On Knees, Discomfort, and LanguageI have spent the past few months thinking about pain, searching for words to describe its various tones and shadows. I have the luxury of doing this since the discomfort I am in is not ultimately as serious as many other experiences of bodily discomfort. But as an asana teacher, having an injury that offers an ongoing experience of what we refer to as pain calls upon many other significant aspects of my yoga—my meditation practices, my breath, my ability to observe and analyze, and my capacity to be receptive to the needs of my body.
A few months ago I was walking up some stairs when I felt a brief sharp sensation in my left knee and then a wet flooding feeling. Just like that, I had torn my left lateral meniscus. I spent a few weeks gathering medical opinions, curtailed my travel schedule, and scheduled the operation. I adjusted during this period, wearing a knee brace and moving in a very frontal manner. I became extremely verbally precise in my teaching since I could no longer just kick out a demo. Then I had the operation, and, despite my being assured a rapid recovery, I was sidelined with swelling and inflammation that has continued to surge unpredictably.
By now I’ve been told by more than one medical expert that I have a “high pain threshold,” but I think that it’s just that I have so many different definitions of what pain is that I find it hard to describe my current state so simply. Pain is too general and too vague a term. To me, pain is not a singular experience, but a vast range of very particular sensations for which we lack specific language, so these sensations are best conveyed through metaphor, simile, or anecdote, as I have written above.
Is it just because I am an asana teacher who spends enormous amounts of time working with my body that I notice this? It seems to me that there is a confounding of pain with discomfort. And just as there is a wide range of discomfort experiences, there is an equally vast spectrum of pain.
My deepest thanks to Robert Sturman for creating beautiful photos within the post-op limitations of my practice.