure. And suddenly, I was okay. I laid down, suddenly aware of the pain in my throat but I slowly grabbed the thin block by my left side and propped up my head, easing my airway and allowing my throat to relax. And relax I did—right through the entire class. I found myself in final savasana and I had a minute to realize the weight of what I’d just done. By confronting my uncomfortable feelings head on, I acknowledged them without letting them keep me from having a relaxing, beautifully restful yoga practice. It felt like a cinematic moment straight from a Western when the cowboy walks calmly up to wild stallion whose nostrils flare as it braces itself for combat and with a calm breath the cowboy places a hand slowly and intentionally upon the stallion’s nose. The once wild beast calms, feeding off the cowboy’s energy as the two opposing forces meld into one calm spirit as the stallion silently recognizes the power of the cowboy’s unfaltering gaze. I had confronted by body and found a way to make peace.
Two days later, the cold had moved from my throat into my nose and I found myself again on my yoga mat, ready to enter into another yin class. This one was decidedly more difficult in a physical sense. I immediately had to let go of the expectation that i’d be able to breath through my nose, my regular form of ujayi breath strictly off limits; however, I easily adapted. There were a few times where I had to sniffle, had to cough, or would catch myself mad at my sinuses for holding me back but overall I was able to keep my cold symptoms (and attitude) under control. If anything, I found it actually helped me to stay centered on remaining present in my body. There’s nothing like the concentration that comes from trying to keep your snot in check enough to not let it slide down your face. And that might sound gross, but I realized I was okay with that. It’s another form of vulnerability in a public place, to be sick. It’s a challenge to overcome fears of how you being present in your cold might be making the people around you feel and makes it easy to slip into a place of insecurity, but I felt more acutely aware of what was happening in my body than I ever have before.
Through these experiences, I was able to explore the concept of yoga as a healing practice from a new (and literal) angle. My yin practice this week has been an integral part of how I journeyed through my sickness, acknowledging it and dispelling my negative emotions as I learned how to be a support system for my ailing body. In the end, when handling a cold you are looking to solve the dissonance between your healthy, sharp mind and your ailing body. Your mind can either be frustrated at your body for not keeping up and holding it back, or your mind can be a support system, acknowledging the body for its struggles and perseverance and sit with in in compassion. So much of battling a cold or an off day is mental and I am glad to know I can rely on yin as an ally in pushing through future struggles. Yoga, like much of life, is all about attitude. What you get out of it when present and coming from a place of kindness and support is truly astounding. You just need to make that choice.