The experts on Ashtanga, injuries and pain

Our post on Tuesday about Ashtanga and injury, featuring a great video by David Garrigues, did not surprise me in being popular.

We all wonder and worry about our injuries, after all. And Ashtanga, as I noted in that post, seems to be unusually tied into pain and injury.

As I thought more about it, I realized that many of our best Ashtanga teachers have touched on this topic on their websites or in other media. Here’s a sampling:

David Swenson:

When we are confronted with bodily pain it is not only that we feel the sensation and discomfort in our body but it is the resultant inability to do what we once could where the deeper pain and frustration resides. Ashtanga Yoga wielded in the hands of an adept teacher should be accessible to anyone. Ultimately the yoga has not changed since I first came in contact with it but maybe I have changed. I find the same to be true for most practitioners that are still involved with the practice after many, many years. There is a point where we must each look within and find what this practice means to us and how we can best utilize it as a tool in our life.

(More Swenson here, too.)

Richard Freeman:

If this doesn’t feel good, or doesn’t help, there is no virtue in pushing through the pain and further irritating or tearing the cartilage of the inner edge of the meniscus. Work carefully and slowly and find someone who knows the mechanics of the knee joint—who also understands the benefits of yoga—to consult with for this situation. Pushing through joint pain can further damage a joint and upset the pranas of the body.

And again:

Working carefully and intelligently with injury is an important part of any yoga practice. Yoga should make the body healthier rather than harming it. Though one has to be intelligent rather than fanatical and mechanical. Having a good teacher to give guidance and feedback, and listening carefully to the internal cues that your body is giving you is very important.

Eddie Stern:

One reason that injury can occur in yoga is due to overzealousness, or even just plain enthusiasm, on the part of the student – I have of course experienced this myself – it is a natural response for a particular type of person when it comes to any activity that has physicality associated with it – no matter what a teacher may caution. Of course, injuries can happen anytime we do physical activity, whether or not we are taking risks.

Tim Miller:

Eventually it became obvious that I would need the root canal. Last Friday night, the night of the lunar eclipse, the pain was so intense that I barely slept all night. I went outside at 4am to check on the moon. At about 4:45am a shadow began to creep across the moon. For the next hour and a half I watched the moon slowly being eclipsed by the shadow of the earth while meditating on the nature of pain. As the sky began to brighten with the rising sun the effect was much less dramatic so I went inside. My wife, Carol, freshly awake, asked me what time I had gotten up. When I told her 4am she looked at me as if I was crazy, “4am on your day off—why?” I told her about my tooth and she said, “Honey, I’d really like to be sympathetic, but if you took Lena’s advice you wouldn’t have to go through this.” What I wanted was sympathy, of course, not a lecture on the Law of Karma.

Guy Donahaye:

The purpose of yoga is to overcome unnecessary pain – physical and psychological pain – and to become indifferent to it as it arises. Yoga is a means by which we learn to navigate our life and our bodies differently – so that we stop doing that which causes us to suffer. Whether these are mental patterns or physical symptoms – only we have the power to change them. Thankfully yoga provides us with many tools to achieve this.

Kate O’Donnell:

Sweating it out in a full conference at the shala yesterday.  300 people heat it up pretty quick.  But it worth it to hear Sharath say: If there is no fear, there is no fun.  Of course, that’s why those of us who are drawn to this practice go through all the craziness of waking up at odd hours and doing physical work that pushes us to the brink.  Its fun!  It’s a rush! It builds Prana!

And finally, David Garrigues, to bring these back around:

The essential ingredient is a love of ashtanga and in maintaining a steady devotion and trying to do the practice as accurately as your given circumstances allow. Inversions don’t necessarily have to contribute to your scoliosis, but I would advise you to eliminate them until you are able to receive instruction from a highly qualified teacher. There are many aspects of the practice besides inversions to develop and enjoy at this time. Hopefully sometime sooner than later you’ll be in position to get some hands on help with the challenges you are facing. But in the meantime you can try experimenting with the suggestions I’ve made and let me know how it’s going.

One last small note is that there will always be someone to tell you that you can’t do ……….. the list of possible things or activities or dreams is endless and so is the list of people who will tell you can’t do that something.

If there are others, feel free to add them. Given this topic, I’m sure there are.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

7 thoughts on “The experts on Ashtanga, injuries and pain”

  1. Thank you so much for these posts! David G wrote a post, at some point in the past year, about ways to mentally cope with a long pose tally. I used to struggle with this. At a certain point, when I’d lost my most important, local teacher and was earning back my practice again, my new teacher wouldn’t let me split 2nd until Ganda Bherundasana. That’s one thing to do if you’re in your 20s or 30s and in India. That’s another to do if you’re over 40, in New York and working nearly full-time.

    My comment to DG’s post was something along the lines of, “OR you can just do something easier, like spin class.” In this case, no mental gymnastics are necessary!

    One thing I wonder a lot about these days is the myth that the asana is mainly a tool for meditation, because if that were really true, there are a lot of other ways to skin the cat. Sure the ever increasing difficulty and sometimes plain ridiculousness of the asana CAN be useful in forcing someone to pay attention, but if the mental discipline were developed on the meditation cushion at the same time as it was on the mat, perhaps some of the knee-breaking poses are not even necessary! Unless the ego wants them, that is.

  2. I totally agree with Boodiba. Over and over again you hear Guruji mention the “whole” Ashtanga practice not just Asana. All one has to do is just sit on the floor and meditate for 10 minutes. The next time do your Asana practice first then sit for 10 minutes it’s a totally different meditation and my stiff body tells me it helps. I think the goal is to be good to yourself, be good to others, and learn about and get closer to G-d! My practice gives me Agni/fire, prana/life force so that I can pursue my Karma yoga practice. “If this doesn’t feel good, or doesn’t help, there is no virtue in pushing through the pain.” ~ Richard Freeman

  3. I’m glad you began with Swenson, for his practice manuals came immediately to mind when I read the first blog. Those words “I don’t care about your pain” well, painfully leapt off the page and I thought no where in Swenson’s teachings did he maintain a tone of “walk this bed of nails-or else”. Recovering from serious injuries, the ability to raise one arm and simply sit Padmasana was my practice for some time. The quality or depth of one’s practice is not proportional to how often they apply ice to parts of their anatomy afterwards then crawl to a physical therapist! Excellent follow-up piece. Thank you.

  4. Honestly…it doesn’t address why we get hurt…and seemingly few to no yoga teachers ant to spend the time working with someone with injury when there are 25 others in the room needing some sort of assist or another.

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