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Yoga Injuries Part III: Practicing in the Yoga Tradition

posted by Charlotte Bell on January 18, 2012 |

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yoga-injuries

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Yesterday, I wrote about the issues inherent in dropping one component of a larger system of practice into a culture with a vastly different mindset. If you’d like to catch up on this discussion, you can read the post here. Today I’d like to talk about how Western yoga might look different if we approached practice from the perspective of its original intentions.

Traditionally, yogis studied and practiced the yamas (ethical precepts) and niyamas (personal practices) for years before beginning to practice asana. Integrating concepts such as non-harming, truthfulness, self-reflection, contentment, wise use of energy, non-greed and selflessness—making these practices a part of who we are—creates a very different context for learning asana than “no pain, no gain” does.

Most people who are dipping a tentative toe into yoga practice for the first time are not interested in philosophy, however. This includes me in my early years of practice. This is why it is important for teachers to have at least begun the long process of integrating the yamas and niyamas into their own lives. When we as teachers come from an integrated practice of the yamas and niyamas we are less likely to give the competitive message to our students. When these practices are integrated, we don’t need to talk about philosophy in our classes. The yamas and niyamas become our context, and the students are more likely to feel and act from this context.

I’m not talking about simply memorizing the yamas and niyamas. Rather, I’m talking about the process of setting an intention to consider your life choices, and asana choices, through the lens of the yamas and niyamas—for the rest of your life. This is a lifelong process that requires strong resolve and the cultivation of mindfulness so that we act in response to the reality of each situation, rather than reacting automatically from familiar patterns of conditioning.

If we all took just the concept of ahimsa, non-harming, to heart, questioning our intentions for practicing certain poses through the filter of non-harming, yoga practice in the West would look very different. As it is, we watch classmates, or the plethora of YouTube videos and magazine photos of people doing fancy poses, and we think this is “advanced” yoga. We judge ourselves as either good yogis or bad yogis based on how we measure up to these images. Judging ourselves in this way is not only antithetical to ahimsa, it is also antithetical to what the yoga tradition says about mastering asana.

Mastery According to the Yoga Sutras

The Yoga Sutras define mastery of asana as the point “when all effort is relaxed and the mind is absorbed in the Infinite.” (You can read more about the Yoga Sutras’ take on asana here.) There’s no mention of “perfecting poses” or performing “advanced” poses. The idea that some poses are advanced and others beginning is purely a modern invention. Until the British colonized India and introduced gymnastics, the majority of asanas were simple, seated poses designed to prepare one’s body for sitting meditation.

In the West our concept of mastery encourages doing the most extreme versions of poses, or performing so-called “advanced” poses. The class level system popular in many styles of yoga (Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, etc.) reflects this. IMO the distinctions created for class levels are neither accurate nor helpful in assessing the maturity of one’s practice.

For example, a person with a decades-long practice whose shoulder joints won’t allow full upward extension of the arms would be barred from many Level 3 classes because they wouldn’t be able to do Upward Bow with straight arms. Similarly, a yoga novice with flexible shoulder joints could take a Level 3 class on her first day. Classifying practitioners this way actually encourages injury, as people try to force their bodies into positions they are not genetically capable of accomplishing, just so they can attend a higher-level class. In addition, these ways of pigeon-holing people stigmatize students. A Level 1 student may feel inferior, while a Level 3 student might feel superior, simply because of differences in their bodies’ capabilities that are often attributable to genetics. And yoga’s not just about poses anyway.

If we in the West practiced from the context of the yoga tradition’s radically different idea of mastery, far fewer yoga injuries would occur. Instead of striving to force our bodies into poses that are structurally unachievable for the vast majority of people, we would instead relax into the pose we are in at the present moment—no matter what it looks like or how seemingly simple it is.

There’s no pose somewhere out there in the future that’s inherently better than the one you are in right now. Freedom is right here, right now, in this moment’s pose. It is accessible to all of us when we stop striving and relax into the beauty of this pose, right now.

 

Post By Charlotte Bell (189 Posts)

Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice, published by Rodmell Press. Her second book, Yoga for Meditators (Rodmell Press) was published in May 2012. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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One Response to “Yoga Injuries Part III: Practicing in the Yoga Tradition”

