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Unimposing Yoga

in In Class, YogOpinions

by J. Brown

In the pursuit of health through yoga, the challenge is often more about shifting ingrained sensibilities than addressing physical limitations.  Attempting to tune, fix, quantify, purify or explain a human body, as though it were more a piece of equipment in need of optimization or repairs than a highly temperamental organism, is not likely to heal the wounds or set a necessary course for well being.

Most of us don’t have much faith in our own body. Why would we?  Despite our best efforts, it never looks as good as we want. It starts breaking down over time.  After all, it is the apparatus by which we experience pain.  And nothing is going to change that.  Even after years and years of diligent yoga practice, we are never immune from feeling the pangs of life and the expression of that in our flesh.

Recently, I had a random injury occur during practice.  I was maybe a bit tired and overworked but not doing anything unusual when, all of sudden, I felt a distinct burning sensation like a thread from my right elbow up along my inner forearm all the way to my wrist.  It didn’t hurt that bad and subsided immediately.  But it was an intense feeling that I had never felt before.  The next day my forearm felt sore as if I had strained something but I didn’t pay it much mind.  I never felt that burning again.

Another day later, I had some traveling to do and was carrying bags and it aggravated this thing in my forearm.  Upon examination, I could feel just under the surface of the skin that there was a cord of what I assume to be connective tissue.  I could trace it with my finger and feel that it had all sorts of knobs and bumps.  I definitely got worried.  As if I had broken something.  Because, to some degree, my livelihood is affected by whether or not I have a reasonably functional right forearm.

With no time or inclination for doctors, I decided to just nurse it and monitor.  I was not experiencing the kind of pain that constitutes an emergency.  But my forearm was not usually like this.  I had looked at and touched my forearm many times before and that knobby cord was not there.  It seemed like this cord of tissue had some how come through to the surface, whereas normally it was underneath some stuff.

I am sure there are anatomists out there who are rolling their eyes in disgust at my lack of technical specificity.  Ironically, I just finished taking a Yoga Anatomy Course with Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews.  You’d think that after a year of studying anatomy I would know what this cord was and what corrective thing is needed.  But if there is one thing I have learned from studying human anatomy it is that biomechanics and physiology alone do not necessarily explain all the phenomena we experience or provide effective interventions.  Depending on whose body you choose and how you choose to cut into it, you get a different story (see Yoga and the Placebo Effect.)

Fortunately, my nurse and monitor plan seems to be doing the trick.  I can still feel remnants of the cord but it’s certainly not as pronounced as before and the soreness is almost entirely gone.  It’s as though the cord is receding back from whence it came.  If the pain had continued then I might be singing a different song but, in many instances, my body knows full well how to take care of itself.  Just so long as I am not getting in the way.  Pain in my body is often the result of overtaxing or imposing too greatly upon my system.  Imposing further to try and correct it only makes it worse (see Mind Body Connection Optional?).

I bring all this up because there has recently been some renewed debate on “yoga-related” injuries.  As always, I support anything that will encourage smarter and safer yoga practice.  And I welcome the movement to create “evidence-based” research.  However, I get uncomfortable when it starts to feel as if the research is going to become a standardized model for regulating yoga teachers.  I just don’t think reducing safety in yoga practice to a set of academic hoops to jump through is going to address the real underlying issues.  The number of hours a yoga teacher spends studying physiology and psychology is almost irrelevant.

If we want to see fewer injuries in yoga then we will need to abandon the dualism that pervades the classical traditions and modern allopathy, so we can establish more holistic ways of thinking about our bodies and less imposing ways of utilizing asana practice.  I proffer that when our efforts to be well are based in spiritual ideals or bio-mechanical statistics instead of the actual and immediate experience of our body’s inherent function, they are likely to fail.  Yoga practice does not require strength beyond what we already have; nor does it require a tortured effort.  In fact, only through nurturing participation with what is inherently given can true strength be derived and ease in life be had.


J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY.  His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere.  Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com



4 comments… add one
  • Thank you for this article. As someone recovering from pulled hamstrings due to chronic stretching, I sympathize with the effort that goes into healing an injury. I found that a forced slow-down can be good for the body and the mind. Limitations often inspire creativity. They can also make you stop and listen, which is what happened to me. Now, in my practice, I continue to work at listening – to my body, my mind, my emotions. It’s all there if I’m willing to hear it, whether I’m in a complicated pose or savasana. Your conclusion on changing how we use asanas and acknowledging our strength and needs within our practice is beautiful.

  • Kate Somerville

    “In fact, only through nurturing participation with what is inherently given can true strength be derived and ease in life be had.” LIKE

  • Audrey Conner

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