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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Ashtanga – Primary Series – Practice

Ashtanga - Primary Series - Practice

The past two weeks, I have focused on the Primary Series. Haven’t done it – consistently – for a while. Wanted to get back into it – really missed it. It was so hard to do in the beginning years ago when I first started to practice. My body and system did not like all the forward bends. It really effected me – and not in a good way. I remember how I would not be able to do ALL of the postures. It took years upon years of practice to get me to a point of feeling good in the practice.

But it came at a price. I mangled my body and stressed it out just by working into the postures.

I have a very sensitive system – even my bodyworker whether it is a chiropractor/thai massage/SOT therapist, says that my body has extreme reactions to adjustments. In other words, the work that I do in my practice can really set off a chain reaction of pain. Shoulder pain, back pain. Stiff neck and back. Sore hips and aching legs. So I had to lay off for a while.

Now – it’s all back. The shoulder pain especially. It’s because my right shoulder leans more into the forward bends and it puts it out every time. Even when I am totally conscious of it.

That’s a part of the practice then isn’t it. The physical practice is easier – I know the postures I can get into easily, I know the postures I can get into with some effort, and I know the postures, for my body’s sack, I shouldn’t push. It is a part of the practice to know these things.

I need to work like this for a while and let my body slowly work out the kinks again.

I know that if I were in Mysore practice I would try to push myself too much – spurred on by the energy of the room. Although I really love that – being with all those people. It has never served me.

Today I practice quietly in my home – I’ve got a great little spot – breathing and working through the aches in my body with a clear and calm mind. I do not push. I listen and learn. And I love every minute of it!
Peace!

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.

Another woman’s view: What I Love and Hate about Tantra and Sacred Sex

What I Love and Hate about Tantra and Sacred Sex: Have you ever experienced the kind of relationship that, years after it’s ended, you look back and think, “how is it possible …

This post (see link above) is a very honest portrayal of what happens during the Spiritual journey.

Everyone’s journey is expressed differently through different passages and avenues. We all go through a kind of right or ritual when a part of ourselves needs to manifest. Each passage is different in how it is expressed and the intensity with which it is expressed. Some of us do not even feel that there is a need at all. Or worse, we are not directed correctly by the people we trust – hopefully eventually, most of us who are seeking can find the way on our own…

In this case, this woman’s psyche led her in a Tantric/Sacred Sexual direction – just because of what her organism at that moment in time needed. This was her right of passage that she believed would end the emptiness, and the fear.

After going along this journey fully and completely in full surrender, I would imagine she need not visit this particular part of herself again. On the other hand, like it is with the spiritual process – this experience may just be the tip of the iceberg and there may be things yet to uncover… I don’t know.

This woman like so many of us pursued a particular path in order to find what she thought she lacked and in the end came to the same conclusion which is offered at the outset of any spiritual teaching – “…that which I seek was within me all along.” It doesn’t matter who you are and what you believe or what you are told – we all have to go through the ‘fire’ in order to heal, to become conscious and whole. We must experience whatever it is we need to in order to live fully and develop deeply. It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you or what you understand intellectually, living our lives fully means to dive into parts of ourselves by doing things, experiencing what might seem risky, shameful or embarrassing. This passage this woman took is like many passages we all take in our lives over and over again.  I’m sure if she thought back on it – this wasn’t the first time she’s encountered something like this and… it won’t be her last.

This is how we unfold!

Peace!

Christine

“I Don’t Know” #1

The Creative Process needs a kind of openness akin to what the Spiritual Practice needs in order to see what is truly ‘there’.

This article, written on this site: http://99u.com/articles/15339/the-joy-of-creative-ignorance-embracing-uncertainty-in-your-day-to-day speaks from the writer’s pov – or rather advises writers to have an “I don”t know” stance when approaching their work.

This kind of “I don’t know” recipe for the creative process is Inherent In Spiritual Practice. It isn’t a new idea even when Keats was around. One of the best books on the subject of “I don’t know” is “Zen Mind. Beginners Mind”. The Spiritual Practice needs a mind that has no attachment to identity. No Strings attached to Outcome. When the mind is free, It opens the heart. In an all-embracing attitude possibilities are endless.

I am what I chose to be.

That’s not necessarily true. Not in my experience of my Spiritual Practice… The universe has set a path for you and the reason to do Yoga: meditation, asana, etc. is to be able to get out of your way and see that path clearly. Our task in life, our life’s purpose is to Realize that and to Follow or live it – not blindly but Enthusiastically!

I am what I cho…

Yoga Asana Practice in LA

20130114_14122620130114_144358 20130114_144304 20130115_142909Yoga Asana Practice in LA

I get up. I shower. I put my yoga gear on. I stand on my mat. I greet the day. I practice. My mat is already set out. There is no thought behind it. I just get on my mat as I would sit at my computer, sit in front of the tv, or wash the dishes. My practice is difficult today. I breath and move through it. I don’t go to studios anymore. I believe it is good to do my practice on my own. After years of practice, it comes naturally. My favorite part: sitting at the front of my mat and greet the universe.

