Friday, 10 February 2012

Yoga Update

Photo from the Ashtanga Yoga Palace
First off, a confession: this photo isn't me. But I like to imagine it is. The sturdy legs strongly resemble my own, and when I look at this photo I can feel the burning in the fronts of the thighs and the opening in the chest which combines pain with elation. I could look at this photo all day, so powerful is it's visceral quality. I makes me reflect on my own practice, which has come along, sometimes in leaps and bounds and sometimes in painful hobbling steps since I started daily practice in September last year. I have learnt more then I could have possibly imagined, and have challenged the limits of my body and my willpower (the first test is getting up at 6am every morning - my willpower definitely gets a work out then!). Along with the breakthroughs (of which there have been many, even in such a short space of time) I have re-awakened an old sacroiliac-joint injury from dance school. Strangely it never flared up when I was practising Bikram (possibly because of the heat, or due to Bikram being more focused on the spine rather than the hip opening) but about a month into my Ashtanga practice it made it's presence felt. I learnt to be mindful when working with my left hip or leg, to go extra slow and sometimes only go halfway into the posture, hold and gently release. It's as much about being aware as it is about changing your body. Speaking of injury in yoga is quite topical; it's been in the news a lot this year. It's part of the general trend of yoga becoming more and more ingrained into Western culture. In my office of 45 people there are 3 of us who practice regularly, and several others who have tried a class. It's no longer viewed as a hippy/cultist thing to do, although it's not yet as common as going to the gym. However with this expansion comes criticism, as demonstrated in the article "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" published in the Times. It suggests that one of the reasons of yoga causing injury can be found in the following:
Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems. 
I agree that in many ways it is incongruous to take postures and anatomical ideas which were conceived of in India hundreds of years ago and apply them to our life today. Not only are we different physically and as a society, but our climate is vastly different, and it's important to remember this on a cold winters morning; the conditions are far from ideal. The article also talks about the danger of having ego in yoga practice, and I think this is the crux of the issue.
Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people,” Black said. “You can’t believe what’s going on — teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’ It has to do with their egos.” 

As much as I idolise yoga pros such as Kino MacGregor, I do understand that the practice is always highly personal. At it's core it's about the unison of the mind, body and spirit, and not about looking like a gymnast. That's why I favour self-practice, or mysore style classes rather then led classes, as they allow you to go at your own pace and learn the series for yourself, rather than following a teacher's lead. Each day your body is different, just as every day your mood or the weather changes. It's important to notice these changes and honour them in your practice, only pushing your body when you feel ready, and taking it easy and fostering your inward focus when this is more appropriate. For now I feel that I am living in a split body - my right side is very flexible and pliant, and my left hip and leg are so stiff and sore that I can feel the pain of a first time yoga trainee - the feeling that my body won't do what it's meant to and never will. But I know through experience (10 years!) that this is not the case, it will change, just very slowly! Luckily I'm in no rush.


  1. hey, just found your blog. Nice! I like the lunch-boxes. Really great. I do Theresa a lunch everyday, but nowhere as good looking as yours'. Don't show her ; )

    Now, regards the yoga.. I liked what you wrote and appreciate hearing the students perspective on class. Just promise me you won't do any more Bikram class! ; )

    Remember, that yoga is rally honest. It finds the areas of trauma and holding in the body as makes them clear, to say the least. But, in my experience they have to surface to be healed.

    I've known Kino for years and know that even though things seem easy for her, she's gone through a lot of struggle and pain too, like me and everyone else.

    I think the main role of the teacher is to give the student the faith to carry on and push through, strong in the knowledge that the teacher has been able (hopefully!) and that one can actually get to the other side and heal.

  2. Ahh, wise words. Although it is a struggle, I do have complete faith in the practice, not to mention superb guidance. ;)
    My comment about Kino was more a reminder to myself to accept the current limitations and appreciate the abilities of my own body, rather then negatively compare myself to such an accomplished individual... but it's also important to remember that it's not easy for anyone, even yoga pros. :)