The Guru That Is Pain

2012 taught me how to soften my grip on my practice and not beating myself up on the mornings I didn’t make it.  Being a new parent and creating rhythm takes time. My home practice started SUCKING wind the latter quarter of 2012 – plus I worked through some physical shit in my lower back (Sacro Illiac) and glutes. Let’s just say I kept leaving practice achey and had a dull pain in day to day life for about 4 months.   

David Keil’s article nails my experience- and I worked with my Chiropractor, Dr. Michael Meleander for a month.  He came highly recommended by Josh Summers – who had also seen him for work.  Regardless of where you are in your practice – pains show up.

It seems my pelvis is crooked , this is very common in most of us and sometimes it’s muscle related and sometimes it’s structure. The offset pelvis could of been there before pregnancy..but pregnancy and post-partum exaggerated it as a result of carrying a child, horomones, ligament shifts that happen during and after pregnancy.The joys of being a woman!

My chrirpractor used Active Release Technique on several parts of my psoas, gluteal minimus, and piriformis, erector spinae, etc…he discovered adhesions throughout my psoas as  a result of trauma during the labor and delivery of my daughter .  This created a contracted psoas – long story short –  AY YI YI.  I had a pain in my back and a pain in my ass.

The good news – is the work with my Chiro added more awareness and learnings into my body.  Also I am more balanced :).  I realized that my practice post pregnancy was probably not as integrated as it needed to be and I was essentially practicing in a very different body than before pregnancy.Things are feeling better and the pain has shifted and my practice has improved in terms of stability and refinement.

My key learnings:

1) Heightened awareness of bandhas & breath.

2) The imports of engaged feet, legs  and the affect of this on your pelvis, core, and therefore spine – and also gaining insight into how the body compensates to make up for what is not being used.  In my case – upper back over working – creating a shorter/contracted psoas –  pulling on lumbar vertebrae – affecting pelvis, hips, and even upper back/neck.

3) We often avoid pain in the form of ignoring or denial.  This is the human condition and is addressed in the Yoga Sutras.  I ignored – I am human.

4) Shedding light on the source of the pain requires the tools of courage, honesty, compassion, and results in more courage, heightened awareness,  and stability.  Maybe even some better decision making in the many corners of our life.

5) You Go back.  Rediscover and refine foundations – “ripen in the advanced” .

6) The human body is amazing.

7)  Yoga asana reveals what is going on in the body  as a result of emotional trauma,  physical trauma, and some our own doing through lack of awareness and old patterns. It shows up in the various stages in a lifetime of practice.

8) Pain is a powerful guru from within,  if we are willing to learn.

9) Practice IS a lifetime…we have to learn how to ride the waves.

If you are working with a chronic injury, inflammation, and discomfort over a  period of time and it doesn’t shift – GO SEE A SPECIALIST (recommended by someone you trust)! Take rest if you need – but as some wise person said – “avoidance is not the answer”.


New Moon Friday – YOU GO BACK!

I got up excited this morning and went to practice.  Drove into the South End of Boston and scrounged up parking – feeling confident in the ease of being able to find a spot. Then it dawned on me…today is a new moon.  (HAND SLAP TO FOREHEAD and FILTHY FOOLERY FLYING OUT OF MY MOUTH).

Once I came to terms with it, I let it go and drove home casually. I had already had my morning coffee so there was no chance in me climbing back into my bed,  my daughter would be up in an hour.

I took practice.  I brought the space heater into the living room and took it.

My practice has regressed – I’ve gone back to basics and refining.  Not concerning myself with second series at all. Focusing attention on my core and upper psoas.  Finding my back legs in Warrior and grounding through my legs and integrating core into my drop backs – learning how to dangle and softly come down to my finger tips. Working on my breath.

Interestingly enough the below was just posted  from Scott, who is heading up our Mysore program while Kate is in India. His presence creates a sense of awareness for me – that helps me remove obstacles – so his writing is timely.

“The Moon is in Capricorn, which is an earth sign, the element of the first chakra, Muladhara, the root chakra deals with our basic need for stability, or a sense of security.the deity associated with the 1st chakra is Ganesha, who embodies stability.

Ganesh is called the remover of obstacles, delivering us to a place of samatvam, evenness.

 Just as the trees have collected their vital energies back into the ground, we can all take this time to dig back into the roots of our practice.

Breath, energy, focused attention.

From the very beginning, samasthiti, to stand evenly. Fully balanced, mind steady with present moment awareness.

We train to watch the quality of the effort, listen to the breath, learn to see what is at risk, what is getting compromised, as we struggle with the practice,and learn to keep coming back to “samatvam” evenness of breath and of mind.

The yoga sutras says, “that after a long time, of uninterrupted practice ,with a true heart of devotion, we shall find ourselves on firm ground.” Somewhere along the way, we tend to find ourselves striving forward towards an envisioned goal, perhaps a challenging asana we aim to achieve , or the completion of a series of poses.

