I would like to once again thank Matthew for creating a forum in which we can share our stories and exchange information. Read Matthew’s blog post here
There is so much to this story that it’s sometimes easier to look the other way and not be involved. I have distanced myself from the yoga community in the past couple of years. During this time I have been educating myself in the bio mechanics of movement, not only studying books but also studying my body in movement off the mat. I have learned so much, after 5 years of study off the mat I am ready to teach yoga again. This time around I’ll be informed by science not dogma.
After doing yoga for 35 years I question what possessed me to become fixated on doing postures that have nothing to do with healthy alignment or function. There was something else I was seeking, and I believed that these extreme contortions would somehow enlighten me.
Over the years I experimented with many versions of traditional yoga postures, including doing extended sun series. I do not recall ever doing 90 minutes of straight sun series, I think the maximum amount of time was 45 minutes. From what I recall of that period in my life, my approach to teaching had more to do with wanting to find a way to build strength through movement instead of holding static postures. Holding postures for the count of 5 was so easy for me and so many of my students. We had all become so flexible. These postures done repetitively were having a destabilizing effect on my back and knees. In those days I was trying to stick to ‘yoga’ poses so doing more sun series worked for my body, I have a strong upper body and no wrist issues. So much of what I taught was based on what I practiced. I could not in good faith continue teaching a class that I wouldn’t do myself. I was lucky to have strong shoulders and wrists!
I do not blame Ashtanga. I do not even know what Ashtanga is anymore. I just read an article by Nancy Gillgoff about how the sequence of postures have changed repeatedly by Pattabi Jois himself. So is the real Ashtanga Yoga the latest version of poses with or without the vinyasa? The point is everything is in flux including the beloved Ashtanga sequence. I found it best a long time ago to not become too attached, because depending on which teacher I spoke to they had a slightly or in some cases radically different perspective on what Ashtanga Yoga was.
I understand the sentiments of so many people who have been healed by the ‘traditional’ practice. I too was healed, my problem was I got addicted to the practice, so when it was time to move on to other activities, I struggled, I could not let go. I was attached not only to the postures, the endorphin rush, the community, my routine and my ego. I was afraid of change. I was afraid to admit that my body was no longer able to bounce back after being in extreme postures. Aside from my catastrophic injury I was plagued my a nagging sense that something was not quite right. I began to wonder why after slouching on the couch for an hour I would stand up and my lower back would take a long moment to get into alignment. Like an old person standing up and holding onto their lower backs. It didn’t make sense at the time. Now I understand what was happening to me. I was overstretching my ligaments and connective tissues, like an old elastic band that doesn’t bounce back, the elastin in the body shares many of the same properties. It can only withstand so much stretching and then it begins to lose it’s ability to be resilient, to regain it’s original form after being distorted.
I got an email the other day from a famous yoga teacher, a woman my age, who said she has severe lower back pain. She was a dedicated Ashtangi, has been doing the first 3 series for over 3 decades. Last year when she was teaching a back bending workshop her nagging back pain got so bad she wasn’t sure she could finnish the workshop. She pulled it together, yoga teaches know how to do that very well, and finished the workshop. Her back is now in constant pain. The diagnosis…an overstretched psoas. I encouraged her to go public with her story.
The psoas muscle is meant to provide stability to the natural lumbar curve and help take the leg forward in walking. Doing deep backbends and lunges stretches the psoas. Once these stabilizing structures are weakened from overstretching it takes years of reconditioning to restore their resiliency.
We are the living guinea pigs, no generation of women in the history of our species has ever practiced yoga postures as obsessively as us. Remember the Ashtanga series was developed for adolescent boys, not middle aged women. When we are young our bodies are more resilient as we age we become less resilient. We all know this. But we thought stretching would make us more resilient, and it’s true it does to a point and then the balance shifts and we need to work on other aspects to keep our aging bodies healthy.
I predict that resiliency training is going to become better understood in the fitness industry which includes the yoga industry, a branch of the fitness industry. Resiliency training includes stretching against resistance, basic movements done efficiently, also known as functional fitness, rebounding, dynamic stretching, and doing yoga postures against resistance. This is nothing new, there is a woman who teaches a from of yoga called Yogalign. I’m excited to read her book, it sounds like there is an emerging interest in understanding how we can continue to practice yoga into the later stages of our lives without injury.
The Body Braid is a resiliency training tool, when worn it provides resistance so that you’re working harder in every pose. It does not make it easier, but it does guide the body into a healthy alignment by assisting certain actions, but it’s the body actually doing the work to hold the alignment. The Body Braid lifts the arches of the feet, maintains the lumbar curve, supports the knee and hip joints, rolls the shoulders back, and stabilizes the shoulder blades. While the Body Braid can be worn during any activity, it is particularly helpful as a yoga prop. It creates optimal alignment, while also training the muscles to find appropriate engagement or relaxation in each pose.