Have You Questioned Your Yoga Practice Lately?

Via on Feb 1, 2012

 

All the talk about the physical issues arising from asana practice that surfaced in the wake of the infamous NY Times article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, by William J. Broad have largely dealt with Yoga wrecking your butt, head, life, ego or practice.

All these five things are intertwined for better or worse. Wreck your rear and the other four things can collapse faster than you can say Hasta Padangustasana. This is how the Shakti, the manifest creative force, goes about her business. The divine b-itch goddess just keeps shoving your sh*t in your face until something shifts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet you can strive to cultivate greater sensitivity in your practice whether you’re a tentative newbie or a vinyasa veteran.

In the words of Yoga teacher and writer Godfrey Devereux (emphasis mine):

There is no greater safeguard in yoga than sensitive, honest awareness. To push yourself beyond your limits will reduce and not expand them. Rather, bring yourself gently to your current limit, and stay there awhile: then your limits will naturally and easily expand.*

Gently. Naturally. Easily. Yoga? Really? Those three words come up more frequently in ads promoting the benefits of laxative products than they do in relation to Yoga practice.

It’s time we start listening to the whispers within before they turn into shouts. Otherwise we keep acting out Benjamin Franklin’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Hinduism ascribes that tendency to the samskaras—root of “scars”—karmic leftovers that still need to be cleared.

Unfortunately the Shakti’s stealth tactics can include physical injury, given that being forced to stay down for a prolonged period forces us to let go of some things and put our trust in others.

Such was my predicament in 2005 when a seemingly minor hip irritation that I was too busy teaching to deal with escalated into a pinched nerve, the pain and inflammation keeping me home all packed in ice like a tub of brewskies for over two weeks. This right after I’d started a gig with good money teaching at a resort. Lying there in cold damp sweatpants, shivering on the couch all I could do was trust that funds would somehow come into the household. A few days later they did, when my husband’s art dealer arrived in town and gave him a healthy commission to create several paintings for him. And yes, I did return to teaching at the resort. Sounds like a happy ending but it wasn’t the end of the lesson by any means. I still had plenty of self-study to do.

Situations that arise from injury can indicate that it’s time for a validation check. What validates us as Yoga students and teachers? Outer praise or inner progress that’s not just physical? Who do we want that validation from? Our teachers or students? Our peers?  A parent or someone from the past? What effort are we willing to put ourselves through to receive it? Is it all about the body or is there room for meditation and philosophy?

It’s imperative to examine the need for external validation by authority figures. Yes we all want that pat on the back from a “higher up” to fire up our morale. Considering how being positively touched on the backside of the Heart Chakra feels that’s understandable. Through dedicated Yoga practice that includes—at the least—the limbs devoted to meditation, self study and philosophy  we eventually stop seeking validation from the world, not even from the most enlightened spiritual figures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But in the beginning we may start killing ourselves to get an approving glance or shoulder tap from Teacher. Whatever we habitually do to progress or get noticed—i.e. validated, i.e. loved—out in the world shows up in Yoga class like a stain on a microscope slide. And it may persist for years. As my guru, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, said, “If you stick your neck out, the Shakti will cut it off.”

That almost literally happened in the case of Patricia Sullivan, a sculptor and master Yoga teacher. Writing in Yoga Journal a few years ago she describes how her excessive practice of Headstand led to numbness and pain that was radiating into her hands, keeping her up at night.  One day she fell asleep while driving around a lagoon, sending her car over an embankment to land in shallow water 50 feet from the road.

Though unharmed from that incident her X-rays told a tale of “extensive damage, including a reversed cervical curve, disk degeneration, and bony deposits that were partially blocking nerve outlets.” As Patricia writes:

I had been practicing long holds of Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand) for years, even though it was painful. My longing to excel both in my asana practice and as an asana teacher, had led me to ignore my body’s signals and cries for relief. Faced with my now-brutal reality, I began a deeply humbling journey of examining how my practice had caused me so much harm. (See the entire yogajournal.com story here.)

I’ve had the pleasure of studying with Patricia. Her teaching is filled with wisdom culled from years of Zen practice and humility—the result of using the pain she experienced to expand its parameters. She gives some of the most deeply sensitive assists I’ve ever experienced.

Having a teacher who can accept us as we are and guide us toward wider aspects of practice is essential.  Especially when first taking up Yoga a well trained, experienced, supportive, compassionate teacher can facilitate the healthy evolution of your practice—whether that’s classical Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga or Hot Booty Boot Camp.

 

*Source: Yoga+Joyful Living (the magazine of the Himalayan Institute), July-Aug. 2008.

Photos: http://pictureisunrelated.memebase.com, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Earth-We-are-one

 

About Valerie Carruthers

Valerie is a maverick yogini who loves teaching and practicing Yoga and meditation as well as writing for magazines and the Web, not always in the same order or on the same day. She first practiced Yoga in New York City back when there were mainly “Hatha” classes and no soundtracks. When performing an asana had absolutely nothing to do with toning one’s ass. Based in east central Florida, she has taught classes to diverse populations for the past decade. Valerie is currently focusing on teaching workshops that combine Yoga and art-making for all levels. When wearing her freelancer’s hat, Valerie writes about a) how to devolve from the world and evolve spiritually and b) whatever fascinates her about where the social face of Yoga in its rapidly shifting manifestations merges into the cosmic face of Yoga in all its blazing glory.

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7 Responses to “Have You Questioned Your Yoga Practice Lately?”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  2. [...] Have You Questioned Your Yoga Practice Lately? [...]

  3. annabel says:

    thanks for this great article, i needed that x

  4. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

    Oh Braja, so sorry to hear about the repercussions just when you thought you were home free! (I recall your recounting the details of the accident in one of your previous articles…and I'm grateful you're here to describe them.)

    I'm glad, however, that my words struck a chord. Simply learning to receive comfort in slowness, modifications or rest is sometimes where the Yoga is and confusing or challenging as that can be we may find that our *edge* is actually in discovering how deeply we can release our resistance to that kind of support.

    More often than not, restorative practice is what I'm about these days.

    May you be mending soon, Braja. Namaste.

  5. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

    God, what a beautiful passage that is, Braja and yeah, it does complement the article. What's so inspiring is that you are honoring what is moving on in yourself and where they are heading, yet remaining undisturbed by the tumult and looking forward to peace.

    Thankfully your strong Iyengar practice supports this as you gradually reclaim Urdhva Dhanurasana. There are days when there's no greater blessing than doing that pose with a folding chair, blankets and blocks. And the day will come when it's ripe and juicy right on the mat.

    Lookin' forward to your book release!

  6. Thanks Val…you inspired me to put that into a post just as it is, no explanation, nothing…."Broken, But Never Not Whole." Thank you xo

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