I hesitated to write this post, because it kind of borders on talking bad about other styles of yoga (remember ahimsa: non-harming). But, then again, this actually happened; it is what it is, I'm not making anything up. Moreover, I won't name any names.
Just across the street from where I live is a yoga and pilates studio. Essentially, it's the kind of generic mom-and-pop studio that offers pilates and one or two classes in every major style of yoga (hot yoga, candlelight yoga, thai yoga, hatha, beginner's yoga, and there's even an Intro to Ashtanga class).
My girlfriend takes classes there regularly (she has one of those month-long, renewable membership passes). I've taken a couple of classes here and there, but I mostly stick to my own home mysore practice. I suspect this would probably make me a bona fide Ashtanga snob/fundamentalist in many yoga circles, but this is for another post...
Anyway, on Monday evening, I decided to go with my girlfriend to the evening candlelight yoga class; I figured that since the next day was a moon day, I could indulge in some yoga tourism.
Bad idea. The studio was dimly lit by candlelight (hence the name, I think), and there was this guy at the front of the room accompanying the class on his guitar (is this a staple of candlelight yoga classes?). I honestly didn;t care much for the music. I'm used to practicing in silence, but I didn't have any difficulty tuning out the music by focusing on my Ujjayi breath (my girlfriend later complained that she could hear my Darth-Vader breath more clearly than the music. Hmm... backhanded compliment?).
Oh, wait. I still haven't explained why this whole thing was a bad idea. Here's what happened. The teacher had us begin the class lying down and tuning in to the breath. While we were in that position, she started quoting something she had read about love and how believing in the power of love makes everything possible. Maybe it's just me, but why can't people trust the practice more? I mean, if the practice works, it's going to work whether or not you try to embellish it with nice quotes from here, there or God-knows-where. If the practice doesn't work, no amount of quoting from here, there or God-knows-where is going to get you anywhere.
But I haven't gotten to the disastrous part yet. After savasana (after savasana? hmm, seriously...), she got us to come up into downdog. From downdog, she got us to move forward into plank. We held the plank for about 10 breaths, and then she asked us to lower into chaturanga. As I was lowering into chaturanga, I felt this painful twinge in my lower back somewhere around the left SI joint. I still don't know what happened, but I suspect that my alignment was off in plank, and that somehow did something to my SI joint, which I had a prior history of issues with. Anyway, I somehow managed to maintain control of my muscles, and made it through to chaturanga, and then did a vinyasa. She moved us through the same sequence a few more times. Fortunately (and I don't know the explanation for this) the pain lessened with each successive sequence until it went away completely by the time we did the last round of what she calls sun salutations.
As I said, I don't know exactly why what happened happened. But here are a few possible explanations:
(1) My SI joint wasn't in good alignment (I had been sitting for hours in front of a computer before the class), and this particular downdog-plank-chaturanga-updog-downdog sequence made the misalignment painfully obvious (no pun intended).
(2) I wasn't engaging my bandhas enough to protect my lower back while in that sequence (who thought up that sequence, anyway? It's so... never mind.)
(3) Plank is a useless posture that does more harm than good. This is not just my personal opinion. For instance, at an asana intensive a few years ago, Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane declared that, "Plank does not exist in our dictionary." Their view is that while it is theoretically possible to hold plank with good alignment, it requires too much work and attention to achieve this "perfect plank"; moreover, any deviation from this "perfect plank" puts the lower back at risk (from collapsing). Moreover, they claim, one can attain the same benefits from a properly-executed chaturanga as from a perfect plank. So plank is, strictly speaking, redundant: Why go to the trouble to invent a pose which merely duplicates the benefits of chaturanga (as far as I can remember, neither the Yoga Mala nor Light on Yoga even mentions plank as a distinct posture)? But this is just me quoting "expert opinion." I understand that many people out there swear by plank. And after all, millions of people probably do plank everyday, with no visible ill-effects. So who am I to say anything? So take this for what it's worth (or not).
But every story has to have a beginning and an end. So back to my story. Fortunately, it ended well (at least as far as I know). We went on to do a few backbends (ustrasana, urdhva dhanurasana), and I used these backbends to get my SI joint back into place (whew!). We then did a few arm-balances, and (yes, this is totally my ego speaking) I had the chance to dazzle the class with my powerful arm-balancing ability: At one point, the teacher was so impressed by my floating into bakasana from downdog that she came over and said, "Nice!" I replied "Thank you" while still in bakasana.
So what's the moral of the story. I'm not sure. Maybe it's this: If, like me, you are an Ashtanga Fundamentalist who is working with SI joint issues, you should be wary of indulging in yoga tourism!