Friday, September 16, 2011
The body reminds us of what the mind has already forgotten
I just watched this video of an interview and a backbend demonstration by Anne Nuotio. I don't know much about her, except that she is an Ashtanga teacher based in Helsinki, Finland.
What she says in the interview really speaks to me. Nuotio says that the physical body has a memory that is activated by yoga. In particular, the intense nature of the Ashtanga practice has the tendency to bring these forgotten or repressed body memories to the surface. Some of these memories surface as pain--pain that the body had amassed at some point in the past, but has forgotten. The practice brings these to the surface and forces one to deal with them.
In my experience, I feel that this is especially true of backbends. Sometimes, despite one's best intentions with maintaining good alignment and form, one still feels pain in backbends, especially with intense backbends like Kapotasana or dropbacks. This pain is not bad pain. A couple of teachers I have studied with have alluded to this pain. For instance, at his Minneapolis workshop in July, Matthew Sweeney said at one point that very often, pain that is felt in backbends actually points to an issue that can lead to future injury. This being the case, backbends give us an invaluable opportunity to address the issue now, rather than in the future, when it surfaces as injury. A few years ago, Eddie Modestini made the same point to me in a rather less elegant way. He said, 'Well, if you still have an "ouiii!" sensation in backbends after you have done your best with alignment and all that, then maybe the "ouiii!" sensation needs to be there!'
Last but not least, in light of all the Ashtanga and senior-teacher-bashing that has been going on in the blogosphere lately, maybe I should end this post with a disclaimer: Please, please, I am not telling you to go inflict pain and injury on yourself in backbends. Please take care of alignment and be responsible for your practice (Ashtanga has a bad enough rep, as it is...). I'm just saying that not all pain in backbending is bad pain.