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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Learning from Ourselves… Injury in Yoga

This blog post is in response to this article which was making the rounds on Tumblr. It’s about avoiding injury in yoga. yada yada yada. Yes. I have a fair amount of dismissiveness toward those who insist that we be careful all the time – what are you my mom!? Sure go easy when you’ve never done something before and so on that’s just common sense (as someone said in response to this article on Tumblr).

But I say that sometimes (when it comes to yoga especially), it’s a good thing…

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What follows is the conversation.

me: If you look at the Pema quote …

“We regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors – people who have a certain hunger to know what is true – feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back.”
– Pema

… you would understand that injury (pain) is sometimes a big part of the whole practice (not just asana but includes it). Sometimes the body needs it. Sometimes the mind needs it… if you’d like to know more, ask me a question! 🙂 Peace! #1barefootgirl

#playitbackward: Injury is not the same as pain, but I would like to know more!

Me: Yes. True the kind of injury I’m talking about is not just pain. What I’ve found in my years of practice of asana that an injury can be one of two things (but is not exclusive to these two):

1. when I say injury is for the mind what I mean by that is it reflects outwardly what we are manifesting psychically. The mind has its own agenda and sometimes the body can’t keep up. We are told to push, to not give up, etc. (not in yoga necessarily – but there are some…) in our lives and unconsciously we bring this to our practice. A lot of people think that they can overcome their “egos” easily by just practicing asana or sitting in meditation but sometimes these are exactly the places where the ego will assert itself. Strongly sometimes. You can not eradicate the ego entirely and it’s very good at playing tricks. Injury is a sign that there is something you’re doing in your body that needs to be listened to (body/mind) that the ego is refusing to acknowledge. For example: I was teaching this woman for the longest time – good student and very flexible (naturally). She complained about lower back problems all the time that were so specific that it could only be coming from the way she did forward bends. I adjusted, I explained, I pleaded with her but to no avail. Every time she would go into the forward bend, she would over extend herself (I can explain how some other time).

What it would take for her to be deeply in her forward bend without creating “injury” are two things:

one – She had to change her mind/ego about what sensation in her body is telling her that it feels good. Her “feel good” sensation in her forward bend was telling her that she was deep in her bend but was neglecting or overriding the feeling of pain in her low back. So every time she came out of it she was reminded of the pain.

Two: If then she changed her approach to the posture and were to pull back and start to work into the posture enhancing protective measures for her back which are basically muscle engagement issues (she had weak abs and so on) and pivoting issues, she would have slowly worked the bend by letting the posture unfold from the very top of the posture. She would have enlisted her body/mind consciousness better and she would work into the bend more along the lines of her body’s reality rather than what her mind was used to which was her “chronic” body and therefore into the injury.

So here I’m talking about the mind latching onto a sensation that is only part of the story. But the ego is satisfied because on the outside it looks like (and feels like) a very deep forward bend. What I always tell my students is to look for the depth of the posture not just the surface sensations and then I try to teach that through meditation and deep asana work. In other words, work on the body/mind connection deeply.

We throw around the phrase body/mind a lot but most do not know what it is because the work is not forthcoming. It takes a great deal of sincerity and surrender. IMHO.

2. When I say the injury is good for the body I mean that the body has chronic holds and old injuries that sometimes can only be dealt with by breaking it apart first. Sometimes the injury is in a place in your body where there was deep scarring, early (sometimes in vitro) injury which needs release which manifests in “injury”. We talk about injury in negative terms always and never really talk in terms of the body actually healing itself by readjusting itself or releasing itself and so we call these “injuries”. Perhaps the word is inaccurate for these types of “body manifestations”.

Let me give you an example: I had been practicing and teaching asana for years. My body is such that it takes a long time to unravel into a posture any of them no matter what. So I work diligently day and night to unlock the mystery of my body. Because of my body’s reluctance to open up without creating a lot of pain for me (at night I would wake with excruciating pain in my hips and legs), I would be very clear (cultivated slowly through my own practice) as to how I was moving and not to move anything that didn’t need to move. One day I was working on Upavistha Konasana – simple right. But I ripped the tendons and leg out of the hip socket. I don’t think I’m strong enough especially in a seated posture to pull anything out so securely in place, but it came out. And the reason, I think, was because the femur head was in the wrong place in the first place. Forever I had pain in that leg and the knee. I didn’t run because of it. My lotus sucked because of it. I had trouble in most postures because of it. After the “injury”, it took 3 years to recover (I lost all the forward bend capability in my body) but as I taught and practiced I was very aware of the injury and moved in a very methodical exacting way. For the three years, I became acutely aware of how I moved my body especially in forward bends but also in other postures. After healing, I got the worst hamstring pulls, still do every once in a while, and my body still took time to move and advance in postures. But, there was a huge change in the sensation in my hip socket and leg. It felt looser and there was actual sensation deep in the tissues so I could finally develop more body/mind. What I learned was that the injury actually readjusted my leg in my hip socket. So my forward bends became deeper, and especially my body/mind deepened. I move my leg from a different place in my body now because of the injury – in a good way.

