Posts Tagged With: trikonasana

Pain has left the building.

We use a scale when trying to have people describe pain to us. On a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the worst pain you have experienced and 1 the least. Right? You are all familiar with this? It seems to be that human beings are in pain a good portion of their life. Just spend a little time watching T.V. commercials or flip through a magazine, advertisements abound for the latest pain remedy. Or read the reports on people being addicted to pain pills that they so easily got from their doctor. Are we really just falling apart at the seams? Are we really abusing our bodies that much? That depends on how you define abuse. I think it’s abusive to sit around all day in barely lit rooms with your longest walk being to the kitchen to refill your Mountain Dew that you are using to wash down your cholesterol medicine. Then the heartburn pill you’ll take later because you did nothing to aid your body in the process of digestion just after you finished off a box of Captain Crunch. This is the worst kind of abuse. Running a marathon hurts, I know this first hand. It hurts during and for about two days after. You can lose toenails, during your training and tragically men can have their nipples rub raw if they don’t wear the right clothing during the 26.2 miles. But this is not abusing the body, this is raising the bar. Dare I say, it raises the pain threshold.

Should I be so bold as to talk about pain? Aren’t there yogi’s out there telling you to avoid pain? Isn’t your doctor prescribing things for it? Well maybe if we all worked a little on raising our pain threshold, we wouldn’t be a society addicted to anything other than raising the bar on our expectations for life, instead of settling for this belief that the human body is a place of suffering. But don’t worry, there’s a pill for that.

I know pain first hand, and not just from running 4 marathons. I ruptured L5/S1 about 5 years ago. By the time I finally went to the doctor for it, he said to me “I am not sure how you drove yourself here and your walking around, this is a pretty bad rupture.” It was excruciating for about 3 weeks. I didn’t sleep much at all, or for that matter sit still. As there wasn’t a single comfortable position for my body. But I was pretty damn determined to not be cut open. I never even took any steroid shots which is another popular form of treatment. I was going to, if I could stand it, wait this pain out, and I did. With a year of no running and a slow steady creep back into my yoga practice, with the appropriate backward bending, back strengthening plan. I am as good as new. Probably better because I learned a lot about myself, anatomy and the way to get it right. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as easy I am making it sound. I cried a lot, I was angry a lot and I had setbacks through out. Ultimately I never took anything more than Advil, breathing and exercise to heal.

I remember back in my first year of yoga my teacher saying “yoga raises our threshold to pain.” I remember thinking, “well that sounds strange and what would be the benefit?”. I remember the asana it came up in relation to, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasna – half bound lotus forward fold. When I came to yoga I had been running for about 14 years, so I was pretty limited in range of motion. So when I would try to put my foot in the proper place it would inevitably feel like it was cutting my quadriceps muscle in two. That skinny, knife-like boney edge of my foot not tucking high enough up on my thigh would cause me to wince in pain. Shouldn’t we bail if there’s pain? No, not if it’s something that you can breathe through. Most discomforts can be dealt with this way. If you can stay in the place of dis-ease and experience change, then do. YES, there is pain you need to move away from, but not all pain should be avoided.

Trikonasana - triangle posture.

Trikonasana – triangle posture.

I’ve heard yoga teachers say if there’s pain you’re doing the pose wrong, what if it means you’re finally doing it right? If someone told you you were going to be comfortable while doing yoga they were wrong. It’s about being uncomfortable and dealing with it. I have seen countless triangle asanas, and I guarantee you, until I come up behind them and fix them, they aren’t feeling anything except the effort of holding themselves up, no discomfort, no change, no enlightenment. We need to shine a light of awareness on areas of our body that have become dull, detached and not put to good use in a while.