  1. Paulo Says:

    See.. Every tension or plorbem comes under the one category, that is the wish. If your wish is a good one and that would helpfull to others then your mind automatically tell that the fruit is not yours and but for all. Then how you get anxiety..? Ok. how to make our wish a good one? Simple. Everything you get from here is given from here. Nothing is created for you only. This equity thought will give you the softness in you. This is the first step to get store your positive energy from the Universe. Deep breathing,mindfulness, and meditation will reduce your stress. Opening your heart to positive energy and love will help as well.As far as yoga, any practice should lead you in a good direction. Just open your mind and your heart to it. You need to understand your SELF . This is acheived with meditation. Meditation is a form of YOGA . For your info there is no meaning for the word YOGA. It is a synonym used to describe the various excersises. YOGA Asanna as it is called in India has 8 levels of which meditation is one. Thru meditation all your questions will be answered. To achieve your objectives first you have to identify a GURU . This guru will be your guide to attaining the level of understanding your SELF . Yoga Tips for Ladies: Upward Facing DogUpward Facing Dog is a easy to moderate position and is great for strengthening shoulders, triceps, quads, and back. Also stretches the front body.1. Place your palms flat on the floor next to your shoulders, with your fingers pointed forward. Extend your feet out behind you.2. Press your body up and bring your chest to the ceiling, arch your back, and extend your neck by lifting your chin.3. Lift your quads off the mat by putting some weight on the tops of your feet. Be sure to keep your arms close to your body, keeping your elbows soft.4. Hold this pose for 5 to 8 breaths. Pranayam. Or deep breathing will help you immensely. Before you start, sit with your legs crossed (or any other comfortable position), close your left nostril with ur index finger and breathe in deeply through your right nostril. Take in as much air as possible.Now exhale through your left nose with force. Repeat the same with procedure (inhale) with the left nostril and exhale from the right. Dit for 5-10 minutes. Then start the deep breathing with both the nostrils, hands on the knees. Breathe deeply, taking in as much oxygen as possible. Release with force. It may cause a head rush as the brain gets a lot of oxygen,,this will help you in meditating and relieving stress. You can if needed chant om but its not essential.Just keep your eyes closed and concentrate on ur breathing. Deep breathing -breathe from ur stomach. All the best! It’s funny you ask this question because I just happen to be deeply indulged in the Tibetan book of living and dying.As an old Yogin once said, A mystik that can turn the ground into the ceiling or levitate does not impress me much, what truely impresses me is the ability to turn a negative energy into something positive.So as you can see, this is not something that is easy, it is all a state of mind. From what I gather, the key is to catch your self in mid thought whenever something (negative and positive) is happening and figure out what the source of it is. The next step is to release the thought from your mind so that you are free from thought. After a prolonged period (it often takes years) of this practice and meditation, you will find yourself in situations in which you are able to realize the nature of the discussions and be able to turn them positive.This is the path to enlightenment being able to become self aware of every situation and have a free mind from all thought (which is much more difficult than one would think). Recent medical studies have shown that a regular practice of yoga and meditation is effective at lowering levels of anxiety.Excessive anxiety can be alleviated through a slow, gentle yoga practice focusing on postures that calm the heart and the mind, balance the emotions, and release body tension.Pranayama (yogic breathing) and meditation will also be helpful to calm the mind and body, and to reduce stress and negative thinking.Physical sensations alone are not the core of the illness. Fearful thoughts, unpleasant emotions, avoidant behaviors, disturbing sensations, and deteriorating relationships all collude with one another to maintain panic. Thoughts such as the fear of dying or of having a mental breakdown are common. Even mild anxiety can trigger an attack, and any disturbing emotion can be interpreted as a precursor to full-fledged panic.Yoga tells us that before searching for a cure it is important to look deeply into the nature and causes of illness. It is also important to get an idea of how things will be when symptoms have been removed, because otherwise we may have illusions about what recovery will be like. For example, eliminating anxiety is not the outcome of treatment for panic-the outcome is the ability to manage anxious feelings.Yoga training can be particularly useful here, for yoga teaches us how to interact with the nervous system. If we want to soothe and strengthen it, we need to learn deep, relaxed yogic breathing. Regardless of the pathways of arousal, breathing is the language of nervous system balance and control.Practicing yoga is a good way to learn breathing skills, for it is a gradual process, often needing considerable support over a period of time. Yoga teachers quickly recognize when a student is having trouble (as is often the case with panickers), and they know a wide variety of alternate practices that will help the student master breathing skills.Yoga psychology also suggests many techniques for resolving conflicts, including acknowledging and accepting the conflict in all its depth; recognizing the need for some kind of change; resisting the inclination to act out feelings or to do nothing; exploring alternatives; communicating with others without blaming them; accepting feedback from others; using discrimination in accepting or rejecting alternatives; surrendering to necessary losses; acting with determination; accepting outcomes with equanimity; working calmly on a plorbem even if a negative outcome, or no outcome, seems inevitable; and letting intuition suggest new possibilities.These strategies are derived from what in yoga are called the yamas and niyamas-the attitudes toward life that are the basis of all yoga practices.Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana :Trianga means three limbs or parts thereof. In this posture the three parts are the feet, knees and the buttocks. Mukhaikapada corresponds to the face touching one leg. In Paschimottanasana the back of the whole body is intensely stretched.Technique :Sit on the floor with the legs stretched straight in the front.Bend the right leg at the knee and move the right foot back. Place the right foot at the side of the right hip joint, keep the toes pointing back and rest them on the floor. The inner side of the right calf will touch the outer side of the right thigh.Balance in this position throwing the weight of the body on the bent knee. In the beginning body tilts to the side of the outstretched leg, and the foot of the outstretched leg also tilts outwards. Learn to balance in this position, keeping the foot and toes stretched and pointing forward.Now hold the left foot with both the palms, gripping the sides of the sole if you can then extend the trunk forward and hook the wrists round the outstretched left foot. Take two deep breaths.Join the knees, exhale and bend forward. Rest first the forehead, then the nose next the lips and ultimately the chin of the left knee. To achieve this widen the elbows and push the trunk forward with an exhalation.Do not rest the left elbow on the floor. In the beginning one looses the balance and topples over to the side of the extended leg. The trunk should therefore be slightly bent towards the side of the bent leg and the weight of the body should be taken by the bent knee.Stay in this position from half a minute to a minute, breathing evenly.Inhale, raise the head and trunk, release the hands, straighten the right leg and come to the position.Repeat the pose on the other side, keeping the right leg stretched out on the ground, bending the left knee and placing the left foot by the left hip joint. Stay for the same length of the time on both the sides. Reply

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