Stating the Obvious
Your ‘Body’ does not talk. Therefore, how is it possible to ‘listen’ to it? But seriously, your body sends signals that you interpret. Without knowledge, understanding, and wisdom of biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, geometry and physics, this well-intended cue is essentially useless, maybe even unintentionally harmful. You have full permission to have the yoga police arrest me if I ever use this cue while teaching.

Some signals are more obvious than others. Shall I state the obvious, again? Continuing a posture while feeling a sharp, severe burning sensation is dicey. And what about the cartilage squeezing in your sweet backbend? Darlin’, don’t get me wrong here; I’m the ‘Queen of Self Injury.’ I have pushed through the pain, used mind over matter, and have paid the price.

In February 2015, one of my favorite teachers on this planet, Shri Dharma Mittra, repeatedly advocated Ahimsa during his weekend lectures. I’m paraphrasing here, but it basically means no harm to any living being, starting with your Self. Prior to doing our (and I quote) “exercises,” Dharma humbly stated that he ‘loses’ an asana every year, then adorably shrugged his shoulders. Dharma is 76 years old and still attempts hands-free headstands.

What is a yogi to do?
Empower yourself to keep your body as safe as possible. The goal I champion here is to have a functional practice until your final exhale (Maha Savasana). In my not-at-all humble opinion, many advanced, elite practitioners have spent an inordinate amount of time studying biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, geometry and physics. They practice active noticing, and they have likely injured and healed themselves. Two of my favorite resource people are Matthew Remski and Patricia Shelton, MD (“The Yoga Doctor”).

Food for thought:

  • You are less likely to harm yourself if you let pranayama guide your asana practice. In “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” BKS Iyengar describes a distinct step in the ascent of the ladder of yoga. When discussing the effects of pranayama, he states that pranayama is what the heart is to the human body.
  • Tendons and ligaments are not very vascular. They take forever to heal, and sometimes never heal completely.
  • Tendons, ligaments and cartilage have very little innervation; you may be unintentionally harming them.
  • Feeling tension is sometimes OK.
  • Feeling compression is almost never OK.
  • If that pleasant, yummy stretch you crave is loaded in a joint, you’re in a danger zone.
  • Generally, you want the stretch along the muscle, not focused on where the muscle attaches to the ligament, or the ligament to the bone.
  • Stretching ligaments around a joint is sketchy. If the ligaments in the joint capsule become lengthened, they will be less likely to keep the joint stable, making the joint vulnerable to dislocation.
  • When your body is super warm and relaxed (like in a hot yoga class), you may not be getting the signals you need when you’ve reached your limit.
  • Be aware that endorphins may alter your perception of pain.
  • That ‘tingling’ sensation may be a sign that a nerve is under duress — either being pinched or excessively stretched.

There are no absolutes. Practice smarter, not harder. I’m just warming up.

[Photo by Ed Flanigan]

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