Namaste dear All!
This week I upload a video with a Yoga practice for core strength for a very vital reason. A bodily awakening. A very loud message from matter.
It all began with me trying to evade, escape or at best ignore, this modern world. Wanting to go back to the ‘roots’ of being human, yet living smack bang in the middle of busy society, rather than social human be-ing.
At one point in my life, a rather long time when I come to think of it, Yoga was my BIG Love. My one and only. It had gotten to a point where Yoga was my One and All. It was my spiritual practice, my mental, emotional and physical practice and workout. On the mat Yoga was where I worked out my social interactions and reflected on the understandings from those. It is also where I got inspirational insights, and it still is.
But I no longer practice for all these reasons. I have come to the realisation that it is no longer my One and All. It is my All when I feel at One with whomever I am with, and whatever I do when fully present. Mentally and emotionally I journal instead, integrate, transition and proactively create with others to move into new realms of acting, speaking and thinking. Physically I look else where for a workout.
I have finally come to the conclusion that walking, running, climbing, swimming and all those other things we bipeds have been practicing for the last 2 million years have value.
They actually have a great deal of value.
I’ll start at the beginning of my rude awakening.
Two years ago, one summer morning I woke up and went to get changed for the day, as I tried to take of my shirt I screamed with agony. My shoulder hurt so badly my 6 yr old daughter had to help me undress! The second thing that passed into my mind after “Ooooohhh God, this is excruciating!” was, ” Oh no! I am a Yoga teacher and this is how I change myself?! This is what I have arrived to after 26yrs of Yoga practice?!” Shock, horror!
Then I realised what Leslie Kaminoff meant when he said, our yoga practice should compliment our lives, not the other way around. We should practice so we can still undress, tie our shoes and walk, run and climb.
( Have you tried the monkey bars lately when you and your child go to the playground? If you find that really hard, you’ve been doing too many downward dogs without engagaing the serratus anterior, to name but one companion we have left behind and pulled away from.)
And if I may be so bold, I imagine this happens to many Yoga teachers at some point in their teaching journey. I think most of us wake up one day wondering, “How the hell did my beautiful practice get me here?!”
I had had some issues with that same shoulder ever since I had my small, beautifully, strong daughter. I went to various well intentioned senior Yoga teachers to ask what caused this pain under my right shoulder blade, and what was the solution? All had different advice and explanations. One told me it was normal when you lift and carry a small child all the time. Another said I wasn’t practicing with proper alignment. Some suggested certain asanas, or modifications that worked toward an asana to rebuild strength over time. Some said I needed a massage, or to learn to relax. All were true to some extent.
I worked on practicing more chaturangas, more handstands, dolphins and headstand preps.
I broke down, yes emotionally, but also Gomuhkasana, or CowsFace, with Kale Leaf’s guidance. First with the lower arm reaching for the chair and then with the belt. It all helped a little.
So I worked to strengthen the muscles around my shoulder blades, not knowing exactly which ones were weak, where they originated and how they acted upon my bones or joints. Without the proper understanding of bony congruency, limited elasticity of ligaments and healthy range of motion, what kind of motion is lotion and what is just being plain ridiculous, I wasn’t really getting very far.
All this work brought some relief, it stopped the daily aching. But not the actual imbalance that was the underlying cause of the weakness I had created, through my continual prefered practices that negated certain muscles over others.
Now this wasn’t new to me, the fact that we often choose to do the things we are already great at, and leave those that we find more trying, or requires more effort. In science it is the law of least effort. All of nature tries to expend as little energy as possible. This is also an Ayurvedic principle; Like increases like, unlike decreases. And it is known in Ayurveda that whatever our disposition, or Prakriti, also lends itself toward our inclination, or Vikriti, imbalance.
Off course we prefer certain things over others!!
Whether of body, mind or spirit, we have preferences because we are already good at it, we get it, we love it, we feel at home with it, and because we know how to do it well, it fills up our vessel of self esteem. And who doesn’t need that now and then? In an overwhelming world our confidence needs a boost on a regular basis.
Sometimes we seek that confidence builder in our practice.
Sometimes a few times too many.
Obviously, for me that was the case.
Because of teaching classes everyday and not attending to my own practice in a balanced way, to adress all the muscles in my body, I found myself perpetuating and exacerbating the imbalance.
I wanted Yoga to have all the answers.
I wanted Yoga to be the one to save me from this dilema as it had svaed me from so many other dilemas, challenges and issues. I didn’t want to seek outside of this amazing science of body, mind and soul for answers. But maybe I should…
So I finally succumbed to looking outside of Yoga for answers.
