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.

I’M NOT PERFECT IN MY YOGA PRACTICE . . .

Christine U of Shama-Bhakti Yoga Centre

I used to try to be perfect in my practice. I’d look to others to see what I was doing wrong and try to mimic them…well, that’s ok. When you first begin your practice there is definitely a form of emulation. It can be very instructive…shows you the how and the what.

As I got deeper in my practice, I learned that if I continued to do this, I was not listening to my own body…I have very subtle twists and turns in my body that tells me we are not all created equal. These subtle variations  didn’t allow me to easily fall into a back bend (even after years of sincere practice), for instance, without tweaking my back or shoulder, or not be able to do it at all… It took a concerted development of my inner eye, of body/mind awareness to tell me if I was misaligned or moving unevenly…even then when I have the body consciousness, I have to  recognize my own body’s limits and be all right with that! It was a difficult road; one I still traverse every time I get on my mat… It has changed the way I practice… I no longer want to be perfect. Just Authentic…in my own body, my own organism, and my heart and soul. It has certainly deepened my Yoga practice, on and off the mat, and now there’s a Peaceful feeling of Equanimity which is the flavor of my practice these days… most of the time.  🙂

A lot of people applaud perfection – or what looks like it. It’s easy to look at a person doing a perfect looking posture and admire the person and their ability thinking that’s where the Divine lies. I’m sure this comes from thinking that we need to be perfect (at least look like it) in order to know the Divine; to be able to touch enlightenment or god. In this perfect posture then maybe the person’s perfect and they must be closer to god then any of us imperfect beings?

But this isn’t so. The more work there is, the more unraveling we do. As Suzuki Roshi said, “Everyone wants to be the best horse, but it’s better to be the worst horse than the best horse.” The work is essential, and it’s good to work with sincerity. First for some of us the work is physical, that’s why we do yoga. Together with the work on the mind, psyche, and the emotions, we’ll be finally deep in the heart. Open and honest! In the moment . . . There we will find god!