A “finished practice.”

I find it often takes being stuck in a pose, we may not be fully prepared for, to understand the need to go back and seek more stability and ease in the previous postures. Again and again in my own practice, I go back to rediscover things which I have misinterpreted or misunderstood along the way.

Attempting to explain the basic principles of the practice, as simply as I can, so as to provide assistance to others in their practice, at the same time helps me in my own practice.

It helps to remember we’re all going through this together.

Several years ago when I first came to teach in Boston,  I had an email exchange with my first ashtanga teacher Chuck Miller, asking his perspective on helping students work through difficult postures. I shared an excerpt from his reply on our old blog.

“You go back!” Pattabhi used to say that.

Go back to the beginning. See the pose you are challenged by all the way

Back at the beginning of the sequence.

That was not possible before (to see the relationship) but now that the struggle has ‘lit up the field’ . You can see stuff that was not visible before.

Work harder on it in the basics and then allow it ripen in the ‘advanced.’

It works better that way. It is difficult to control the restlessness in ourselves to do this and it is often not the most popular thing to present…but if you want to teach the real deal it works really well!

I can still hear him grunting “Why you rush ahead, you go back!” I heard that very differently over the years but it is now saying to me go back to being present, go back to the beginning, forget about getting to the end…

“You Go Back!” A good one, but seriously misunderstood!”

And this is exactly where I am.  Recovering from injury – back in Primary – finding new ground, in a different body, with a different mindset.

  “You take practice whole life.” is beginning to make more sense to me – because throughout your life your practice will change.

It was my first home practice of 2013 and it was on the New Moon.  I know that I am not the only Ashtangi who has done this. To the Ashtangi police – it’s not going to become a habit, today was an exception.

=I am entering this new year with new-found strength and ease. Allowing things to come and go as they need.  It feels good…like the exhilaration that comes with catching a wave and riding it.

Go me.

Go you.

Asana Focus Of The Month: Parsvottonasana

I found this old picture - notice the wider stance and the back foot - this is exactly where I was corrected today. Thanks Monica!!!

This week in my own practice with Monica Marinoni, I was enlightened into the full expression of Parsvottonasana.   My stance was widened and my back foot was opened to an 85 degree angle, a completely new experience for me.


– Eliminates bad fat at the waist.

– Stretches spine, legs, and waist.

– Calming to the mind.

– Prepares for seated poses

– Excellent preliminary pose to various other poses in an asana practice.

To Begin:

– Start at standing/tadasana/samasthiti take a wide step to the right – 3 feet (many times you see this pose and the stance is too narrow).  3 FEET gives you the benefit of stretching both legs proportionately.

– Pivot the right foot so that the toes are pointing to the right and ball and the heel of the front foot is firmly planted.  Your backfoot will be 85 degrees to the front foot and the alignment will be – heel of the front foot to the arch of the back foot. Turn your torso to square your hips and shoulders to the right so that you are  in line with right knee and toes.

-Arms will reach behind to go into reverse prayer – if this is NOT a possibility (TODAY) – I like to recommend going fist to fist to help draw open the shoulders, or you can grab opposite elbows, or even grab opposite wrist as is shown in above image.  (You can also bring arms/hands to either side of the front foot, perhaps slightly behind, after you fold down – however, if you want more of a shoulder stretch bring arms behind you in mentioned options).

– As you inhale draw the tail bone down, lift and open the chest creating length in the spine, exhale the breath as you bend forward, extending the spine, drawing your chest toward your front thigh, and the forehead to the knee (or to your intelligent edge).  Press into the ball of the front foot (particularly below the base of the big toe) and the heel of the front foot.  Protect your knee joint by engaging the quadriceps of both legs and and lifting the kneecaps – keeping the knees slightly soft, and lifting the arches of both feet.

– Tip:  As you exhale down notice how the weight may distribute to the front leg, see if you can evenly distribute weight to both front/foot and back leg/foot – this may mean you don’t come down into full forward fold as your back hamstring may prevent this.  You will benefit from observing this and coming to your intelligent edge and breathing at that point – versus trying to just come into the full fold with all the weight on the front leg.  You can also position yourself so your hands reach a wall and you can support yourself at a halfway point (or even use a chair to put your hands on).

– Notice the back leg and continue to press into the ball and heel of the back foot.

– If your forehead is comfortably drawn to the knee or shin – go ahead and draw the chin to the shin or knee to extend the cervical spine.

– Keep leading with the sternum.  “If you had a flashlight in the middle of the chest it should be shining to the toes of the right foot”, as per David Swenson’s practice manual.  Let each inhale be an opportunity to lengthen and each exhale an opportunity to find space in the pose.

– Breath steadily and deeply here for 5 -10 breaths.

– To exit the pose – Exhale your breath completely and use the inhale and strength in the waist to rise to standing.

-Pivot the feet and repeat on the other side.