October 21, 2013

The Yogi Muse on When Yoga Does More Harm than Healing.

Dear Yogi Muse:

I keep getting hurt in yoga. What the what? I thought yoga was supposed to heal, but since I started practicing I now have torn hamstrings, piriformis syndrome and sciatica. What am I doing wrong?

Asana Agony in Albany

Dear Asana Agony:

Yoga is supposed to heal, but often we cause harm before we learn how to practice. Pain is so common that I now believe it is part of the process. It is the Universe’s way of waking us up from our stupor of going through the motions in yoga, and perhaps in life.

First of all, find a teacher who can help you. If a teacher has experienced similar issues and resolved them, they can offer good advice. Also, be sure you are practicing yoga safely. Ask for modifications and support with props. If you are moving too fast or feel confused about what to do, the class may be too physically demanding. Find a more accessible format.

In the meantime, listen up: You might be the problem. Not the yoga. Yes, you.  I realize that often we can be hurt by a bad teacher or by a class that is poorly sequenced. But in general, I’m talking about the times when we cause self-inflicted pain and continue to do it.

The good news is that you have the power to fix this too.

  • Be very aware. If you feel pain, it is not yoga. If you feel pulling, stop. If you don’t know how to do a headstand, don’t do it. You need to practice in a way that honors your body and your current physical fitness. Let your teacher know if you have pain and don’t do it if it hurts.
  • If you are practicing in a heated room, stop. Heat may mask the pain, and then you can re-injure yourself or make it worse. For now, you must feel the discomfort, and pull back when it hurts.
  • Try “easy” not “hard.” No matter how difficult, each yoga pose has a certain amount of ease to it. If you are pushing too hard, you may not find the “effortless” place. Grunting, groaning and moaning are signs you may be working out, and not working “in” to a healthy place.

I also recommend finding a teacher trained in alignment and taking a few private lessons. You must unlearn what you know, and re-learn how to practice. As Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoga will not heal until you learn to do it right and honor yourself.

Dear Yogi Muse:

I have broken my toe in yoga. Help!

Tangled Toes in Tallahassee

Dear Tangled Toes:

Me too! Twice I broke a toe going from Handstand to Chaturanga. And once I broke a toe from tripping on my own yoga bell bottoms (Can you say klutz?).

If this is you too, then stop doing these things.

However, lately I am seeing several cases of broken second toe. I believe this is from transitioning on the ball of one’s foot instead of the heel. We should try to pivot from pose to pose on the heel of the foot, which enables greater femur rooting and is more stable than the toesies. However you pivot, though, you must be lifting up from the core or else you will be placing a lot of weight on a tiny phalange. Watch your transitions and see if this helps.

On Broken Arms and Noses:

Dear Yogi Muse:

I just graduated from Yoga Teacher Training and went to a party to celebrate. I did Crow pose on my friend who was in Supta Virasana, and fell breaking my arm. Now what?

Broken Bones in the Bayou

Dear Broken in the Bayou:

I know how they celebrate in the Bayou baby, and friends don’t let friends drink and invert! You have learned a lesson, and in six weeks you can try again.

Breaking a nose in Crow pose is more typical. My feeling on the arm balances is that they teach us to respect fear. Being fearless only means you go ahead with caution not recklessness. When we fall we do our best to try again, or not. We need to know our limits.

Pain is the guru—it awakes us and makes us better yogis. I have come to a point where I am grateful for the bumps and bruises in yoga because they bring focus to my practice and clarity to my life.

As they say in Japan, fall down seven times. Get up eight. Just be careful and listen to your body if you are slow getting up.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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