Sunday, February 20, 2011

This Asana is Contraindicated for ...

me, and yet I practice. Listening to my own arguments, I hear fear and I hear determination. There is goal setting and there is wishful thinking. There is regret and self-doubt, and there is hopefulness and curiosity.

When I began practicing yoga I took any class that fit in my schedule. I was approaching 50 years old and I knew less than nothing about the lineage, names of luminaries, history, even potential health benefits. I didn't even know what shape I was aiming for in the Asana of the moment. I listened deeply, worried on the surface about mixing up my right from my left, and began breathing into a new space of awareness inside.

This fall my practice will be much the same as it was 10 years ago... I will be discovering that I can change the angle of my lower spine by remembering my big toe, and I will use the wall to prepare for Ustrasana (camel pose) just to see how much energy I can raise from my Tadasana (mountain pose) knees. There are many Asana I can explore in my practice, and of course, my practice does now include teaching which is a magnitude of exploration I could not have imagined in those first few experiences.

Every Asana has benefits that reach into the basic functioning of the body -- circulation, nervous system, muscular strength and flexibility; and the mind -- judgment, intention, challenge, determination, curiosity, resilience and focus; and the organs -- etc. Every asana has contraindicated conditions, for example shoulder or ankle injury, stages of pregnancy, frailty of bone, uncontrolled high blood pressure, etc.

As a teacher I may mention a few of the "if you have this, modify in this way" instructions, but I find it hard to say, "just don't do this." I find it especially hard to say it to myself. At the moment, I have two physical variables that would contraindicate nearly everything I do in my yoga Asana practice -- including what might seem simple like sitting in a cross-legged position.

So here is the secret: Do not hurt yourself. Follow the path of the breath and prepare your physical body for practice with an open mental attitude of exploration rather than goals and end results. Use props and find out what is actually happening in as full a way as you can in that moment. It is not getting into the full pose of Ustrasana that will help you if you have low back issues or rotator cuff problems. Yet many of the steps along the way will be exactly what your body can best use to mobilize, stabilize and strengthen, stretch and explore.

It is the mind that wants to take the full expression of Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel). Deepening and exploring a supported heart opener over a bolster or block, or using blocks to support your sacrum and your upper back in Setu Bhandhasana (Bridge pose) will give you more possibilities to experience your life than you could imagine.

So it can really help to find a teacher who can help guide your practice into the deepest places you can explore, and slow things down, rather than attending classes that continually show you what you can do to hurt yourself. It helps when you don't believe that everything rests in the final pose, and keep an open mind about what might open your practice.

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