I haven't been blogging very much lately. However, from reading various Ashtanga blogs, I get the sense that quite a few Ashtangis in the blogosphere are presently working with injuries, soreness, pain, or other physical issues in the practice. I'm also working with an injury at the moment; a couple of weeks ago, I strained my trapezius. For the last couple of weeks, I have been modifying my chaturangas and holding downward dog for longer breaths during the practice. It's not always an easy process, especially because I am so used to just moving briskly through the practice and keeping as close to the vinyasa count as possible. But modifying and slowing down the practice opens up a totally new way of understanding and relating to my body and mind, and is very healing in its own way. In this way, injury can be a valuable teacher.
Along these lines, I was just reading something from an article that Kino wrote a couple of months ago. Speaking about what it takes to be an effective teacher in a Mysore room, she writes:
"Ideally, Mysore Style teachers have gone through a kind of deeply
individual journey where the obstacles to true practice have presented
themselves and the teachers have used the practice itself to work
through these difficulties. Sometimes people have a beautiful practice
just because they are good at asana, but they have not experienced a
healing journey through the practice.
One of the key tests for an Ashtanga Yoga Mysore teacher is an
injury. Many students love the practice when it’s easy, but a true
teacher is one who knows how to work with the practice when it’s easy,
difficult and average.
Working with injury in your own body helps build the direct personal experience that gives
you compassion, information and technical tools to help students heal
and work through the same types of things. The best teachers understand
how to work with the Ashtanga Yoga method when students have energy and
potential, pain and injury, and balance and anxiety."
Kino is writing here about Mysore teachers, but I think what she says also applies to all of us Ashtangis who are not Mysore teachers, not least because whenever you are practicing, you are ultimately your own teacher. This is true whether you are practicing in a shala/Mysore room, or whether you practice mostly at home by yourself, as I do. Seen in this light, by learning to work with injury and eventually healing yourself through the practice, you are effectively teaching yourself the practice through direct personal experience. This can only happen if we bravely face our injuries, understand them for what they are, and use them to teach us to adopt more healthy and effective movement patterns that will serve us better in the long run. Through my own experience with working with injuries, I have discovered that the Ashtanga method teaches us to take the middle path when working with injury: Instead of either freaking out and quitting the practice altogether or just pushing blindly through injury and ignoring obvious pain signals, it is far more productive to intelligently adapt the structured nature of the Ashtanga practice in such a way that is most healing to our body at any particular point in time. Exactly how we do this will depend directly on the nature of the injury in question and the state of our body and mind on a particular day; we may need to explore and play around with modifications, or with different ways of entering and exiting various postures. But if we keep working with this process of working intelligently with the practice, we will eventually acquire a wonderful gift: The gift of greater knowledge of our bodies and minds, and greater ability to heal ourselves on a deep level. This has been my experience thus far.