I guess maybe it’s about time that I start writing about yoga again. but then again, maybe not, as I’m beginning to think that my yoga thoughts are too radical to be accepted calmly by some people. I told my students this morning that I’ve always felt like an outsider and now, returning a third time from my yoga life in India, I feel even more radical.
Every time I go to KYM to study, it always brings home to me how much I dislike about the state of yoga in the west. Maybe “dislike” is too strong a word — I will rephrase: how certain things about the state of yoga in the west bug me. Now before anyone jumps down my throat, I am not saying that one is better than the other, i.e., east v. west. I’m saying that to me there are marked differences between the two and I know which one resonates with me in a much more profound way.
KYM is known for yoga therapy or what was formerly called viniyoga. Desikachar no longer refers to his father’s style as viniyoga. We each met with a yoga therapist and received a consultation for whatever ailed us, physically, mentally, or emotionally, then an appropriate yoga therapy practice was prescribed for us. That practice became our private asana class with a therapist, and we took the daily classes in pranayama, meditation, and the Yoga Sutra-s together.
I came to India with a painful back problem that I’ve had for about three months. My ego was telling me I’m a loser because of course as a teacher I’m not supposed to have any physical problems because I do so much yoga…right? One day in October I woke with severe muscular pain on the right side of my lower spine and I had done nothing to my back like pick something up the wrong way or get up from a chair the wrong way, and it certainly did not happen doing yoga. I just woke up one day in severe pain. The pain would go away during the day as I moved around and I was still able to teach, but it served as a reminder of one of Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of the Body, and that no one escapes sickness, old age, and death.
My consultant at KYM was Dr. NC (we call him Dr. NC because he has a last name with about 26 letters) who taught the yoga therapy classes in the intensives I took in 2005 and 2006. I explained my problem and my pain and he had me do some asanas and examined my spine. He asked me to squat and asked if I noticed anything. At first I said no, then he told me to repeat the squats and to pay attention. I noticed that my left side felt like it weighed a ton and my right side was very light. I told him this and he said yes, that I favor my left side to the detriment of my right. He said my spine had curved to the right and that the right side of my pelvis is higher than my left.
I was horrified. How could this happen, I asked, I’M A YOGA TEACHER! (as if we are supposed to be invincible.) Dr. NC said that walking a certain way, sitting a certain way, standing a certain way with a hip hiked up and out, constantly carrying a bag on my left shoulder, all of this contributed to a spine curvature after 50 years. It just happens, he said, it’s just the way it is.
So after he said that it’s wonderful I am so flexible and in such great shape for an old broad — OK, he did not say “old broad” but he was amazed at my uttanasana — he wrote a yoga therapy program for my back that is simply amazing and wondrous. He said if I did the practice every day for 3 months my spine should be back into alignment.
I did the practice for 5 days with Usha, one of the KYM yoga therapists. She was also wonderful, adding a little something every day to the asana mix, so I came home with five different yoga therapy sessions. I did the practice every day in India until I got food poisoning and I have not done it for two weeks now, but I started again from square one yesterday and I will build it up again.
It is an amazing practice because I can literally feel the change in my spine and pelvis when I sit in sukhasana. At the beginning of the practice my right sit bone is off the floor. At the end of the practice both sit bones are firmly grounded and I have no pain for the rest of the day. Before I started doing this practice, I would wake up at night in excrutiating pain when I turned from my right side to my left side and now that no longer happens.
So what does this have to do with yoga east v. west?
TO BE CONTINUED…