Stupid Ashtanga Injuries

Yesterday I was going about my usual afternoon business when I reached up to scratch behind my right ear, and I discovered a sore spot. “Ow!” I said out loud, to nobody. I poked around, investigated, and found a quarter-sized bruise behind my ear. “What the….?” I wondered. Then I started to think about it. “Ah!” I thought, “That’s from my left ankle bone.” Dwi pada sirshasana.

It made me start to think about the variety of goofy mystery bumps and silly boo boos we get in Ashtanga. My favorite of all time is when I kept splitting the pinkie toenail on my right foot as I jumped through. When I complained to my teacher about it, she said, with a bemused look on her face, “Lift your foot up higher.” Genius! It worked. And I felt like a dope.

"D'oh!" I often say.
“D’oh…mmm!” I often say.

I’m sure you have a list of these little mysteries yourself. Sometimes the mystery gets solved by your fellow yogis. On my first Mt. Shasta retreat with Tim Miller, it took a veritable committee meeting of Ashtangis at the evening dinner table to figure out that the bruise I kept getting on my forearm was from the bind in garbha pindasana—from my shin bone. “Ohhhhh! That makes sense,” I said. But I felt like a dope.

During the Second Series teacher training with Tim, I had a gnarly bruise on the inside of my left knee that Tim’s assistant Holly Gastil figured out was from an overly exuberant fold in parighasana. Stupid bony shoulder. “Don’t fold so much. Twist more.” Oh. That’s better. Thanks, Holly. Bet you know what I felt like.

The sheer idiosyncracy of these small annoyances can be frustrating. Am I the only one who gets rug burn from pincha mayurasana? And please don’t tell me to fold back the rug. I’m a sweaty girl. Skinned elbows are better than face plants.

Sometimes these silly owies are a source of commiseration. At Tim’s training, I noticed a fellow student had both big toes taped. I asked him about it, and he told me the skin on the bottom of his big toes splits in the same place all the time. “Mine, too!” I said, in the exact same tone you’d say, “Hey, I’m also from that small town in Texas nobody’s heard of!” I asked if he knew the cause. He told me he doesn’t know why they split, but someone told him it was from “vata derangement.” Knowing what I know about how lame the causes turn out to be in the end, some sort of derangement makes perfect sense.

The most common thing I see in my fellow practitioners of Second is an array of bruises on the triceps, arranged in varying degrees of delightful bruise colors: yellow, purple, greenish—a veritable sunset on the backs of the arms. This, of course, is from letting gravity do a little too much of the work for you in karandavasana. “Ooof!” you’ll sometimes hear in the Mysore room.

There’s also the bruise at the top of the thigh from the heel in ardha baddha padmottonasana. Now that I can get my heel into the hip crease, I don’t miss that one.

Because I live in Southern California, I’m tempted to count sunburn among the less intelligent problems in the practice. Nothing makes you feel more like an idiot than a burning sensation that didn’t need to happen in marichyasana D—like that pose isn’t hard enough, you couldn’t be bothered to reapply your sunblock yesterday.

What can we learn from all this? I think that Patanjali is correct: “Future suffering can and should be avoided” (2.16).  Also, there’s my own motto: There’s nothing that yoga breaks that yoga can’t fix. Except maybe sunburn.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

6 thoughts on “Stupid Ashtanga Injuries”

  1. Great article! I try to avoid repetitive injuries, but have had my share of the ones you mentioned. Since i love doing Yoga outdoors, the sunburn is the one i have the most problems with. D’oh!

  2. So try these two suggestions – re: toes in your vinyasanas from updog to down dog try initiating the movement from the navel region and without any lateral movement in the ankle. For pincha try pressing the thumb isometricly towards the index finger while anchoring at the base of the index finger. I like to pretend there are nails keeping my forearms grounded – also try a little more engagement in the shoulder girdle. Hope that helps.

  3. Seconding Nick’s advice on anchoring your thumbs & fingertips in pincha. Also – I am pretty attached to putting a little scrap of a travel mat onto my rug under my forearms in pincha. Yes, I am slippery with sweat at that point too, but if the process drags on long enough, I flip it over for the last couple of tries. (Yes, this is a considerable amount of dinking.)

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