When Pain Makes Way For Joy

Posted by Erin Aquin on Jun 26, 2014 8:38:00 AM

In the last 5 months I have begun to work with other yoga instructors to help them create more sustainable lives as part of the Yoga Teacher Survival Program. It has been a truly rewarding and amazing journey that has led me to connect with incredible instructors from all over the world. One instructor who I have been especially moved by is the lovely Niki Cochren. I am thrilled to share her with you in today's guest blog post. I think of it as a meditation on how pain can make way for joy. 

When Pain Makes Way For Joy


I went to get my hair cut on Wednesday. I left feeling more enlightened than after yoga class. If you know a good stylist you know what I mean. Wandering back to the car, I was meditating deeply on how Brock works sheer magic in 20 minutes while catching me up on his entire life, meanwhile, nonchalantly waving around what could be a flag instead of a curling iron? I thought, why do we wait so long to do the things that bring us joy?   

How many of us right now could go to the front of the line and take the biggest piece first? If you close your eyes and honestly ask yourself this question what surfaces? Imagine perhaps, being that outrageous…that fabulous…that brilliant…that selfish?  

And yet, for me this was the whole point. It was only when I learned to take care of myself that everything else began to take care of itself. I woke up one day sick and tired of being sick and tired and realized that I had been draining my energy worrying about everything else except the most important thing in my life.

My life.

 I lived to support and serve everyone else. I ‘selflessly’ volunteered to work on call, 24 hours a day, for months at a time, for Bikram Choudhury, who I considered to be my guru. That was then.  Now I am my own guru. This doesn’t mean I had a falling out with Bikram; I just had a falling in [love] with me. I finally committed to taking responsibility for my own life.

I broke my back.

I had a breakdown.  

My therapist kept trying to refer to it as a breakthrough or a break open… essentially I cracked. Whatever it seems like to you, it was possibly the greatest most defining event of my life. Not that I was even remotely happy about it… actually, I went into depression. I stopped caring. But that, as it turns out, was the most compassionate thing I could do as a yoga teacher. I stopped trying to hold my students hands through their practice. Nobody needs that. Instead, I learned what it means to truly hold space for another because I had to do it for myself. To allow someone their process whether that meant tears or sweat or growling… and to not move to fix it or fade it… but to let it be, and be okay. I believe more in my students now than ever. I am able to see them in all their red faced glory, and in whatever shape they may or may not be making, and I am so thankful for them.  

Learning in this small way to let go of judgment was just the tip of the iceberg… one of the many lessons I learned from being injured. Do as little as possible to get the effect. I first heard it as a whisper to my strong healthy body, and I had no idea what it meant let alone how to put it into practice. It wasn’t until I was living with constant pain did it begin to make sense. I physically, mentally, and emotionally could only do the bare minimum to make a class possible. My practice that I valued and ultimately identified myself with didn’t exist. I felt like without it I didn’t exist. At first, I tried desperately, exhausting every avenue I had learned, to hold onto it. Very quickly, applying this approach, it became evident that it wasn’t working. Still, I continued.  

After a very long, draining and arduous fight, I eventually laid down my sword. When there was absolutely nothing left to do, I surrendered. Finally, acceptance began to grow. Little by little bit things started to change. My smile became real again.  

I am yoga practice not yoga perfect.  

Thank goodness. I spent years training for yoga competition. None of it prepared me for what would happen if everything fell apart. In the beginning of my yoga practice, I exponentially got stronger, more flexible, and found more depth. One by one more postures became accessible to me.  This was fun, encouraging, motivating, and exciting. However, the impermanence of my practice taught me change is reliable. I now celebrate the larger triumphs like breathing and making it to class. And I learn with every drop of sweat, with every pose, with every pain, I learn. Inverted and otherwise, yoga truly has changed my perspective. I don’t care what you can’t do. I am much more interested in what you can do. Simply I wonder where can you begin? Here I am in all my imperfection and humanity and struggle, and I can asana. And so can you. No more hesitation, book an appointment with your stylist. Start doing the things that bring you joy today!

What do you do that brings you joy? Tell us in the comments below.

Niki Cochren has been teaching a variety of yoga styles for over 10 years.  Since 2008 her passion for Bikram Yoga has lead her to many different studios across the US and Canada teaching. Hamilton area Yogis can find her teaching classes and workshops (including one June 29 from 2-3pm @ Bikram Yoga Hamilton/ Dundas for a yogic celebration of self care). 

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