Rehabilitation of a Yogi: Do As I Say, Not As I Do Yoga
April 19, 2011 § Leave a comment
Following recommendations from family, friends and students I decide to talk to my doctor about my back pain. The prescription? Rest, and staying clear of twists and forward bends. What?!!? But what is a life without twists and forward bends?
My doctor is sympathetic but clear in her recommendations: three to four weeks without putting any strain on my dimples of Venus; and daily supplements (vitamin C, Glucosamine & Chondroitin, and Bromelein, a Pineapple extract). It’s fine to continue with Constructive Rest and gentle stretches.
Interesting that just as the doctor prescribes rest and no yoga the demand for my teaching services is increasing. Sub opportunities pour in. But how does a non-practicing yogi teach yoga?
Of course I do still practice. It’s just that my personal morning routine has shifted from a vigorous sun salute sequence to slow half salutes and a restorative Bridge (with the sacrum supported on a yoga block), followed by Constructive Rest and a seated meditation practice. I was never a teacher who demonstrated each and every pose for a class. During my training at the Om Yoga Center we were taught to walk around the room offering clear verbal instructions, precise physical adjustments and timely alignment cues to the class.
A most important reminder: “Don’t Panic!” (thanks, Douglas Adams). Walking is still ok. And I can still demo most poses if necessary. The key is not risking my long-term healing for the satisfaction of showing a student the transition from Plank to Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog. Tell, don’t show: my new motto. And perhaps that’s for the best. The folks taking my classes will get a watchful instructor who can aid each practitioner in finding the optimal asana (seat) in each yoga pose from the most basic to the most advanced. They will benefit from my understanding that the most basic pose can feel advanced to some and the most advanced pose can be basic for others.
This teaching approach has been forged in the fire of personal injury. Take excellent care of yourself by embracing the teachings of the Middle Way. There is effort (energy / prana) exerted in every pose, and in every moment of our lives. What we are doing on the yoga mat is finding out how to contract and to release, how to strive and to relax. When we don’t push enough we do not receive full benefit from our practice, the muscles remain lax and with our attention elsewhere (anywhere other than the present moment) the poses feel stale and boring. We may quit yoga altogether and go for Step Aerobics (different strokes). The other side of the spectrum is when we push too hard and risk injury. The internal balance of how hard to push oneself is not always easy or straight forward. What is pushing too hard for one yogi may be not pushing hard enough for another.
In Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) we miss the release in the neck by cranking the head up to check out the other people in class. This is too much exertion. In Extended Side Angle we miss the delicious side stretch when the top arm is loose with the elbow bent instead of extending the energy from the back heel all the way out to the fingertips. This is not enough exertion.
It’s helpful to recall the story of the sitar player (except for the sake of recognition we’ll call her a guitar player) who asked the Buddha, “How does one hold the mind in meditation?”
“How do you tune the strings of your guitar?” asked the Buddha by way of reply.
The guitar player thought about it for a bit and answered, “When the string is too loose it won’t make a sound or the sound will be dull. And when the string is too tight the sound will not resonate or it will be sharp. When I tune my guitar I look for the proper pitch where the string is not too tight and not too loose.”
“That is exactly how one holds the mind in meditation,” confirmed the Buddha. “Not too tight and not too loose.”
May our yoga and meditation practice aid us in finding the balance between laxity and stiffness. And may all beings everywhere benefit from the teachings of the Middle Way.