My back has been finicky for going on 3 weeks. I have chronic back pain, but it is usually held off with yoga. Most times, I can go into a yoga class not feeling very well and leave feeling amazing. I was actually feeling better on Tuesday and thought a hot yoga class would take me to the 100% mark. But it didn’t take despite enjoying the class and the teacher. The next morning, I woke up with even worse pain. I took AcroYoga last Sunday thinking the same thing. When you lay on your back and you fly someone on your legs, its really therapeutic to my back. But I really felt terrible afterward this time.
So I taught a Rocket yoga class on Weds and wasn’t feeling good. I went into teaching Power Yoga last night and left feeling amazing! I mean, like almost 100% healthy. I had tons of fun. And while my back is still sore this morning, I’m amazed at how much better I felt.
I’ve read stories of Ashtangis who were practicing at the Shala in Mysore, India. They did their 6 day a week practice starting very early in the morning. Some days, they were sick, sore, or injured and asked Pattabhi Jois “Guriji” if they could take the day off. They would ask to do the Primary Series instead of a higher series. Or they’d ask to sit out on part of the practice. Guruji would smile and say “You Do”. Yoga Chikitsa, the primary series, is called the healing series. It really has that effect on people.
Sometimes, I would go into lifting heavy squats or deadlifts against my better judgement. But quite often, my sore back or sore whatever would feel fine. Firing all those muscle fibers to a hard effort is kind of like greasing an old, rusty gear box. You often have to force it into working properly. I know that sounds Neanderthal, but it really works. Like last night: I was doing locust pose and bow pose with the class knowing my back hasn’t been in good shape. But it actually felt better totally engaging into those muscles. I forced my muscles into submission and, in the end, it was therapeutically healing.
There are times for rest. There are times for healing. But sometimes, there are times to push through and move your body. I think most times deserve the latter. Even when you’re sick, increasing your circulation and moving your lymphatic fluid around can only be a good thing. Listen to your body; but also don’t listen to your body. Sometimes if it tells you to stop, thoughtfully and carefully do what you’re gonna do anyway. You may be surprised by the results.
When we get to a certain point in Rocket Yoga where we attempt Eka Pada Bakasana (one-legged crow pose), I give specific instructions. I tell them to place their front foot on the ground with the knee up. Place the knee on the same side upper arm. Plant your hands and start to raise your back leg straight off the ground. That’s the shape!! We don’t need to go further. But maybe, just maybe, we can begin to pull the front toes off the ground and balance fully on our hands.
To be honest, only a select few can do the pose in my classes. And even for those who CAN usually don’t hold it for the full 3 breaths. But none of that matters. What matters is making the shape. Then, the intention for the pose is fulfilled. You still engage the same muscles whether you are in the full variation or not.
Side note: One pet peeve of mine is when people call some other pose a boat pose (Navasana). You have to ask yourself, what is the intention of the pose? If I’m not mistaken, its to develop uddiyana bandha and the muscles of the psoas and frontal torso. Oh, and a side peeve, I don’t agree that yoga = fitness, so I don’t call it “core”. This isn’t a body pump class. The other poses that people call Navasana are Ubhaya Padanghustasana, Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana, and Upavistha Kapotasana B. They are not intended to be boat pose. If they are not strong enough for the full, straight-legged variation, then have them bend their knees. They may even lightly rest or hover their toes off the floor. Regardless, their anterior chain is engaged and working. You disengage if you grab toes or legs.
I just saw a picture of someone doing triangle pose (Trikonasana). Only the student had her front leg very bent. The intent of the pose is to lengthen hamstrings, glutes, and side body. So if the leg is bent, it is not meeting the intention of the pose. The adjustment I would make is to bring the student back up. Then take a block with their front hand from the long end; straighten both legs and make them straight and strong (straight meaning not hyperextending); hinge forward at the hip with legs straight; then place the block on either side of the leg directly beneath their shoulder onto the floor. The student doesn’t meet the intention if they don’t do this correctly.
When making adjustments as teachers, it is imperative that we know the intentionfor every pose. And it may not be the pose at all. You may be focused on a drishti or chakra or body part. Whatever it is, meet the intention. Always ask yourself “why” you are doing a pose. If a yogi cannot do the full expression of a pose, then modify to meet the intention. Usually it means making the same shape even if they are not flying or binding or whatever it is. Every BODY can do every pose.
“Practice what you Teach, Teach what you Practice”
I took this to heart yesterday. My mind has been crowded with so much in life. I often practice yoga over lunch in my office. I lock my door, turn off the overhead lights, slide a table aside, and roll out my travel mat. I started easy into my Sun Salutation A’s since I was struggling. But before you know it, I was lost in what I was doing. I stopped analyzing my movements. While my breath lead my practice, I didn’t focus on it. I stopped counting. I went completely by instinct. When I felt it was time to come forward out of downward facing dog, I did. Sometimes I succumbed to child’s pose; not because I needed it, it just happened. We throw out the word “flow” in yoga a lot. This was truly a flow. It had no beginning or end. I didn’t even know where I was.
Ever notice how you cannot predict what an ocean wave will do? It moves where it needs to move
I wanted to badly share this experience, and that came about in my Rocket class later that evening. Without any fanfare, I had the yogis come to the top of their mats and begin. I told them we wouldn’t do Surya Namaskar B today. But we’d lose ourselves in a seemingly unending Sun A. I gave a few suggestions at times, but otherwise let them try to feel what I felt earlier. I told them to stop counting. To move when it feels right. To hold where they need to. To experiment with fingertips and closing eyes. Lifting mula bandha with lightness and ease. To gather their warmth and glow in it.
Sometimes we share hoping others will feel the deepness that we’ve felt. Even if one connected with my experience, then my sharing was a success.
I don’t have a daily yoga practice. I lift weights, run, and do CrossFit on my own, which is what I’ve always done. But I’ve had the toughest time trying to do yoga on my own. Before becoming a yoga teacher, I would attend a lot of classes. And then I began to design my own classes for teaching while still attending a few classes. Then I got tired!! Really tired. I ended up only teaching classes. Every now and then I’d attend an Ashtanga or hot yoga class. But still no personal practice (other than taking Instagram selfies 🙂 ).
I just finished a 50 hour Rocket Yoga training. While I have skills to do deeper poses, I realize my lack of a personal practice made me suffer…a lot! Sure, I do tons of squats, burpees, pull-ups and such. That is what kept me in the game. But I need to practice yoga too.
Practice what you Teach. Teach what you Practice!
So as a measure of accountability, I’m telling my peeps here and now that I will have a daily practice. Rocket Yoga advocates a 6-day program beginning Sunday. My Sabbath will be Sunday, so I am shifting forward a day. Here it is:
Monday – Ashtanga Primary series (or Modified Primary Series, rocket-style) Tuesday – Rocket 1 with focus on building strong legs Wednesday – Rocket 2 focusing on backbends, upper body, and core Thursday – Rocket 2 but with deeper backbend emphasis Friday – Rocket 1 with a healing emphasis Saturday – Rocket 3 “Happy Hour” which is a faster paced mix of 1 & 2 Sunday – day of rest and reflection
I plan to do this over my lunch hour. I hope to tell you of my progress soon! I’ll be a real Rocket Man before you know it. I’m changing things up to grow.
If you Always do the Same Things, you will Always get the Same Effect!