January 6, 2012

Find What Works For You and Put The Ego To Rest

There's been a lot of talk going around the yoga blogs in the past couple of days regarding an article featured in the New York Times Magazine - How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body

The essay recounts many examples dating back to the 1970s of documented cases where yoga practitioners have seriously injured themselves - usually while practicing headstands, shoulder stand and deep back bends.  Some of this seemed over the top and the numbers collected from the Consumer Product Safety Commission that 'showed that the number of emergency-room admissions related to yoga, after years of slow increases, was rising quickly.' seemed relative to the rise of the actual number of people who have started practicing yoga in the last few years.  Business is booming thus more injuries will occur.  The only part of the essay I found relevant was a quote by Glenn Black, ‘Asana is not a panacea or a cure-all. In fact, if you do it with ego or obsession, you’ll end up causing problems.’

This truly resonated with me yesterday.  There I was in class trying to get into Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana.  I could get into it three weeks ago - was even binding properly.  But it's been hurting, I could really feel it my knee yesterday morning.  I knew I should have just done the modification and moved on but I wanted to try.  Jeff walked up behind me and told me not to strain my knees.  I came out immediately.  One thing I do not want to do is hurt my knees.  So I swallowed my ego and asked for a modification in Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana.  Honestly, I've been putting this off.  I really want my right leg to cooperate and fold neatly and painlessly into half lotus.  Being called out on it really brought me back down to Earth.

I think there is a huge misconception that yoga is all about flexibility - that it's all about the end result - the beautiful asanas that are possible.  It is very easy to fall into this mind frame when you watch endless videos of perfectly performed asanas or when you observe other people in your class who may be very experienced or are blessed with a flexible spine.

In my oh so humble opinion, yoga is very much about releasing what we do with our bodies.  It is about accepting what we do and moving on.  It is about finding focus and oneness with our bodies, minds and breath.  It is about releasing all those things that are created in our minds to trick us and stress us out.

I have just started really becoming aware of that voice inside of me that says, 'I want to put both my feet behind my head!' or 'I want to be able to float back gracefully in my Vinyasas.'.  There's absolutely no doubt that I do want this but not being able to do these things does not in any circumstance mean that I am not practicing yoga - that I am not as 'good' as a practitioner who can perform these asanas.   Kino MacGregor puts it well, 'Physical form and posture, although extremely useful along the way, are not the end goal of yoga. It simply does not matter whether your hamstrings are long or your body is toned if you are not able to be a nice person. Alternatively a person practicing the most basic and beginner level of yoga while maintaining a heartfelt devotion to living a more peaceful life is perhaps a very accomplished yogi.' 

Back to the subject on hand, can you hurt yourself while practicing yoga?  Of course you can.  You will push yourself while you practice.  You are getting to know your body and it's limits.  And like any relationship there will be pain and there will be tears as you get to know each other and as you heal.  BUT you need to be well aware of the difference between pain and discomfortWhen something hurts so much that it takes your breath away or makes you cringe, stop!  Ask your teacher.  Be honest with yourself.  If you find your questions are not being answered ask again and then ask again.  Read.  Do research.  You do have a teacher but you are also your own teacher.  If something doesn't feel right about a class, ask questions.  If in your heart you don't like the person you are learning from find someone else.

Yoga is about personal growth, if you choose to ignore something that is going on for you in your body you are most likely ignoring something that is going on in your life.  Be honest with yourself.  Practice with mindfulness.  Be present and don't ever ever be afraid to ask questions. 


Catherine said...

This is one of my favorite posts, ever. (: Well-said, Lady J!

La said...

agree with C. As i read this, I keep making mental notes that i wanted to share with my class later today. thanks for the post and keep those knees healthy. 'you can mess with the gods, but you can't mess with your knees!'

Juliana said...

Thanks very much ladies. I really appreciate all of your comments. <3