Learning from Ourselves… Injury in Yoga: Continuing the Dialogue

Hi – I’m glad you got something out of it.

This is my long-winded response to your question: “Can we break free of our old broken ways without hurting it (our bodies)?”

I hope this helps…

Non-Dualism/Advaita (not two)

It is my understanding and what I believe to be true (always have), is that all is god/divine/universe. It is known in studied circles as non-dualism or Advaita. You can study Advaita Vedanta which is a branch of Vedanta (philosophy) that sees all as One.

According to Advaita, in the universe, there is no this or that. No light or dark, etc.. So then when experiencing anything: behavior, injury, circumstances, god, etc., then nothing is bad or good. It just is.

Thinking Mind

Our minds have separated things out; Put them into little boxes and called them bad or good, hot or cold, light or dark. I suppose it’s true and necessary to do this when you want to distinguish between things as humans walking this earth. But it’s when you start to qualify them that gets us into our heads and we stop experiencing things for what they are in the present moment.

The Judgement

Our imaginings as to what things mean to us according to what we’ve experienced in our lives take over. That’s when you become burdened with the thinking mind. It’s like telling a lie. You have to remember exactly what you’ve told yourself in order to get on with life. That becomes a burden. When the water is hot or cold you will react differently according to your circumstance – your present moment – you think, but in fact our reactions to most things come with a lot of baggage. That baggage are the qualifiers both personal and social that we put on certain things. Now the dark is bad and the light is good. Sometimes snow is fun, sometimes it’s awful and we hate it. Injury is bad and staying safe is good. Or worse you’re bad because you injured yourself and those who take care are good. (does this sound like something you know?)

What Advaita teaches us is to see things as they are without judgement, without qualifiers. When you take things as they are, there is no this or that. All is one and there is no judgement or qualification to separate it out. No putting it into a box with a label on it. You see it as it is. It is just a happening.

The Learning

For instance, I have a small hairline fracture in my fifth metatarsal. It happened as I was teaching a very fast vinyasa class. Fun! About 15 mins into the class, I noticed a sensation that there was something under my foot and didn’t notice the swelling until after the class. I went home put some ice on it, kept my foot up for the evening and next day and taught that evening and again the next day and the next. The “injury” told me one thing – that I was putting too much stress on my back foot in Virabhadrasana Two. It was not “preventable” because until the moment it happened, I didn’t know I was. In fact, the stress came from the tightness in my hips which taught me that I had to work from my hips/legs more in open hip postures – especially standing. My “injury” taught me how to work better. Now I’m not saying that everything is a teaching – but in this case I did learn. Meaning I became more aware of how my body works and reacts in certain postures. I do not think of it as injury and something to avoid. I think of it as injury, yes, and something to embrace and know that that is how my body needs to work itself out.

Our Experience

Our bodies have habits from the time we are very young. Our movements, how we walk, reach for things, jump out of the way, stand, sit are all set pretty much early on in our lives and are determined by who we mimic (our parents), and what we experience (physically, emotionally, psychically). These physical movements and their baggage are what we’re up against in our asana practice. Even being very flexible is something to overcome in practice. (I can tell you more about this later if you’d like – just ask.)

Consciousness

So the long and the short of it is this: as long as you are moving in the consciousness that is available to you at this time, then the work and the results of that work are all a part of the divine plan. If you are aware of how and what it is that you do then there is no this or that. There is just you doing the work. Your body will unfold in the practice as it needs to. Sometimes injury is a part of that unfolding.

Deeper Understanding

Richard Freeman (well-known guru of Ashtanga) says that he’s never had an injury. Well, bully for him. I know no one else and I know a lot of people in yoga. I believe that because of my struggles it affords me a deeper understanding of what most people are going through. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t move head-long into injury. I don’t like the recovery time and it always is that I have to start pretty much all over again. But even saying that – every time I start over – meaning, that my trikonasanas look like I’ve never done them before – I go deeper into the posture and feel a more profound connection to my body and my practice. That is worth all the struggle and hard work, for sure!

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Lessons of a Yogini

Lessons of a Yogini

The body is a funny thing. Every day is different. Last year I was able to almost reach the ground: about 2 inches to go. Then all of a sudden I was unable to get low at all. My inner thigh muscles were excruciatingly tight. No warning. Nothing. They just didn’t want to play anymore.

My first reaction was – sadness – not anger. I was sad because “I’ve worked so hard…” etc. I was sad because I have the type of body that snaps back and sometimes can’t do things I suppose a ‘normal’ body can – or what we think a normal body can – it snaps back and I basically have to start pretty close to the beginning again. I was sad because when you get to a certain stage in your practice there’s a kind of flow that allows for that elusive sensation of freedom in the body which can be viscerally experienced and I lost that – at least I thought I had. I still feel it – even when I’m tight and my body seems uncooperative.

As I get older, I’ve realized a few things:

That this is really as far as I can go – physically. There are postures that I will never be able to do “successfully” – whatever that means.

That I know my body so well, that I can feel the small changes in my body which can be very satisfying, and therefore I work very smart these days.

And that what I was chasing in my early years of practice are not important anymore. Oh that doesn’t stop me from working postures to the point of a good sweat or at least feeling satisfied with my efforts. But that pendulum swing back and forth of emotions about what my body looks like in the posture does not equal my efforts doesn’t drive me.

