I know, I know, I know! It’s about the mind more than the body, but seriously!  I patiently worked through a “setback” this summer.  One day I was great in my asana practice and the next day stepping forward from down dog to standing, doing forward folds and other basic body moves were not just painful, my body would not move into those positions. At. All.  With careful negotiation and creativity, I could sort of get to some poses.

“But I didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this!” I silently complained.  “I’ve been practicing steadily and mindfully.  I’ve taken days off when I’m supposed to.  I’ve even gone on vacation and relaxed and continued a gentle practice through it.  I have not DONE ANYTHING wrong!  Why???  Why can’t I do my normal practice?”

I calmed my mind.  Stopped looking to “blame” something or someone and allowed myself to be taught.  Patience.  Compassion for other. Compassion for myself.  Balance.  My teacher suggested taking a full week off.  “It can be helpful.”  After two weeks of fairly constant pain, I relented and decided to try a chiropractor.  Progress back to my “normal” practice was slow.  Bit by bit, like someone starting the practice from scratch, my “normal” range of motion began to return.

Maybe it was inflammation that drained, I don’t know, but one day I had my “normal” practice back!  This “normal” was different in a good way though!  I had never felt that kind of freedom in my low back and hamstrings.  My teacher commented after watching me practice one day, “There is not as much deep tension in your body.”

That was true.  Something deep had healed and changed.  And somewhere along the way I found a brand-new sensation in the bandhas!  I had heard so many times something about a hallow feeling and a sense of things suctioning up under the ribs.  I felt it!  I got it!

My teacher had recently assisted me in down dog and had me keep my feet further from my hands in a longer stance.  My heels did not touch the ground now, but I began to feel that hallow feeling, so I knew it was progress.

I was excited by how I felt and how my body was looking for about a week.  Maybe it was two.  It was not long enough!

The other foot dropped. Wednesday I did not get my regular early practice in before I headed out to teach.  “I’ll just practice with Kelley before the rest of the students arrive,” I figured.  So, began a regular practice with Surya Namaskar A.  Wow!  That Down Dog was feeling really good!  I could feel the bandhas and even a stretch into my low ribs.  After 3 A’s I went over to give Kelley an assist in her Down Dog then returned to my mat for the rest of my Sun Salutes.  Soon other students arrived and I went into teaching mode vowing to finish my practice later.

As the Mysore-style teaching hour passed, I noticed a tightening of the muscles from my low back ribs to my pelvis.  I didn’t think much about it at first, but by the time I got home I decided that I would finish my practice in an Epsom salt bath shavasana instead of finishing the rest of my poses as I had vowed to do.

“This time I ‘deserve’ it” my thoughts began, “you should not try to practice and teach at the same time.  Your teacher warned you about that.”  I argued back with myself, “but I just did a few suryas to warm my body up before assisting students…”  It’s interesting to whine inside my head like that.

But seriously!  I only got my “normal” practice back like a week ago!

Today, two days later I began my 5am practice at home after sleeping on a heating pad through the night to try to ease the muscle tension.  My mind is calm as I try to figure out how to transition from Down Dog to standing, a movement that is normally easy.  “Man! My body feels like what I see in beginning students” my mind started in,  but the tone was not with a whine this time.  It was with curiosity and compassion.  My internal teacher was merging with the teacher in me that sees my students.

Half way though standing poses I knew it was time to do the restorative sequence at the wall.  “Sheesh!  I’ve been doing that a lot lately!”  aaand… redirect my thoughts.

But this time was not like all the other times.  I heard my teacher say, “It is very healing to be on two planes: the ground and the wall.” Then, “It is seated series at the wall.”  Today, they weren’t just words in my head.  I made connections to those words in a way I never have before.  I understood there is a relationship of my pelvis to my legs and the wall and the floor and my body was ready to receive the healing.  I thought I understood before, but today was different.

If I had done my “normal” practice and if my body’s muscles where “normal” today, I would not have had this lesson.

I’m going to get really personal here for a second.  I believe that God has asked me–as my teacher puts it–to be “a worker of the universe”, a.k.a to help people evolve.  Simply put, to help people be more healthy and happy.  Or, as I wrote as a subtitle for my book, my work is to help silent secret suffers learn


Today’s conclusion for me is that maybe as a yoga teacher—a worker of the universe– I need to have setbacks so I can understand the beginner’s body again and again.

My teacher, not long after she committed to be an Ashtanga teacher, had a serious biking accident that injured her low back.  She was required to rest it for 6 weeks and ultimately, she was left with nothing of her Asana practice.  AND she was scheduled and went to India for her first extended teacher training where her only option was to learn by observing since she could not do a single pose.  In her words:

“After my slow motion bike crash, I tried practicing until I realized updog was really painful and that made me realize I was actually injured, not just sore. I went to my chiropractor, TJ, for about 4 weeks in row for deep work and help with healing. I was ignoring his instructions to rest and slowly tried to practice and made it worse since I wasn’t listening to him! It took about 6 weeks off asana practice until I got to India and started to practice with Rolf and Marci. I was trying to go slow and do everything I could. One morning I realized I just couldn’t bend over anymore during Surya A. and told Marci. She took me to the wall and taught me the healing low back pain sequence. During my 30-day intensive I did the low back routine for three weeks then started with second series the last week. It’s true I could only do Samastitihi- so I started counting that as a pose 🙂 instead of just standing at the top of my mat.” 

She truly had to start at ground zero in a way that few of us will ever have to.  This frustrating and difficult experience taught her things on a very deep level about how to help others heal and what modifications are possible with Ashtanga yoga.  When she says, “the practice can be customized to help anyone at any level” she knows what she is talking about.

So, we practice the Yama “aparigraha”—letting go of being attached to a particular outcome.  We open ourselves to learn from things as they are in the present moment instead of dwelling with how we wish things were.  We let go of what we think is “normal” and accept what is normal for today.  It is enough.  I am grateful for today’s lesson.

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