We use the word pain too freely in society. For most instances it’s just discomfort that can usually be lumped into the “This too shall pass.” category. There is a great expression “pain is weakness leaving the body.” Ahhhhhh, that to me is the most truthful statement there is about pain. Being able to handle discomfort and pain better makes us less reactive and hopefully more responsive. It lengthens our fuse. It’s good to have a long fuse before you blow up. If we all had longer fuses the world would be more peaceful. It wouldn’t be filled with so much vengeance. The more I am uncomfortable in yoga, the more comfortable I am becoming in life. The more I raise the bar of what I am willing to tolerate, the more opportunities it’s giving me to grow. I want to go to the grave with a worn out body. One that lived each day being surprised by what I was really capable of.

It is possible to get injured doing anything physical with our bodies or emotional with our hearts. Each of these injuries leaves a little scar behind that creates a pathway in the neurosis of our mind. Yoga, by moving us towards our pain helps change this pathway and wipe out the residue of that experience. There comes a moment in yoga, and it’s a golden one with each and every pose you are struggling with that you will be able to say “Pain has just left the building.” It’s never a coincidence to me that the word exercise and exorcism are so similar. Because exercise does release some of our demons of fear, pain and weakness, leaving us feeling pretty cleansed of the things that were holding us down. Give it a try, come to your mat, find the edge where you question “what the heck am I doing?” again and again and just see what happens. Don’t fear what you haven’t even experienced yet. Only fear missing the opportunity to grow.

Never fear what might come out of you. ROAR!!!

Never fear what might come out of you. ROAR!!!

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Inhabiting Your Space.

Proprioception should be a less intimidating word, but when I say it to people, they give me that furrowed brow look that says “huh?”. Proprioception is the ability to know where your body is in space in relation to other objects. It’s what allows you to walk around a dark room at night and not bump into things. But I find so many people are in the dark about where their bodies are in space. I want to bring some light to this problem, and if I do you will have fewer stubbed toes, less bumped knees, knocked heads, bruises, and overall mishaps. And if you are one of those infamous close talkers, you might find you’ll have better conversations. I can’t tell you how many times I have backed away from a close talker because I felt my personal space is being compromised, possibly not allowing me to be as attentive as I would like.

We are all pretty aware of movement. Our arm just doesn’t move randomly and without our noticing, thank goodness, or we’d all be a bull in a China shop. For the most part, most of us have refined our movements to be able to look and move like everyone else. Until you put people in yoga poses, then the truth comes out. Most people are just touching the tip of the iceberg in their understanding of muscle movement.

I am choosing to link coordination and proprioception together. But let me be clear – I am not a scientist, at least not by degree. By personal interest, I am a scientist in behavior. I am constantly testing, experimenting, researching, analyzing and interpreting my abilities. I’ve read enough to be well informed of the limits of the human body, but I like to test what I have heard and read it through my own body. Figuring that as I go, I might find some contradictions, as well as some very clear affirmations. But at least I will have developed new skill sets along the way. With every new movement, I am gaining sensitivity. It is this sensitivity that is informing me towards more graceful and coordinated actions. This sensitivity allows me to know the difference between 1 inch and 1 foot of space between me and anything else I might come in contact with.

Interestingly, I was a long jumper in high school and I think that helped me refine my skill of proprioception. If your foot stepped over the launch line it was a scratched jump. Just like if a high jumper knocks the bar with their body when jumping, it’s no good. These spacial relationship’s are a great way to learn muscle movement and just how much it can be refined. So how is it that so many people show up on yoga mats across the country, year after year, and they don’t seem to be inhabiting their body. Some people wear their body like an over size suit, just flopping it around with out any life in their limbs, almost with a sense of bagginess. As if, if it weren’t for their bones they’d fall to the floor. Then there are those people that wear their body like a suit of armor, rigid and unpenatrable. Their movements have no fluidity and they seem expressionless and motionless.

Triangle pose, Trikonasana. Photo by Zsolt Haraszti

The one pose, as a yoga teacher, I endlessly become a bit saddened by is Triangle, or trikonasana. It is one of the trickiest poses for people to execute properly. As many times as I will physically place students in the best example of the pose, week after week, they still execute bad alignment. One of the easiest ways to fix this problem is to give people a reference point, something for their bodies to work with or against, that will help them  perceive their body position. What I do is put them up against a wall, and try and have them make themselves as flat as possible against that wall. (There is more to it then that, but for now I’ll leave the description of triangle brief as this isn’t about triangle). This always seems to work, but the moment you bring them off the wall back on their yoga mat the pose seems to just disintegrate.