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There’s A New Film Out About . . . YOGA!

This film is an American yogini’s look at what . . . YOGA IS. I guess you can say it is the documentary to the personal bio of Eat, Pray, Love. It features all the big names of the American yoga industry (and fashion world – ok let’s just say it – celebrities) with a few glaring omissions.

Some of these people have been on magazine covers for years and are featured at every yoga conference around the US. I suppose that’s how she might have initially got exposed to yoga and what these teachers teach. These teachers are the ‘Stars’ of yoga. Celebrities in the Yoga world (North American and some Europe).

I only watched the trailer and it seems it is saying the same things that are always said – “the world needs yoga now more than ever before.” (why? do you think we’re in more turmoil now than a decade ago? 50 years ago? 100 years ago? I would say the exact opposite!) “Yoga is connection.” – Connection is yoga. Yoga means connection. Same word. “You can find your True Self.” That is true – yet I have a feeling that what they’re talking about is asana-centric – yet again. Really – I wonder . . . without asana practice would these teachers be as popular? Would they understand their True Self without it?

I ask this question, because I do question the emphasis on the physical practice in all of the yoga movies/docs that come out and in our interpretation of yoga and how we tend to talk about it. Could we talk about yoga without talking about asana? Georg Feuerstein, states as it was told to him through his guru and his own practice that “Everything must be dropped. All philosophy, all practices must be let go of in order to realize YOGA.” They haven’t done that yet.

I feel there is nothing being said that hasn’t been said before – not that in our yoga practice there is anything new to talk about because they got it right the first time. But I mean in depth of understanding that is beyond words . . . I don’t hear it from any of these teachers. I’m not sure that “Yoga tastes good” says it for me or helps in any way. In fact it’s a bit of a throw away. Yoga tastes good – what the hell does that mean?

The general public are routinely lulled into believing that their True Self is the self that can do postures well, or at least advance in them. Or when you sit in a serene and lovely place with a small smile on your face is connecting with your True Self. Or you’re there because you always laugh after you say something non-sensical. That is not what yoga is about to me. It is not how nice you are. Nor is it how calm and relaxed you are. Or is it how well you do the postures, how good you look in them or how many you can master within this life time. Yoga is a state of being. So I look inward for the truth.

The ‘practices’ of yoga: asana, meditation, selfless work, pranayama, studying, sitting with your guru, are all to either discipline the body and mind or they are to expose the truth of who you think you are by bringing you to such a state of vulnerability that none of the defenses, identities, or attachments you have built up or clung to over the years can survive. In this work it’s about rebuilding not fortifying. Therefore, the Self is beyond all the idiosyncratic behaviors we manifest in our practices, in our lives. It is there  – yoga IS when all of this halts; When it stops being about you.

Yoga is simply there whether you know it or not. The practices, whatever they are, were devised to open you up to seeing this: To take the veil away, to peel the onion, to burn you up, etc. . . . Once you see it, you have no need for all the other stuff. They are practiced to maintain connection; to maintain Yoga because in our fast paced, cold, calculated, threatening world the connection can be lost easily – just ask anyone coming back from a meditation retreat.

I do hope that the movie is better than the trailer. If it is, then the trailer does not do it justice – to me anyway.

In Yoga, you eventually become your own guru. This film is for those who are still actively seeking outwardly. I guess I have moved beyond needing to look outward to find inspiration. I don’t need to hear this stuff anymore from these teachers or these celebrities. The student has become the teacher.

I do acknowledge and respect my teachers I was exposed to during my decades of practice. Without them, I would not be able to be my own teacher. I have to say though, in all honesty, the teacher that taught me the most and whom I still see on occasion, doesn’t even do asana, and has a rich deep practice that is filled with Divine Inspiration and Deep Connection. I honor him and thank him.

I thank all of them.

DEAR BILL...

There’s A New Film Out About…YOGA!

Happy Happy Joy Joy…

It is difficult these days to teach and discuss ‘traditional’ yoga – like Ashtanga, Iyengar, etc…because of this notion that only if you feel happy, elated, and bolstered, empowered during your yoga class are you doing something worthwhile. The whole idea that if you’re not feeling that way, then you are somehow still “burdened by the pressures of everyday life” as one yoga (Anusara) teacher put it; that by virtue of the style of yoga that is perhaps more difficult during class somehow does not let you “rediscover that belief in infinite possibility” (as another teacher put it), you are not doing yourself any favors. I say – bullshit.

It is my experience of these types of teachers from this particular style of yoga that they are convinced that they are the only ones who can give you a warm and fuzzy feeling (and that that is the only target on which we are focused and which makes doing yoga “worthwhile”) and you should therefore do nothing else. Anusara is a thing with which those that teach it and practice it and are ardent supporters of it use to judge all else in the yoga world (OK – so do teachers and practitioners of Iyengar and Ashtanga – whatever). My point is that it is my experience that it is the Anusara practice (John Friend) that has USURPED, hijacked the HEART FROM ALL THE OTHER YOGA PRACTICES. As a heart-felt, sincere, mindful practitioner and teacher, I do not appreciate it.

