Primary Friday: Ashtanga as Therapy and Injury in Practice

It's been a big week for me.  I had forgotten how energy intensive yoga instruction can be.  After teaching my last class of the week this afternoon, I drove straight home, stripped down, and curled up in bed.  What was intended to be a brief pre-practice nap became a deep 3-hour hibernation.  So my Friday Primary was hijacked by the inescapably perfect napping conditions of a soft, comfy bed and the warm afternoon sun.  By the time I awoke, it was too late for a proper practice and what with the buggered knee, I figured the extra day of rest might serve me better in the end.

In spite of the exhaustion side-effect, it feels so great to be teaching again.  That 3-month hiatus seemed like an eternity.  It's been especially great meeting and connecting with other Ashtangis, many of whom I have practiced with before, some of whom I have not.

Teaching Ashtanga has generated enormous opportunity for deepening my own studies.  I am finding that even the students in my non-Ashtanga classes are very curious about this practice, and in searching the relatively shallow depths of my own knowledge to give them answer, I am forced to examine and reorganize my thoughts.  In doing so, my own understanding is elevated.  It is a beautiful process and I am excited for the growth to come.

One such exchange with a student got me thinking about Ashtanga as therapy, particularly in contradiction to its reputation as an injurious method.  While it is true (and I really hate to admit this) that I have and do suffer from the signature knee issues, this practice has been so healing.  The first series is yoga chikitsa, after all, and its daily practice has been nothing short of transformational.

Beyond this, each and every time that I have experienced a "set-back," or an "injury," or an "opening" or whatever you want to call it, the healing process has endowed me with invaluable insight as to the ways in which I care for and carry my own body.  My practice has been refined and filled with meaning in no small part through injury.


I practice carefully.  I practice mindfully.  I do not push into pain and do not accept adjustments from teachers I don't trust.  Still, my body gets injured.  Things get rearranged.  I persist in practice because, though it might seem paradoxical, the very thing that hurts me is the only thing that heals.  And more often than not, set-backs in my practice run parallel to -- or, at the very least, illuminate -- potentially destructive patterns in my life.  That is the beauty of this practice, the mirror of yoga.

While I suspect this isn't going to save me from a chorus of either "You're doing it wrong!"  or "How dare you validate injury in yoga!"  I'd like to make something clear:  I am talking about minor injuries.  Muscle pulls, creaky knees, persistent aches and pains, those little things that slow you down and make you change your ways.

If lasting damage is being done, there is a disconnect that needs to be addressed.

That being stated, it's like I said to a student this week:  the path is not straight.  Sometimes there arise obstructions we must scale or divides that we must cross to get back on the trail.  These are the richest, most interesting stretches of the journey.