I am not saying we should all go out and injury ourselves for the sake of self-discovery. But there are times of injury that can’t and shouldn’t be avoided just because that’s the place where the real learning is…

(…and that’s why you can’t separate asana practice from the rest of its counterparts… without the spiritual aspect yes then injury is just about being an idiot…)

Hope this helps… 🙂 Peace! 1barefootgirl.

Restless Spirit Hours the Week of December 16th…

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Come in for a visit and let’s chat! We’ll sit here and do cards or a session for your deepening. Or we’ll sit in meditation in the space right behind me and let Grace take over. Whatever it is that you would like to do, Restless Spirit is a very harmonious, spiritual place and you are welcome anytime to come talk with me!

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I’m planning to be in the studio Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 11-7pm, and maybe Friday. Oh of course it all depends on the weather.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I have some appointments so I’ll be there for sure. Text me to make sure I’m available at the time you want to drop in.

Hope to see you all soon!

Remember to book your appointments with me here or email, or by texting or calling. Thx.

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!

Yoga: It Is The Practice That Teaches Not The Teacher

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Ashtanga yoga and Iyengar yoga have a few things in common:

1. They both come from a very traditional background and were developed from ancient understandings of yoga. They come from students of Krishnamacharya.

2. They have been taught without variation for decades (except maybe variation of teaching styles to accommodate level of student and time spent in class) and there’s a silent agreement that the form and process of the practice would not be altered. Meaning that: say the Ashtanga series would not see any variation or addition to the main idea and postures of the practice. Teachers knew way-back-when that yoga was not about them.

A lot of derivatives of these practices of yoga have developed since

because of this particular person’s predilections or perhaps that person’s understanding of what it takes to bring Yoga (not only asana) to the masses. Whatever the case, these yogas became things like Vinyasa, Jivamukti, Anusara, etc., and the idea of yoga (asana) expanded for better or worse. We see an explosion of these variations because Asana yoga has become very popular. As it becomes more popular with the “Thinspiration” generation it is more about the body and looking good than ever before. Yoga (asana) is changing because the students have changed.

Is There A Place For Traditional Yoga (Asana) Practice?

Being a fairly traditional Ashtanga teacher, the traditional and strict aspect of both styles can turn off newbie and young students, and those who are looking for self-gratification. I find that it is more the aspect of “I want to feel good about myself and look good” which seems to be paramount for most students these days. Precise instruction and conceptualization is not what students are looking for because somehow it makes some students feel “less than”. It sounds like criticism and doesn’t add the students’ narcissistic vanity of “how good I am for being here and doing this”.

I have found that these days having a good sweat is not enough. The classes have to appeal to the aspect of personal power. So the more challenging postures in a class the better.

I tend to balance my classes (this is when I teach Stylized Vinyasa) with a style of teaching that challenges and at the same time, I do not introduce postures like some arm balances or things like the splits, etc., unless I see that the majority of students are a little more seasoned and I’ve taught them for a while and gotten to know them. I have witnessed classes where teachers will put beginners into some poses at risk of injury without any concern and the students just love it. Conversely, I have challenged those who just wanted to really do a restorative class (wasn’t even advertised as one but they expected it (?)) and gotten my head chewed off because of it.

Just Teach As The Practice Dictates – Not What Your Or Your Students’ Egos Dictate

There really isn’t any way to predict students’ preferences anyhow, and I have to say that Iyengar and Ashtanga stay steadfast in maintaining the traditional way of teaching as much as possible – and no, I don’t mean yelling at your students or calling them names – that is the style of the teacher not the practice, and doesn’t come from the deep understanding of the practice. I mean that the process through which the student is guided is as much about the practice as it is about the student.

It Is The Practice That Teaches Not The Teacher

Iyengar must stay as Iyengar as possible. Otherwise it starts to get confused. I have taught Ashtanga for years now and have trained in it extensively. I know the practice beyond the postures just because of the practice itself. That is what I’m teaching. I know some “Ashtanga” teachers who do not practice it and therefore do not know the practice as a practice. They do not know the intricacies of it. These teachers bow to the pressures of students’ to add postures which do not belong in the series, make it harder or easier, and let go of the rhythm of the class to appease those who just want to “feel good about myself” to the detriment of Ashtanga. I have had great difficulty teaching Ashtanga after these teachers because students are not being educated in it.

Yoga Is Yoga First And Foremost

But teachers will try anything including risking the injury of their students because for some reason we have decided in this culture that yoga is about popularity and money instead of teaching simply and with humility.

It is the teacher’s role to teach their students about the practice beyond the ego-ic need to be appeased and catered to (Spa-like). The most essential teaching for us as teachers and for our students is that: It is not the practice that makes you feel bad nor is it the teacher’s responsibility. Feeling good about yourself is an inner conflict and learning that and coming to terms with it is revealed in the practice.

The teacher must teach the practice as it is because the practice is beyond the teacher and the student. It is bigger than them.

Peace!

This post is an extended version of a comment I made to a post by a fellow Yogini. Here is the post:

http://yogaspy.com/2013/07/08/can-iyengar-yoga-attract-the-masses/

Thanks Lucy.

Christine

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.