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.

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!

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.


sukhasana
siddhasana3 SAMSUNG

 

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!

I miss going to Mysore classes…

I miss going to Mysore classes...

I miss my Mysore classes. I miss the feeling of doing yoga in a room with people who are doing similar things. Although it was not a very communal atmosphere; everyone was there for themselves really. So was I. It just felt really good to be in your own practice with people around you. I practice at home alone. Different. I’ve been doing that for about 9 or 10 years now. I’ve become my own teacher finally. I thank all my teachers and teachers of the lineage for their work and guidance throughout the first 20 years of my discovering my own practice. I keep you in my heart.

Picture is from a studio in Boston. I just liked the interaction of the assisting teacher and the student. It was like that sometimes.

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