More on why all yoga should hurt you

The ramp-up of attention on my hamstrings — most notable today in the post-backbend forward fold adjustment that had me wondering if I would hear a snap come from the back of my leg — is forcing me to mull over one topic repeatedly: injuries in yoga.

Does it look like the Ashtanga I just did was easy? No. And it shouldn't have been.

Bobbie has decreed no more talk of “that book,” so I won’t mention it. But I think my central question gets to its heart: If I’m the cause of the injury, is it really “yoga’s fault?” Or the teacher’s?

The answer, of course, is “no.” If Jörgen Christiansson pushes so hard that something snaps, it’s on me. I’ve told him I need some movement, and it isn’t as though I can’t tell when I’m at the edge and resist in order to stop any injury from happening.

Now, in as much as people have the mistaken notion that they can’t get hurt doing yoga, that’s a separate and more complicated issue. It’s one that returns to the difference between yoga and “just” asana.

More or less.

I seems people — yogis and yoga teachers included — don’t believe “yoga” can hurt you. It is, after all, union with everything, identification with everything. Asana, as a physical exercise, can. (Still, there’s a lot of “gentle stretching yoga” out there that probably never includes the idea of injury, even though it is a possibility.)

Earlier, I suggested that a way to think of yoga, Ashtanga in particular, is as a modern Tapasya. It’s meant to burn away the “bad fat,” both literally and figuratively. And that’s going to hurt.

When I wrote that, I was focusing narrowly on the third limb. But I want to refine my thinking a bit and say that all yoga is Tapasya. By which I mean all eight limbs. Each one.

I’ll grant that the end game — Samadhi — might be blissful and bliss-filled. But as I think about the steps to get there — checking our actions, checking our egos, asana, breath control, sense control, eventually doing away with ourselves — they sound painful. It may be emotional pain at times, or fear, or psychological pain, but it all sounds like it is going to hurt.

I’m not saying that’s bad. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t. I’m just saying it hurts. As Tim Miller would say, “Avoidance is not the answer.” But we don’t avoid things that are pleasurable (unless it is on purpose, and the lack as a result is painful). We avoid things that hurt and cause us pain.

In other words: Yoga is a hard road. And should be.

And that’s my thinking after a few days of walking a little funny. Imagine how bad I’ll get if I keep up the pressure on my hamstrings. (Happy Valentine’s Day.)

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “More on why all yoga should hurt you”

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