So what did I do?
First I went to a physical therapist. Ahhhh yes, blesphemy! I know, I know.
Well that was how it felt, before going. But after the first visit I saw it was actually enhancing and broadening my knowledge. I had dived deep into Yoga, so deep I nearly drowned. No healthy shoulder ability, no progressive swimming ability.
After 5 years of searching, I was finally coming to the surface and seeing the depth and breadth, the beauty that is the human body. Even more love for this miraculous creation called corpo comes with each speck of understanding I gather about its’ complexity.
This complexity is a very good metaphor and clear mirror of humanity, society and the inherent intricacy of being a complex conscious and social being.
So to study anatomy, real anatomy, deep anatomy, from people who are physical therapists and Yoga teachers, that has given me relief, understanding and empowered me to reeducate, rebuild and recreate balance in the muscles of the rotator cuff, the hips, pelvis and glutial muscles!
And that is what I have been doing these last years. Reading all sorts of books that lead to the broad vision to heal my body. I had to go deeper and broader to find real authorities. Not guess work from intuitive knowing. Though I am a great proponent of intuition, when we really want to serve our students, ourselves, our bodies, we need to get down to the matter. The actual factual material body, its’ very intricate and integrated tissues, its’ wonderous and beautifully rhythmic ability, agility and intelligence, to move, mould and maneuver into any form we allow ourselves to practice becoming.
A book I absolutely recommend any Yoga teacher is Judith Laster’s ‘YogaBody’. ” The Story of the Human Body’ by Daniel Liebermann, gives great insight into the importance of daily movement such as walking, running, swimming and climbing. Some amazing courses online are Experiential Anatomy from Judith Lasater, the YogaU courses from Donna Farhi, Julie Gudmestad, Lynn Crimando, Marlysa Sullivan and Tom Myers, also helped me heal this shoulder imbalance.
Jill Miller a Yoga teacher and therapist, the creatrix of Yoga Tune Up speaks beautifully to importance of understanding anatomy when practicing and teaching Yoga in this Podcast from YA: https://www.yogaalliance.org/About_Yoga/Article_Archive/Jill_Miller_Anatomy
There is no doubt in my mind that body affects the mind, by the stance we make and take in the world.
Studies from John Lennon and Norman Shealy, ‘show that posture affects and moderates every physiological function from breathing to hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure and lung capacity are the functions most easily influenced by posture. The most significant influences are upon respiration, oxygenation, digestion and sympathetic function. Homeostasis and autonomic regulation are intimitely connected with posture. Many symptoms, may be moderated or eliminated by improved posture.’ This study shows the power of proper posture!
And proper posture isn’t just, tuck the tail bone, rotate the inner thighs, lift the chest, engage/relax the glutes, and all the other blah blah of universal cues in a yoga classroom.
It all depends. There is such a wide variety of bodies, body postures, bodily imbalances, skeletal diversity and just plain diverging perception and application of cues, that no one cue fits all shapes and sizes. We have to be more intelligent as teachers and let it depend on each single individual infront of us.
We need anatomy. And I don’t mean 25hrs! That’s silly stuff. That’s like asking your 8yr old child to look at the times tables once and then ask her to do 58 x 24 straight after. It doesn’t serve anyone.
Through anatomy I finally figured out the issue, the solution is always inherent in knowing what’s the matter. The weakness in my shoulder was due to too many down dogs without certain muscle engagement, weak anterior serratus, lower and middle trapezius. The cue in class of don’t engage the bum muscles also did a great diservice to my lower back. No running, climbing, and lots of forward bends, are a great recipe for weak back body, imbalanced front. Without a strong set of glutes, our lower back is hanging of the upper body! When that too is weak, what is holding our core together?
This equats to a posture of no confidence, small heart and big fear.
Our core is our centre of earth, water, fire, and air. It holds our courage, confidence, willpower, lust, desire, ambition, peace, joy and stability. Our five major Chakras and elements live here. It is as vital in the subtle realm as in the physical.
Now I choose to be brave, free, joyous and see all my demons with a knowing that these too will broaden my understanding, insight and service to others who seek to understand the beauty of self, society and strength. I choose to swim upstream, to expend energy to learn and expand. To face the complexity of life with a heart as open as possible on that day.
And no it’s not easy to go upstream. Sometimes we have to. Sometimes we can’t. Knowing the difference between these two matters more than most choices and questions we face. When are we honouring and listening to the intelligence of our body? When are we ignoring them? When do we need to take more actions, when do we need to step back and let life do the work?
I still dive in to listen, learn and love All of our intricacy and beauty! Head first!