I am grateful for all those years of effort though. The wish to be the best teacher drove me to really get to know postural yoga in a different way. In a way that was about asking the question: When I do postures, what makes it an aspect of YOGA? How am I expressing YOGA in an ‘imperfect’ body? Perseverance, courage and humility are the foundations of practice – am I expressing those? What is the difference between:

perseverance and greediness?

courage and ignorance?

humility and self-consciousness?

With those questions and more inspiration I became very attuned to my body, mind and spirit.

Back to the task of practice: it is more now about practicing and working on things as a matter-of-course rather than trying to get somewhere…fast.

So with the help of a combination of postures in my practice – including some unconventional ones like squatting sideways, with warrior twos and side angle, some seated and lying down hip openers. Now with a few months work I am slowly making my way down again. First time in months I am able to place my chest on the floor.

I am very content with my body and my practice these days. There is a certain amount of calm. That I suppose is what it means to really do YOGA.

Peace!

What is the Difference Between: Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana

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I have come across blogs and pictures which name these two postures the same. I think it is important to use the correct names because they are very different postures and work on the body differently. (I am concerned with the Krishnamacharya lineage -not the ghosh lineage. The ghosh lineage diverges from the names of the postures completely so there is some confusion)

During my years of practice, these two postures gave me a lot of trouble (honestly all of them did). But Trikonasana pulled on my back to distraction and I could not reach far down with my hand.

Until I really learned what was the important focus in Triangle and how to MOVE INTO it, I was doomed to misunderstand it. Until I learned to slowly go in it (over days not seconds of practice) and in my own time (years of practice), I was constantly uncomfortable.

The key was to move slowly and to stop when I felt the pull too strongly then I knew I was in the posture to the best of my body’s ability. Working from the hips rather than the head or hand really helped me understand that to open into this posture was to allow my own hips and legs to let go of one another. How did I do that? Move slowly, work from the movement of the hips on top of the straight leg and then things slowly started to release. Soon I was able to reach my fingers close to the floor – although that is still not my focus (nor is it the posture’s focus).

Parsvakonasana was a different experience entirely. My hips needed to slowly release the top of my thighs in order to essentially squat into the posture and be able to lay my torso over the bent leg, open up, and reach my arm overhead. It was the same focus however – work from the hips as if I were squatting down and the back leg strong. The hand was the least of my worries – and so it should be. With a combination of hip openers, patience and practice, I finally was able to feel what this posture was all about.

While these two postures ask the same from you – the hip and leg muscle relationships are different because of the either the straight leg or bent knee. As well, you can see that the lower body and upper body relationship is quite different. In Trikonasana, the upper body is at 90° (in full posture) from the lower body, and Parsvakonasana the upper body is essentially in alignment with the lower body. This difference alone changes your bodies dynamic in each posture.

When doing each of these postures, they need to be understood each on their own terms because they are different.

I think the problem comes when the hand on the floor or close to it becomes the focus – which it is not. It is bad teaching when that becomes the goal. The fingers or hand need not  reach the floor (at least not yet).

Truly to do each posture to your best ability the key in each is whether the front leg is straight or bent.

In Trikonasana – the front leg stays straight. Do not compromise yourself or the posture by bending the front knee. If you can not bring the torso down like in all the pictures (who can) just give yourself time. Take your time by focusing on the hip movement. It’ll move – just give it time!  And I mean real time – not 30 seconds or 5 breaths. Take it slow through days weeks months. Keep practicing.

If in Parsvakonasana you can’t reach the hand down – not to worry. Work with the focus of squatting down into the the bent knee’s hip and work from there.

Let’s Review:

How you can tell the difference between Trikonasana (Triangle) and Parsvakonasana (side-angle) in simple easy to see terms:

Trikonasana – front leg is Straightback foot toes pointing out to the side (mainly); front hand is usually along side inner shin, fingers extending, palm open or sometimes grabbing the toe; top arm extended straight up.

Parsvakonasana – front leg is Bent 90°; back foot is turned in 45°; hand is on the floor (usually); top arm extended over ear.

This is to help you Recognize these postures. This is Not meant to be Instructional – although it can be when you’re want it.

The Difference between Sukhasana, Siddhasana, Padmasana

Traditional meditation cross legged sitting postures. The most done and most traditional used all over the world is: Sukhasana. The next is Siddhasana. And only rarely, Padmasana.


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Sukansana – sitting “easy cross legged” pose.

This is “easy” because it is simply sitting cross legged.

Siddhasana – sitting with toes tucked into thighs or set the feet side by side keeping the knees wide.

Siddhasana is a little more difficult than Sukasana and is a cross legged pose where you tuck your feet into your thighs (between thighs and calves specifically), or lay your feet side by side (on the floor in front of you) keeping the knees wide: a wide kneed pose. Which means that it can only be done when the hips are more open, and it can help open the hips even more than simply sitting cross legged.

Padmasana – sitting with feet on top of thighs tucked close to hips

Padmasana or lotus pose is the most difficult of the seated “meditation” poses. It is done by tucking the feet up on top of the thighs and close to the hips: a closed knee pose. Which means that the knees are closer together and can be done when the hips are much more open than the other two. It is not easy to get into and takes a great deal of practice to make sure the knees are protected.

These are important distinctions. All three are available to use – but please practice especially the last two, with a GOOD teacher – one who knows the difference between the three poses.

Once you practice all three poses, the differences and the benefits of each will become clear.

Please keep yoga asana names and terms correct.

Peace!