Beerasana’s good friend, badass teacher and Ashtangi Jade Skinner, writes about overcoming fear and injury in your practice.
Insights into Ashtanga: Working Through Pain and Fear in Your Practice
Ashtanga yoga is such a beautiful yet powerful practice. It’s physically, mentally and emotionally challenging to our bodies and our spirit. Many things come up when we are on and off the mat. We don’t always know how to deal with it, especially during yoga practice. When we step on to our mats with discomfort in our bodies it creates a mental block that prevents us from exploring deeper. There’s an alarm that goes off, panic starts, and the brain tells the body not to move a certain way or pain will come. Frustration and impatience can set in when we start to experience panic, emotions, negative thoughts, or feelings of fear. In these moments it is only ourselves that we have to turn to. We are given the opportunity to be an observer of ourselves, to come to the present and reflect on how we deal with just being in the moment on the mat and in life.
Last year about 2 days before Christmas I injured my back by doing a simple turn to set a pot down in my kitchen. I heard a loud click in my low back and said to myself “hmmm, I’m not sure if that is a good click or a bad click.” Come to find out quickly, it was bad. The pain was debilitating to the point where I was uncomfortable in every position (sitting, standing, laying down, and twisting was excruciating). The pain went from my low back to my right hip and wrapped around the leg traveling all the way down the inner thigh to my knee. The last time I experienced something like this was 20 years ago. My practice seized for about 2 months, fear arose and mild depression set in. All I kept asking myself was “Why is this happening to me? What’s the lesson that I’m supposed to be learning here? Am I ever going to be able to practice ashtanga again“? All of these questions are normal and can make us feel a bit lost in our practice which can also, be challenging off of the mat.
Two months later I returned to my soul mat and started my practice again. It was challenging, and the process of going through it has given me greater insight on the healing benefits of Ashtanga yoga. Here are some tips that helped me while I was working through pain and fear during some of the more challenging asanas.
We think that pain is our enemy, but in all actuality it is our friend. Pain teaches us to be fully present in our bodies and our mind. Practicing the most basic of yoga poses take the time to feel your way through it. Many times we just want to get there. The transition in and out of asanas is more important that just getting there. We want to connect with our bodies on a deeper level using all the muscle groups needed to really experience the true benefit of the asana. When we are faced with some of the more challenging poses sometimes we want to bail and say to ourselves “peace out…I’m not doing this” and move on, but having that attitude gets us nowhere. When you feel fear arise as the twist in Marchiasana C & D get deeper, take a moment to sit in your body with the breath and coach yourself through the sensations of discomfort. Ground through your pelvis, begin to lengthen the spine on the inhalation by drawing in mula bandha and pace yourself as you enter the twist on the exhalation. Maintain positive thoughts and do not let fear take over. It’s not about how you look in the pose, but what is more important transitioning safely into and out of the asana.
Breathe calmly and sit with yourself for the moment. Relax the mind and you will relax the body allowing yourself to explore the deeper realms of space. As backbending approaches emotions of panic may set in. You might think as though you will never be where you were in your practice before the pain was there.Let go of the negative emotions and come back to the breath, return to the goal of your practice. Work slowly as you set yourself up for the asana. Connect with your feet and hands to make sure they are in the correct place, so you are fully grounded. Breath your way through the legs and arms as you start to lift away from the floor. Relax the glutes and allow the spine to lengthen as your chest opens. Let yourself feel all the sensations of comfort and discomfort arise. Sometimes we feel lost in our own bodies or we are on the verge of panic. Be humble, don’t give in, instead maintain your focus on the goal of letting go. Holding on to pain and fear will only keep you stuck in the past. This is your opportunity to be the observer and learn something about yourself. The feeling of regression subsides. Emotionally and mentally the sense of progression sets back in and the physical aspect is soon to be on its way. Having a more positive mindset will change your practice on and off the mat.