It is that word that I want to focus on: disintegrate. Or better yet it’s direct opposite, integrate. Yoga is the practice of integrating muscle movements into our perception. Yoga is a great way to work on your body feedback system. The more feedback you become aware of, the more refined your movements will become. But how to make people listen to the feedback is the question? No matter how much information and physical support I provide some students still do not execute the pose well. Maybe it’s a laziness issue or a poor health issue. But whatever the case, I can’t teach people to want what I want for them, they must want it.

The yoga sutra’s talk about a list of obstacles that will effect your development in life, your ability to integrate your perception of yourself in space as well as in behavior. Sutra 1.30 Vyadhi styana samsaya pramada alasya avirati bhrantidarsana alabdhabhumikatva anavasthitavani citta viksepah te antarayah. Translated – The obstacles that distract the mind are illness, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, overindulgence, illusions about one’e self, lack of perseverance, and instability.  I have found you can’t really teach people to be less lazy or less careless. I have found that you can inspire caring and inspire effort, mostly by example.

This is why with my teaching style ,I will demonstrate yoga poses in a two pronged approach: I will first show them a bad example, and then start to integrate from that form right into a good example so they can see how I move my body onto different planes with different energies. I have found this to be a very useful teaching method, as more and more, I feel we are becoming a society that learns more through our eyes then we do through our ears. There are three available approaches to yoga teachers in informing their students. First is words, second should be example and third should be touch. I don’t start out with touch first, because all that sometimes happens is, I am moving them into the correct position. I’m the one doing the work, not them. When students constantly want to be adjusted it can be a sign of laziness, they want you to do the work. I will intervene only after they have tried. After they try and perceive where their body is, and what might be holding them back, then I can assist them with touch. This is where, if the student is interested, yoga will expose patterns of movement that are not always working. In this exposure, the student becomes enlightened. This enlightenment will give them greater perception, greater understanding of their body in space. which is ultimately going to lead to gracefulness, coordination, sensitivity, and integration.

This will happen on your yoga mat if you come to your practice with all the necessary tools available to you: health, alertness, confidence, concern, energy, moderation, truthfulness, perseverance, and stability. Now, if you do not have all these things at the start, then yoga’s journey should help you get all of these things. Your teacher should be inspiring and provide you with the best possible guidance. But remember, it doesn’t lie on the teachers shoulders. You must care. You must want more knowledge, more health, more energy, etc.. As my teacher says, “experience removes doubt”. The best way to get started is to get on your mat and experience inhabiting your body. Work to become more perceptive of the details, the things that aren’t always “in your face” obvious. Shine some light on what has become dull. The trade off will be fewer stubbed toes in the middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom, or fewer bumped elbows on the corners of things, and better posture,  greater health, or overall a generally good feeling about your body and how you are inhabiting it.

You know that feeling when someone has put their yoga mat down too close to yours, when you feel like your space has been invaded. Well, what I want for you is to invade your body, to become more in it, and not of it, to be more connected, instead of disconnected. Proprioception is space invading instead of space evading. Avoidence is not the answer. As sutra 2.3 says Avidya asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesah. Translated – the causes of suffering are ignorance, egotism, excessive attachments, unreasonable aversions and fear. Being in the dark can be scary and dangerous. Use yoga to become enlightened, to reduce your suffering and to make you very perceptive. This inward perception that you will strengthen will also deepen your outward perception of the world around you. This is illuminating, it’s like turning the lights on inside your body.

Each room in your home has a light for you to navigate it, so do your muscles. Treat each muscle like a room. You have approximately 640 muscles in your body so it’s like living in a mansion. Take care of this body that is your home. Turn on the lights, open the windows and doors so that energy can flow through. Yoga is feng shui for your body. It’s time to create good Qi. The life force is within you, go find it.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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