A couple of weeks ago, I attended a weekend of yoga workshops. Of course, as is the case over the past few months of SIP, my attendance was virtual via ZOOM. The teacher of this workshop series was more of a traditionalist, following the “rules” of advancement in the practice with much more rigor than my teacher (or any of the teachers I have practiced with). To be frank, I don’t know if I would still be practicing ashtanga yoga if he were my teacher. That said, I did take his “encouragement” to heart where my lack of persistence in mastering (in the truer sense) all of the poses that I have been given has resulted in a longer list of IOUs than I would care to admit. In fact, the process of recording my practice for my YouTube channel has highlighted these less-than-perfect transitions (namely the jump-backs and jump-throughs).
When I asked him about the specific muscle engagement/firing required to lift my leg to my outstretched hand in poses such as utthita hasta padangusthasana and vishyamitrasana, I didn’t hear the answer I was looking for. Earlier in the week, my chiropractor and I had discussed the differences in muscle activation required to access movement in the various zones of a particular movement such as this. In my case, I can lift from the floor to level with my pelvis. I lack the necessary muscle activation to create movement from pelvis to face. Yet, I have some activation from the face upward. Then boundaries in my range of motion, within this region, being the limiting factor in this zone.
While the yoga teacher’s reminder to try harder and with more consistently was taken to heart, I know that this doesn’t work for every situation or person. This was also discussed at length with my chiropractor with whom I have conversations such as this with because, as a trained nurse, we can speak the same language more or less. In my case, my struggle with balancing on one leg limits my ability to work on this as much as I would have liked over the years. My teachers always focused on the fact that utthita hasta padangusthasana is meant to be a balance pose. Therefore, I never worried so much about my inability to lift my leg higher. Although, I’d be lying if I said that it never bothered me.
Nevertheless, I stepped up my efforts in my practice and also added some additional exercises on leg lifting that I found on a few YouTube sites on dance and on mobility. The resulting proximal hamstring tendinopathy (read: pain in the butt) was not the outcome I was pursuing. And now my practice mandates that I take care not to make bad things worse. This means bending my knees in forward folds, using a block in the many of the standing poses so that I can still activate my quadriceps muscles without having to fold deeper into the pose. Fortunately, my experience with practicing with injuries has taught me to listen when the body talks: feel, move, assess, modify, feel, [repeat]…BREATHING throughout of course. As for learning to lift my leg higher than my pelvis, it will come…in time.
In the meantime, I can work on paying back another one of my other IOUs. This weekend, I am signed up for a workshop on jump backs and jump throughs. I am excited to revive my efforts in this endevour. I sort of gave up trying when a different teacher, after seeing my attempt, shook his head and muttered, “I don’t know what to do with that. Good luck.” This was during a time when I was full on working on the cultivating the strength and effort for this transition but in need of some mechanical understanding. Sadly, even he couldn’t advise me. Today, I am hopeful that things will be different this time around. Even if I don’t magically get it, I want to have tools to rework it and find a new enthusiasm for doing the work.
Here is a little something for YOU
I recorded this video prior to my hamstring flaring up. It is a video of me practicing the full primary series with the teacher mentioned above. I find it is a lot easier to keep a steady flow when I am not trying to talk at the same time as I have found that teaching while practicing at the same time requires a lot of stamina. I took the recording, stripped away the sound, and added my own voice over to provide the traditional sanskrit count. I hope you will find it useful for your own practice.
Hopefully, I can heal up and record another video for you soon. If not, maybe I will record one on modifying for injury – although I reluctant to do so as I really feel like that is an individualized thing that would be more useful as a zoom session than a pre-recorded video. If you practice with me in my regular mysore zoom, we can delve deeper into your practice needs in a breakout room. I am also available for private zoom sessions.