Pain and injury are reoccurring themes here.
I’ll let you guess why.
We’ve found both to be simply part of the path of the Ashtanga practice. As with nearly any activity one undertakes, good comes and bad comes, too.
We continue to take the bad with the good.
As the countdown to the Confluence kicks into high gear, I’ve been thinking about last year’s gathering and guessing how this year’s may go. One of my many lasting impressions from 2012 was the focus on Ashtanga as one ages. This time, the discussion sounds like it will be a bit broader during a session titled, “The Jungle Physicians.” It promises the “opportunity for students to ask questions of the teachers regarding the application of asana as a healing modality.”
That’s the same asana that keeps hurting us — and, I bet, you.
So what gives?
In my experience now with quite a few Ashtanga teachers, there seems to be two pretty distinct camps. On one side are those who shun pain and hurt. David Williams might be the most vocal proponent of this, in my experience. Pretty much nothing should hurt was the message I took from him.
On the other are those who suggest that injury is inevitable. We wrote about this topic most recently after David Garrigues talked about Guruji’s relationship to injury. Those posts are here and here. David quotes Guruji in response to injuries: “New body is making.” He quotes him as being enthusiastic about it.
We’ve all heard or read stories about Guruji’s strong adjustments, as well as the ones he received from his own teacher. (Remember, a documentary is coming!) “Sometimes walk funny six months,” I’ve heard people say, imitating Guruji. That doesn’t happen without some pain.
But does that mean we have to put Guruji in the camp that assumes pain and injury to be inevitable? If we do, does that mean there’s some inherent value to pain and injury? (At the least, that there’s some lesson to be learned from it?)
This then brings us to the first of the yamas: ahimsa. Take your pick on a best translation: nonviolence, non-harming, peacefulness. Both to others and — here’s the key — to yourself. The rest of the yamas grow from this seed.
And here’s where I’m stumbling. Is this a contradiction? Is there something fundamentally at odds between Ashtanga and ahimsa? (Keep in mind, I’m talking about Ashtanga as the yoga Guruji taught, not the broader Patanjali yoga. You know the old confusion.)
One answer, perhaps the easiest, is: Ashtanga continues to be refined. I’m OK with this. I want my “healing modalities” to continue to advance — yes, through “research.” Perhaps students of Guruji’s have learned new lessons — lessons perhaps especially relevant to Westerners — that suggest there’s a path without injury, or with the least injury possible. (More practically, there are also all those lawyers to worry about.)
Another, perhaps related, is that Westerners just aren’t ready, in this life, for the full monty Ashtanga. We’ve got to take Ashtanga-lite, for the most part. And that’s good enough.
There’s also a matter of perspective. What’s injury? Is it inherently a bad thing? It would seem like it, but what if Bobbie’s back had never caused her pain and thus she’d had no reason to come to Ashtanga? Which way would have been the path of ahimsa? (Well, she would have done less harm to me by not pulling me in, too!)
Or: What’s being injured? Our bodies, right? But are our bodies what we are working on through yoga? If they aren’t, then are we really being injured or hurt?
And we could continue down the rabbit hole, I suppose. Instead, I want to try to draw this back to the grosser levels.
Can we practice Ashtanga without experiencing what we generally call pain and injury? Is that a realistic goal? What might we miss if we hold back, just enough, to avoid that hamstring pull, that ACL snap, that fall out of Pincha Mayurasana?
Are Ashtanga and ahimsa incompatible? Can we hope to heal ourselves without first hurting?
Posted by Steve