The Heart is in ALL Traditions of Yoga Practice (including the Asana Practices of Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa, and Meditation, Satsang, etc.)

I am so tired of how Anusara and all its followers take away the joy that is inherent in the practice of yoga in ALL its traditions – even if it is not “playtime” in an Ashtanga class.

Truly, we are not kids any more and that notion that we must somehow get back to that, is a fallacy. It’s steering those people who want to deepen and give birth to their true selves in the wrong direction. As ‘adults’ we know too much to become children again. And yes, we have a lot more responsibilities to actually be able to act like one and get away with it. But through the difficulties of life, we have a choice to make – either we hide behind the tricks of the ego acting like we are spirit which only accepts ‘goofing off’ or ‘prancing about’ as a way to be ‘happy’. Or we can accept ourselves and others and all our foibles by cultivating a no-nonsense, present centered consciousness which sees things for what they are and in that find the “burden of the pressures of everyday life” lifting in the face of the truth. That is freedom. In becoming unburdened this way, we find true freedom, with that we are ‘happy’.

The Way to Happiness

Unburdening yourself of the constraints of an ego that can’t face ‘ordinary’, sometimes ‘boring’ moments is the work of true yoga and is made accessible by embracing all aspects of yoga not only asana. Meditation, reading thoughtful spiritual books (not only the Power of Now), going to a really good therapist that recognizes Spirit as a part of our worldly experience, etc., all help to open you up to those “infinite possibilities” beyond the pacification and gratification of our ego-ic nature.

What is really scary and really exciting about it all is that it takes years! Not months. Really, the work to unravel you; what you’ve built up over the years to protect you: your defenses, your opinions, your preferences all must dissolve to make Yoga happen and it’s quite a journey. You don’t get rid of the ego entirely (see my other writings). You need your ego to survive.

So for the first real step: cultivate awareness. How you do that by convincing yourself that there is nothing you need to work on, is beyond me. Somehow though, it is thought that if you admit you have things to work on, you are admitting to being irreversibly flawed. That there is something ‘wrong’ with you. That you are unworthy of love and attention because you are not perfect. That, my friends, is the first thing to work on. It is not awful to admit to yourself that “I can be a real bitch/bastard sometimes”. It is actually pretty freeing. And it’s scary at the same time. Still, just because you grow to accept that about yourself doesn’t mean you go around being one. The point is to go toward the unpleasantness, toward the things you’re afraid of, the dislikes, the repulsions. This work is not dwelling on the negative, as the New Agers fear (something else to look into) nor is it holding on for dear life to the positive, the light that everyone seems to be seeking.  You may find as some have often done so, is that the thing you fear the most is your beauty or your talent, etc. As human beings, we don’t only hide the stuff of anger, jealousy, envy. Go, see what you can learn about yourself.

We Are All Perfect In Our Imperfection

There are many aspects of ourselves we don’t know and won’t know if the idea of admitting to our flaws repulses us. So the next step is acceptance of yourself. Can you accept that you are not perfect? And that Perfection IS in the acceptance of all that is you! When you accept that can you accept that people aren’t perfect. That means everyone. If you can open your heart to that then you are well on your way.

Surround yourself with those who know that it is not readily accessible in just a few months. When you are with others who know, then when your ego flares up because it is fighting for its life, those around will show you the way to go deeper. Trust them even if what they say ‘hurts’ you or ‘insults’ you – that’s a good way to tell your ego has a hold of you.

The Playground That Is Yoga

There’s nothing wrong with being playful. In fact, all of this is play in one way or another. The key is to pair your asana practice with counseling, reading and meditation. Ask questions and accept guidance. Be wary of those who tell you to ignore or forget about the dark and move only into the light. Be wary of classes which only stress to appease your tendency to look for distractions and your ego-ic nature’s incessant whining. And as well, be wary of those who say yoga is about being stern. Even the most disciplined class of Ashtanga, practiced with an open heart can be light-hearted and very loving.

Joy Joy

Truly the joy comes from within – and when you and only you are ready to express it, will you find “joy” in your practice. No one can give you that and show you it. The teacher is just there to give you the practice – meaning the practice is what teaches not the teacher. The moment a teacher really feels that within their bones that’s the minute they’re a good teacher.

The wonder of it all is that when you do not hide from yourself or others, there is joy. When you can stay focussed and present in the most difficult, challenging posture (for you) or situation, there is elation. When you can accept guidance and assistance (teacher and student) without expressing arrogance, there is love. When you can look at yourself without criticism, there is peace. Let YOGA teach you this. Then life will be so much fun!

This was inspired by this blog post: http://yogaspy.com/2011/07/22/hooping-and-the-hybridization-of-yoga-in-america/#comment-4309