November 2014

Perception is Power

I went away on a yoga retreat in a picturesque location the middle of the countryside. The purpose of this was to have a break and gently try out yoga again because I’m not doing as much exercise as I used to do due to the injuries that I’ve got.

However, on the last day of the retreat things took an unpleasant turn. I had packed my things and was carrying them to the van when I heard Michelle the yoga teacher shout to me ‘can you help Dave carry his trunk?’ I immediately felt a sense of foreboding because I am very wary about lifting things. Nevertheless I proceeded up to have a look at the task. Michelle then said ‘it’s too heavy for one that it’s all right for two’. The first problem was that there was no clear grip, but then Michelle pointed out that there was a grip for one hand. When I complained about the lack of grip for to hands, Michelle just said loudly and it sarcastically ‘get a grip man’. I then lifted the trunk up at my end and it was very heavy. Why I didn’t stop at this point I’m not sure. I think it was partly because Michelle was manipulating me into lifting the trunk by implying that I was being manly if I wasn’t to lift it and I felt a bit obligated to help because Michelle and Dave were going to give me a lift in their van. So I helped Dave carry the trunk down the garden to the van. To start with I felt okay, but as the day wore on I felt a feeling of discomfort over my abdominal area and today my ankle has felt painful. So I’ve been having a lot of feelings of regret because again I have created a problem that I could have avoided.

I felt very angry about Michelle’s behaviour because she had said she didn’t want to lift the trunk because she was doing some yoga teaching later on and she didn’t want to hurt her back, but this implied that she didn’t mind if I was to hurt my back. I had also told her that I have scoliosis and get stressed by my injuries. So I confronted her about all this and she said that I could just said no, which was true but then she did put me under some pressure. I had a very similar incident about two years ago when somebody asked me to lift something and again I had felt under pressure to be helpful and the result was that I injured my upper back. I think that I need to learn how to be more assertive because even though I could just have said no for some reason I didn’t. I am aware of how to be assertive but I think that I need to practice assertiveness so that I have not caught out again by this kind of situation where somebody is trying to get you to do something that they don’t want to do themselves because they know that it could be harmful.

In terms of lifting things I think that this incident also illustrates that it’s not good to lift anything heavy with just one hand because that puts an asymmetrical load onto your back. A friend said to me that in these situations that happen out of the blue where you are not sure about what to do rather than just get talked into something it’s better just to say ‘wait’ and then that at least gives you a bit of time to think about the best course of action. I think that when somebody asks you to do something that you think may be harmful to you maybe it’s a good idea to just think what’s the worst thing that can happen if I say no, and of course you can always say no in a polite way. The answer is that nothing bad will happen, maybe there’ll be a momentary or temporary psychological discomfort but this far outweighs the physical and psychological distress that accompanies injuring yourself. I think it also illustrates how ‘perception is power’ i.e. Michelle spoke to me as if she had power which she didn’t have, but I perceived this bluffing as real power when it was illusory. So it is about reclaiming power in situations and treating everybody with respect, including yourself.