Uma Spender (previously Jessie Neave) - name in transition - new website coming soon!
yoga injuries...learning from the lotus
Yoga has never been so popular. I mean, EVER. There are studios popping up in every suburb and Teachers being churned out at ever increasingly short Trainings to fit the demand. Although Traditional Yoga reaches way beyond 'exercise' to all aspects of life, it is the physical part, asana, that has made Yoga boom around the globe, and with very good reason. Asana can be viewed as a kind of full body prayer, or moving meditation - it sharply focuses the mind as it challenges the body. If practiced correctly, Asana has significant positive effects on health - energetically, emotionally & physically, which makes it different from going to the gym or some other kind of 'exercise'.
If Asana is not practiced correctly, however, we have ourselves a problem…and that problem is also booming around the globe. By 'correctly', I mean mindfully, with focus on joint stability and ones own physical structure as opposed to what something looks like in a book or in someone else's form, and with the guidance of a Teacher who knows the difference between healthy challenge and pushing you to unnecessary extremes that have absolutely no health benefits to speak of.
Last week I found myself on the table at a Specialist Physiotherapist having my hip, pelvis and sacrum put back into place. I was a blubbering mess for days and I am still in significant pain now. This happened to me because many years ago when I began my Yoga journey I was pushed, by 'Masters', to physical extremes - chasing those unbelievably spectacular looking poses. Don't get me wrong, at the time I LOVED practicing in that way - but if I'm honest there was a lot of my ego in play. I was strong, flexible, and in my early 20's. I became hyper-mobile - it was fun to be able to do all 4 rajas kapotanasanas & a 'proper' headstand (that's the one without any hands or forearms). But then after my first baby at 27 my body changed, A LOT, and I kept being pushed in the same way by these teachers. I soon changed direction with my practice and started to ask my own body for guidance, it was a very different looking Yoga but it was much more wholesome, much more truthful, and my ego was, thankfully, put in it's place. Unfortunately once you've over stretched that's it. You become, as my gorgeous masseur friend says "frog hips". My practice now, after baby number 2, is all about strengthening the muscles around the joints and holding everything in. Of course I've been able to use what I have learned first hand in my teaching and I like to think that my students are 'safe', but since my pop-out injury last week I've become really concerned about the general state of Yoga in the West, and the future of it too.
I believe in Yoga, I believe that it is becoming so popular because we are a culture hungry for spirituality, philosophy, awakening and deep connection, and Yoga can - and does - fill us up in such a neat little package. I'm thinking of this injury as a fantastic learning injury, something I am using to step up and make a stand about the direction of Yoga today, now that it is in the mainstream, and BEFORE the mainstream throws the baby out with the bathwater.
When we make these asanas, these shapes, with our bodies we are coming back home to our essential natures. It's not about physical prowess or an outward striving - we make the shape of a tree or an animal to feel the connection to that part of nature, to learn from their wisdom and feel into another layer of our own complexity. We don't learn about the Gods & Goddesses of Yoga Mythology in order to worship them (as Hinduism came to do). We learn the stories so that we can see their divinity reflected right into our own being. When we learn about the colourful and flawed characters of Yoga mythology along with our asana, rigid & conservative ideas about our own divine nature are shattered. In this way asana can truly meet us in the light and dark of our being, always drawing inward to our own essential nature, our own life's path…it's difficult to see how pushing yourself to physical extremes has much to do with any of this.
Any way, that's my rant about being hyper mobile, a cross I bare with an open mind - that all challenges are the potential breeding ground for change, and profound beauty….
As the lovely Indian man enthusiastically shared with me many years ago by the lotus pond
"No shit, no lotus!".
I'd love to hear from you if you feel passionately about any of this!
Blessings for an abundant and inspiring Spring
ps - I'll be in Thailand for a couple of weeks in October...my classes will still run without me!